Consider the shower.
Thanks to this age-old method of cleansing oneself under a steady stream of falling water, modern America smells way better than 17th-century France ever did. We're also undeniably healthier. However, as the mother of any adolescent can tell you, not all showers are equal. With water conservation becoming an increasing concern, especially in the West, there's never been a better time to take stock of your regular ablutions.
So, without further ado, here is the absolutely, positively, undeniably best way to keep you and your conscience clean — in 10 easy steps!
1) Decide how often you should shower
Most Americans shower every day. This is a good guideline for those who live in particularly hot and humid climates, exercise every day, work in physically demanding and/or "dirty" jobs, or spend time in pools or hot tubs. As for the rest of us, a shower every other day might actually be a better idea. Too much soap and water can strip the body of natural protective oils.
A 10-minute shower can also use up to 50 gallons of water — something to consider, given drought conditions in many parts of the country. If you do decide to give up the daily sluicing, just be sure to use a basin and clean washcloth in the morning or evening to take care of areas such as the underarms and groin where bacteria can collect.
2) Temper your temperature
Tempting as it may be to jack that handle all the way to the left or the right… hold that urge. Most experts agree that a lukewarm or tepid shower is best. Why? Extremely cold or hot temperatures dry out your body's largest organ and first line of defense against infection: the skin. Stick to temps between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderate water heating will also save energy, which is good for the environment and your wallet.
Note: Concerned about conservation? Place a couple of five-gallon buckets under your shower while your water is warming to the desired temperature. You can use this later to water plants, rinse clothing … even flush the toilet!
3) Face it
The shower is a great place to wash your face, especially if you use a cleanser with special moisturizing or acne-fighting properties. Temperate water will open your pores and facilitate cleaning and rinsing. Here's the trick, though — use your dry hands to apply your chosen product before you get in the shower. Once in, leave the cleanser on a minute or two while you stand under the water to thoroughly soak your hair and soap and rinse your underarms. When it's time to rinse, don't turn your face into the stream of water; delicate facial skin is better served if you cup your hands and splash the water across your forehead, nose, and cheeks to thoroughly rinse.
4) Top down
Not everyone shampoos every time he or she showers, but if you plan to wash (and possibly condition) your mane, this is a good place to start. Choose a shampoo with few surfactants; these are hard on your hair and the environment. A milder shampoo might not lather up as much, but it will do the job just as well. Use your fingertips, not your nails, starting at the crown of your head and working all the way down to shampoo your entire scalp. When you get to your ears, use your index finger to lightly clean the external folds of your ears and the oft-forgotten area behind the ears with shampoo.
Unless you've been mud-wrestling or have some other reason to actually scrub out the rest of your hair, don't lather up all the way to your ends, lest they split. Too much cleansing can damage delicate hair. Your crowning glory will get perfectly clean when you rinse the shampoo out by tilting your head back into the stream and repeating your head massage.
Rinse your hair and external ear area until the water runs clear. (Don't miss that little strip across the top of your forehead. Residual shampoo will itch later, even if you wipe it off with your towel.) That's it. Ignore what the shampoo bottle says. You don't really need to "repeat" the lather and rinse. Again, unless your hair is exceptionally dirty for some reason, one shampoo is enough.
If you condition your hair, apply this product now.
5) Soap, water, and … Salux?
Now it's time to reach again for your soap and Salux cloth. "What is a Salux cloth?' you ask. It is a simple nylon rectangle that will change the way you think about showering. Forget washcloths and loofahs, which can harbor bacteria. Your Salux will rinse clean, last almost forever, and make your shower more thorough and efficient. How? By gently exfoliating your skin and distributing your soap more effectively, so that even a small amount of skin-and-environment friendly product will lather up like a cupful of the harsher stuff.
Swipe a small — very small — amount of your chosen product over your Salux. Wad the cloth into a ball. It will feel like a little soap bomb exploded in your hands. So use it! Place it across your neck and upper shoulders and gently swipe it back and forth, moving down your spine, all the way to your tailbone. Bingo. You've got a clean back, devoid of dead skin cells that can block pores. Now rinse.
Even with your back to the water stream and your head tilted back, you can begin work on your front. With your cloth in a loose ball, start at the bottom of your jawline and with very gentle, circular movements, work down the front of your neck, chest, and belly. No need to rub hard; just let the cloth do its work.
When you get to your hips, choose a leg and work down the front of that one to the ankle before moving up the back of the same leg, all the way up and over the buttocks on that side, avoiding your more personal parts … for the time being.
6) "Down there"
The external genitalia of both men and women need to be cleaned just like the rest of the body. However, given the sensitivities of these areas, this is best done with the hand, not a cloth … and, believe it or not, the water of the shower is probably all you need. If you feel you really need to use your surfactant-free soap on your groin and (for guys) testicles and (ladies) external labia, then whatever you do… keep that soap away from the areas where your outside turns into your inside. Both urologists and gynecologists agree; soap in these places is as unnecessary and potentially harmful as soap in the eye.
Both genders should clean their external genitals front to back, finishing with the perianal area. As with every other part of the body, rinse well both front and back.
Note: The shower is often used as a convenient place to masturbate. Fair enough. Just be aware that allowing the water to run all the while will use this precious resource up at a rate of about five gallons a minute. So if you want to turn yourself on, please turn the water off. And, don't use soap as a lubricant.
Both men and women also find the shower a great place to shave. By waiting until almost the end of your shower to break out the razor, you will be depilating your skin at the best possible moment, when it is softened and sanitized, and your pores are open.
If you shave in the shower, always keep a clean razor on hand. Dry it out between uses. Consider investing in a good shaving mirror if you shave your face and/or a shower bench if you shave your legs. These can make the process of shaving in the shower infinitely easier and even safer. Consider turning the water off during the process to conserve, as you will want to take your time, be careful, and gently shave every area you wish hairless.
As always, be sure to rinse thoroughly once you have finished.
8) To pee or not to pee?
Any conversation about showering these days must include mention of an ongoing debate that seems increasingly important in these times of declining fresh water supplies.
Is it OK to urinate in the shower?
If the very idea horrifies you, then no, of course you shouldn't. Your shower is a personal experience, and you need to feel comfortable about every aspect. But for those who are wondering … there is no reason not to go down the drain of your own shower, and many reasons to consider doing so. Unless there is infection present, urine is sterile. In fact, your shower is probably far cleaner than your toilet, so peeing down the drain not only doesn't make your shower "dirty," it also gives you a bye from visiting one of the more germ-laden parts of your bathroom.
More to the point is water conservation. On average, toilet flushing accounts for 27 percent of the water use in American households. Every time you "Let it go" down the drain instead of the toilet, you are conserving an increasingly precious natural resource.
Having taken care of yourself from the top down, now it's time to turn to your feet. Traditions around the world emphasize the importance of washing one's feet. Ironically, many Americans ignore this last, important step in the shower, mistakenly thinking the runoff from cleaning the rest of them will somehow remove the dirt, bacteria, and dead skin from this critical part of the body. Concluding your shower with a good all-over scrub of your feet with your Salux cloth (using a pumice stone on the bottoms if your feet are especially dirty or calloused) just makes good hygienic sense. Clean feet smell nice, look good, and don't stink. Why not?
10) Finishing touches
Once you've finished showering, rinse your Salux cloth thoroughly, and hang it someplace convenient to thoroughly dry. Use a towel to pat — not rub — your body dry, paying special attention to creases and folds where dampness might irritate. If you have dry skin, this is an excellent time to apply body lotion and face cream, as pores are open and dead skin has been sloughed away.
And, with this, your shower is complete. If only the rest of life were so simple.