20 Ways to Conserve Water – Part 1

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Sinks and Washers

Our relationship with water changed when it no longer flowed effortlessly into and out of our home. We now obtain water in 100-gallon increments, which is the limit of our fresh water tank. (We can slightly overfill our 90-gallon tank.) Our full clean water tank weighs in at a whopping 834 pounds! It’s not something we can haul from the grocery store, especially as we wander deeper into the wild.

Additionally, we keep our used water with us in a 70-gallon grey tank (shower, sinks, washer) and a 50-gallon black tank (toilet). If these systems were ever to overflow, they would back up directly into our home.  There is no wiggle room in these figures!

Water Tanks

The white tank is for clean water. The dark tanks are grey water (larger) and black water (smaller).   Image by Joe-K

Every time we need to dump we must pack up, close down the RV, drive to the dump station, dump, rinse, fill, return, and resettle.  This process takes at least 3 hours, assuming the dump station is onsite. If there is no onsite dump station, which is often the case at free campsites, add drive time and fees to the equation.

Most government-run camping areas have a 14-night maximum stay, and each time we move the rig, we go through the motions of packing up and closing down. Ideally, we could live off our enclosed system for 14 days to eliminate extra trips. This means a daily allowance of 3.5 gallons per person. We’re still practicing our conservation skills, but we’re getting close. Right now, I estimate we get 10-days of water freedom, or 5 gallons per person, per day.

The average American family uses 80-100 gallons per person daily! That would fill a spa-style bath tub. While I enjoy having a smaller footprint than the average American, I’m not trying to single-handedly resolve the world’s clean water issues. I just try to be a “conscious consumer”, weighing the true costs of my habits in all aspects of my life. Convenience is definitely a factor in developing new habits, along side financial and environmental impact. Given the amount of effort required to replenish our water supply, conservation is not only the green choice, its the convenient and frugal choice, too!

Jug vs tub

5-gallons vs. 80-100 gallons daily

Take a look at your last water bill. Are you above or below the average? You may not have to move your house, but you are likely paying to “fill” and “dump” through your clean water and sewer bills. Here are some of the changes we are considering, in order of craziness from “common sense” to “tree-hugging hippy-dippy loon”. Please include any recommendations we’ve overlooked in the comments. Maybe you can give us the extra edge we need to reach 3.5 gallons!

(This is a two-part article. Next week covers showers, toilets, and yards. It also includes a personal challenge…)

At the Sink

You probably use your tap more often than you realize. These are a few simple habits that add up to significant conservation.

Use a dishwasher.

Ah, sweet luxury. I miss you!

Ah, sweet luxury. I miss you!

Let’s start with the good news. A quality dishwasher uses far less water than hand washing.

Not for us, though.  No room for a standard dishwasher in this rig. Boo!

For those of you with a dishwasher at home, enjoy the luxury guilt-free! An Energy Star rated dishwasher uses no more than 4 gallons of water per wash, while the average faucet dumps out 2 gallons of water per minute. They save on soap, too! The key factor here is not having any real pre-washing. A quick rinse is one thing, but if you have to scrub your dishes clean before you put them in the dishwasher, you’re not saving water, soap, or energy.

Feel free to use this article to convince your spouse to buy a new dishwasher. 😉

If you run the tap for 15 minutes a day washing dishes, a dishwasher would save you 9,490 gallons annually. That’s enough to fill a backyard swimming pool!

Turn it off and don’t turn it on (full).

Here's your "low flow" faucet

Here’s your “low flow” faucet.

Don’t leave the water flowing while you are brushing your teeth, washing hands, or hand scrubbing dishes.  Turn it on and off as needed. Shutting off the water while following your dentist’s recommended oral hygiene routine saves 8 gallons per person daily!

We’ve also found we get the same results from turning the faucet on at 1/3 flow versus full flow. Most of the cleaning action of washing hands or dishes comes from the scrubbing, not the blast of water.

Accounting only for teeth brushing and hand washing, these habits save you 10,950 gallons annually. That’s another swimming pool or 250 bathtubs.

Plug the sink to hand wash dishes.

hand washing dishes

Disclaimer: I spent 20 minutes cleaning a corner of my kitchen for this photo. The rest of the huge pile of dishes is just out of frame. The internet is a lie! The apron is real, though. It makes dishwashing just a bit more FAB-ulous!

When hand washing the dishes, we plug the sink and use the hot rinse water to fill it up. This allows the remaining dirty dishes to soak as you scrub the first dishes. I’m not going to lie. Splashing around in dirty dishwater is not my favorite activity. But I slap on some rubber gloves and get over it, because it saves me from wasting a lovely day at the dump station.

This cuts your running dishwater in half, saving 2,737 gallons per year. It’s enough to fill a concrete mixer, but just a fraction of the dishwasher savings.

 Laundry Day

Laundry is one of those perpetual chores that can drive you crazy. Knowing the enormous water costs might just push you over the edge.

