Handwashing with cool water is just as good for killing bacteria

For years we’ve been taught that, when washing hands, we have to use hot water to effectively remove bacteria.  But a new study published in the Journal of Food Protection has found no difference in washing effectiveness when hands were washed in water that was 16, 26 or 38 degrees C.  (Note: for reference, 16⁰C is a bit warmer than the water coming out of your cold water tap, but it’s colder than you’d want to swim in.)

The implication: in the words of one of the study’s authors, “We are wasting energy to heat water to a level that is not necessary.”

So – something to think about the next time you wash your hands.  Cool water is much more comfortable in summer anyway!

PS: interestingly, the biggest factor in washing effectiveness was washing technique; antimicrobial soap had little effect.

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Five tips for greener hair!

October 11, 2016

Simple ideas for more eco-friendly hair care

Hair care is part of most people’s daily routine, but it has more environmental implications than one might realize (for example, water consumption, energy consumption, undesirable chemicals and waste generation).  Here are five ways you can reduce the environmental impacts of your coiffure:

  • Resist your shampoo maker’s tease to ‘rinse and repeat’, and shampoo just once (because if you need to shampoo twice, you’ve got to wonder about the quality of the product in the first place!). Plus use as little shampoo as you can get away with.
  • Try washing your hair every second time you shower instead of every time
  • Use a leave-in conditioner to cut down on shower time
  • Let hair dry naturally if you can, or else use the coolest setting on your hair dryer
  • Bonus: make your own shampoo! Learn how here.

Happy greener hair care!

Simple laundry savings!

August 19, 2014

Tips for saving when washing your clothes

Here are four easy ways you can save on laundry day:

  • Big savings: choose a cold water detergent (like Dizolve and numerous others) and use cold water instead of hot
  • Wait until you have a full load; washing machines are most efficient when operated full
  • Don’t overdose with detergent; read instructions and measure carefully. (Many detergents come with measuring cups that hold more soap than needed for a load… sneaky tactic, eh?)
  • Big savings: use a clothesline instead of a dryer. No way around it: dryers are huge energy hogs.

Avoid dry cleaning if possible

Dry cleaning isn’t really ‘dry’; it’s just that chemical solvents are used instead of water to remove stains. The solvents work well, but they aren’t very environmentally friendly – particularly to groundwater if they are spilled.

So here are three ideas for using less dry cleaning:

  • If possible, buy clothes you can wash in regular laundry
  • If possible, seek out a company that uses a newer process called ‘wetcleaning’ which has less environmental impact
  • Consider wearing clothes more than once between cleanings

You’ll save money and do a good thing for the environment! (For more information, read this excellent factsheet from the US EPA.)

Rain barrels and rain gardens

If, like me, you’re a gardener whose water comes from a well, no doubt you’re reluctant to water your plants during summer dry spells for fear of running the well dry.

Rain barrels to the rescue – park one under your eavestrough, and you’ll be amazed at how little rain it takes to fill it.  You can buy rain barrels at garden centers and other stores, or you can just get a used 40 gallon drum.  If you like, it’s easy to install a tap with a drill and a few parts from the hardware store.  (Send me a note if you’d like a list of parts.)

This is a ‘home-built’ from our home, under the downspout of our garage.  It and two others like it have provided about 99% of the water I’ve needed for my modest flower and veggie gardens over the past several years.

Rain barrel

If your problem is too much rain, consider installing a rain garden to help reduce runoff and erosion.  Here’s a great guide from Canada Mortgage and Housing.

With climate change bringing more weather extremes, rain barrels and rain gardens are both great solutions!

Rethinking the lawn

Lawns have been part of our existence for years.  However, in spite of being green in color, they’re not especially eco-friendly.  Consider:

  • Over 150 million litres of fuel are burned by Canadian lawn mowers annually
  • Mower engines lack the smog-reducing technology of cars so they produce far higher levels of smog-forming emissions; plus they tend to be pretty noisy
  • Cosmetic pesticides, which tend to affect a whole lot more than their intended targets, are still in use in many areas. (Surely applying poisons in the places your kids play is worth rethinking.)
  • Lawns are often fertilized with energy-intensive chemical fertilizers, and watered (lawn watering can increase summer domestic water use by 50%).  That makes them grow faster, so we can mow them even more!!

Here’s a fun and catchy three minute video on the woes of lawns – and here are some practical alternatives:

  • Plant trees and shrubs, which provide many of the same cooling and carbon-absorbing benefits of grass
  • Convert part of the lawn to a veggie garden
  • Choose a drought-tolerant grass, and don’t fertilize or water it
  • Convert some lawn into a wildlife garden to attract birds, bees, butterflies and more
  • Consider an electric mower, or if you’re a tinkerer, a solar mower
  • Leave clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients

Summer is way too short to spend it mowing the lawn!

Four ways to lower the environmental impact of that morning shower

Consider this: every 10-minute shower you take under a conventional showerhead adds about 65 cents* to your monthly power bill.  That’s about $20 per month if you shower daily.

Each shower also results in emissions from generating that power: in New Brunswick, over three kilograms of carbon dioxide; in Nova Scotia (where most power comes from coal), over five kilograms.  Ouch!  (You can check out carbon dioxide emissions per KWH of electricity in your province here or in your state here {fourth page}).

Here are four quick ways you can reduce those costs and emissions:

1. install a low flow shower head, a simple installation that will pay for itself in about a month

2. consider taking shorter showers

3. consider lowering the temperature of your shower a little

4. consider showering every second day instead of daily

*6.6 KWH @ 10 cents/KWH

An audacious dare

May 18, 2010

Here’s a challenge for you: skip a shower sometime this week.

When I issue that dare to audiences, I often hear a snicker and a murmur that sounds a lot like, “uh-uh”.  Yet if truth be told, most of us shower every morning not because we’re dirty; we shower because it feels good.  It’s our wake-up therapy.

But our daily shower habit is one of the reasons we North Americans use more water per person than anyone on the planet.  And – even worse – much of that water is hot water, heated by fossil fuel-fired electricity.  Our morning feel-good isn’t very good for the planet.

So here’s the challenge again: skip a shower this week, and every week.  You can make a big difference for the planet!

The average person reaches for a faucet many times each day.  Without thinking, we often grab the hot water tap – even when we need such a small amount of water that hot water never actually reaches the faucet.

But, regardless of its temperature, every drop that comes out of the hot water tap costs energy (and money).  That’s because every time the hot water tap is opened, hot water starts moving from the hot water tank toward the faucet.  If it is ‘stranded’ somewhere along the way, it just cools and its energy is wasted.

So when you need just a little water, reach for the cold water tap – and save some precious hot water.

Small gadget, big savings

February 23, 2010

Toilets are a home’s biggest water users.  If you can’t change out your old toilet (which probably uses 13-20 litres per flush) for a new one that uses just 6 litres per flush, here’s a simple and inexpensive alternative.
It’s called a a toilet tank fill cycle diverter – a tiny device that installs in a toilet tank in seconds, and limits the amount of water that flows into the bowl during filling.  It saves water every time you flush – potentially saving over 10,000 litres per toilet per year!
Here’s a three-minute video showing what a diverter is, how it works and how to install it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bhu1PU2Wb8.
You can find plenty of models and suppliers by Googling toilet tank fill cycle diverter.
Two more strategies to save even more water:
– put a brick or bag of water in your toilet tank, so it uses less water every fill-up
– pour a few drops of food coloring into your toilet tank.  If any of the color seeps into the bowl before you next flush, your flapper probably needs to be replaced – a small cost for HUGE water savings.  Here’s a one-minute video showing you how to do it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejvb5lx5UxE .