Unless you’re “that person”, who enjoys laundry, in which case you are already crazy.

Because washers vary dramatically in load size, the standard water consumption measurement is called the Water Factor (WF), which represents the gallons of water used to wash and rinse one cubic foot (cf) of laundry. Old washers have a WF of 10, which means they use 40 gallons per 4 cf load! Most High Efficiency (HE) washers rate at WF 5-8. Energy Star requires no more than WF4.2 (as of March 2015). That’s still 16.8 gallons per 4 cf load!

As you can imagine, laundry day hits our tanks pretty hard. My 2.1 cf Maytag Compact Front Loader has a WF 3.5. That sounds pretty awesome, except it’s still 7.5 gallons per load. (Also, it takes more loads, therefore more electricity, due to the small capacity.) Two loads per week is 30% of our water allowance! We tend to put laundry off until we are about to leave a site.  That way we know just how much room we have to spare in the clean and the grey tanks.

Here are some quick tips for reducing consumption on laundry day.

Skip the “extra rinse” cycle.

Extra Rinse? More like "Extra Waste"!

Extra Rinse? More like “Extra Waste”!

Why do you need an extra rinse? Can’t the washer get your clothes clean with the first rinse? Easy-peasy.
If you washer really doesn’t rinse your clothes clean the first time, try cutting back on detergent.  Most people dramatically over soap their clothes, based on the detergent company’s recommended amount. Try using half that much or less.

Spoiler Alert: They want you to use (and then buy) more soap. Marketing!

A mid-range HE washer running an average of 6 loads per week would save over 1,000 gallons per year, or a big hippopotamus, by weight.

Don’t forget your laundry.

This one is for me. You would think after 14+ years of doing my own laundry I could figure out how to get the clothes from the washer to the dryer. I can’t. When I remember my musty clothes 24-hours later, they have to be dried, rewashed in hot water, and re-dried.

If you don’t dry them first, you can’t wash out the musty smell.  I know from repeated experience. I seriously suck at laundry.

This is a massive waste of water and electricity. Don’t be Kirby. Don’t forget your laundry. Maybe Siri can help…

If you forget just one load per week, you are wasting 338 gallons, or two hot tubs per year.

Load your washer properly.

Anything less than a full load will waste water. How much waste depends on how well your washer balances water input for small loads. On the other hand, if you over load, your clothes won’t get enough movement, leaving dry spots or detergent residue. This may be another reason you need that extra rinse cycle. These loads will have to be split and run again.
To load properly, fill the washer to capacity without compacting the load. There should be movement as the drum turns, ensuring water can easily soak through the whole load.

Rewashing one load per week is as much as 20 beer kegs. ‘Cuz you know, priorities…

Don’t wash after every wear.

Love, love, love my Rowenta steamer!

Love, love, love my Rowenta steamer!  Image by Pixbam

Let’s be real.  You already do this with your dry clean only clothes. Why not extend this to the rest of your wardrobe? Obviously, sweaty gym clothes, coffee stains, and undergarments are excluded. But if you wear a shirt from home to car to desk job and home again, never leaving the air conditioning for more than 5 minutes, I think your safe to put it back on the hanger for another wear. It can be our little secret…
I love a steamer for this application.  It’s faster than ironing and a great way to refresh a garment.

Bonus: You now have an excuse to change directly into pajama pants when you get home, AND you have less laundry! Win-win-win!

Cut your laundry by 1/3 and save 676 gallons, the equivalent of a giraffe, by weight. (Or a blue whale’s tongue, if you prefer marine biology.)

Buy a more efficient washer.


less water + less electricity + tax credit = happiness

Do the math on your water bill. Between the water and electrical savings, plus any tax credits, you may get a return on that investment sooner than you expect. 

Going from an older WF 10 washer to an energy star rated WF 4.2 washer saves 7,238 gallons annually, which would fill an average tanker truck.

I was going to recommend a manual crank washer, but after running the numbers, it has just about the same WF as our current machine.

So no manual laundry. Yay!

Thanks to Blue Bulb Projects for our increasingly irrelevant water saving equivalents. 🙂

Next week we tackle showers, toilets, and yards. We start getting a little more creative in those categories. See you soon!

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4 thoughts on “20 Ways to Conserve Water – Part 1

  1. Enjoyed your articles. Amazing how much we use! I love your honesty as I know you suck at laundry! Ha ha ha! We will definitely put some of those ideas into practice. Thanks!


  2. Man, laundry and dishes… my two least favorite parts of life.
    I look forward to hearing how your water conservation efforts go. Filling that big beautiful pool is no joke! I’d love to see if you guys could offset it in other places. 😉


    • Hi Don! We really enjoyed every bit of Michigan, from the UP to Mackinaw to Sleeping Bear and Burt Lake. We are hanging out in the Niagara area now and boy is it toasty. Missing those cool Michigan nights already!


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