Jerry Peek's Off-the-Wall (but simple) Water-Saving Ideas
The previous page has tips that you've probably
heard before -- but with some twists you might not have.
This page has ideas that are a bit more unusual -- and some have to do
with "yucky" topics like garbage and toliets -- but these are still
simple and effective ways to save precious water.
(And if that doesn't faze you, there's a lot more info about topics
like grey water at the huge
Oasis Design website.)
Store the Water You Run
Do you have to turn on the hot faucet for a while before the hot water
actually gets there?
Save that water and use it for something else!
Flush your toilet with less water... or less often
You may not need to empty the whole tank full of water into the
Or maybe you don't need to flush at all!
Experiment with these ideas:
Some toilets let you clear the bowl by holding down the flush handle
just a bit, for just a few seconds -- enough to let some water out of
the tank but not completely empty it.
This doesn't work on all toilets, and it takes some practice to do,
but it saves a lot of water.
(It may not clear solids out of the bowl -- more than a couple of pieces
of toilet paper.
And see the point below about toilet paper.)
Most handles "catch" at some place, where you don't have to hold them down
anymore and the whole tank will empty.
You need to train your hand to feel for this "catch" place as you start
to push down the handle -- and not let the handle move that far.
Press the handle enough to let water out but not to "catch".
My bathtub is next to the toilet.
I have a two-gallon (eight-liter) plastic bucket in the tub,
under the spout; see the picture to the right.
(This bucket has a lip on one side that nestles against
the edge of the tub, without a gap.)
I run water from the tub faucet into the bucket, then pour it quickly
into the toilet bowl to flush.
(One toilet clears better if I pour part of the bucket, wait a moment,
then pour in the rest just as the bowl is emptying.)
When there's anything but toilet paper to flush, though, this system may
not be good at clearing solids out of the bowl. It works okay on mine, though,
with a nearly-full bucket. I (carefully) dump just a quarter of it to get
things moving, then wait and do a long pour as the bowl has almost cleared;
I leave a bit to swish around any non-bare edges of the bowl.
This uses a lot less water than flushing from the tank: one or two gallons
instead of four!
The water level in the bowl stays lower (because the bowl doesn't refill,
because the tank doesn't refill), but that's no problem.
I've learned to see how much water I need in the bucket.
Now I can watch it fill and know when I've got enough water.
There are two times to fill the bucket:
If I need to run hot water in the washbasin (to wash my hands, for instance),
I run the "not-hot" water into the bucket in the tub.
Once the water from the tub faucet begins to get warm, I turn it off
and turn on the hot faucet in the basin.
I don't let the water in the bucket get too hot;
I'm afraid it isn't good for the toilet (though I'm not sure).
Or, if I won't be needing hot water in the washbasin, I fill the
bucket from the cold tap.
If I don't already have water in the bucket from an earlier handwashing,
I start the bucket filling as I start to use the toilet.
That saves a bit of time later.
Maybe you don't need to flush toilet paper?
In some places around the world, you'll find a wastebasket
next to the toilet for the T.P.
If the paper has just a bit of liquid on it, it probably
won't need much ventilation if you just toss it in the trash.
Doing that, instead of trying to flush it out of the bowl,
could save a lot of water.
Consider not flushing without a "solid reason."
If your bathroom gets some ventilation, simply close the
toilet lid and wait to flush until you really need to.
(When guests come by, tell them about your system...
or just flush ahead of time.)
A quick swab with a bowl brush after flushing keeps the bowl tidy.
Finally, you can read about another way to avoid flushing in a book written by
a friend of a friend,
Liquid Gold, the Lore & Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants.
I actually haven't read it (and I don't have a garden where I can use
the ideas), but the friend who recommended it is very smart. ;-).
Save Hot Water Energy
This isn't a water-saving tip, but it sure saves energy!
(Most Americans have big tanks of hot water, ready on-demand.
If your water heats only when you turn on the hot water tap,
this tip isn't for you.)
My hot water heater is well-insulated, and I don't use much hot water.
It burns natural gas.
I've found that I can leave its pilot light on and, for most of the
time, that gives water that's warm enough for washing hands and etc.
When I need really hot water, I turn on the main burner and let it
come up to high temperature.
Thanks to this, my monthly natural gas bill is often under US$10.
With an automatic dishwasher, you may not need to wash dishes
(using all of that wash and rinse water) every day -- and many
modern dishwashers are thrifty with water.
They can also get dishes really clean by
heating the water and using nasty detergents.
But I don't have a dishwasher, or lots of dishes to wash every day, and
I don't want to leave my dishes around until I can wash a full load.
So here's what I do:
After each meal, I use water from my jugs (see tip above), with a little
liquid soap, to rinse food off the dishes.
Start by rinsing a big bowl or pan,
then use the water from that to pour on other smaller dishes, and so on;
that way, the water from the first pot or bowl will rinse most of the dishes.
Finish by rinsing the plates with more water from the jugs.
Turn everything sideways or upside-down in the sink to let it dry,
then stack it all until wash day.
(I have a cupboard shelf where I keep my ready-to-wash dishes.)
Now your dishes won't attract bugs, and they only need
a quick "real" washing to sanitize them.
On wash day, I put a big pot of water on the stove and heat it to boiling.
(I don't even need my hot water heater on; see the tip above.)
I wash the stacks of dishes — which is easy and quick because they were
pre-washed and stacked!
By the time the pot of water is boiling, I've got stacks of dishes ready
I pour the boiling water into the dishpan.
Wearing heavy rubber gloves, I re-stack the washed dishes in the dishpan,
one by one (to let hot water surround each dish),
and let them soak for a minute or two.
When I pull the steaming dishes out of the rinse water, they're so hot
that I don't need to dry them with a towel; a short time in the dish
drainer leaves them ready to put away.
(Dish towels can be a source of germs, I've heard.)
I leave fragile wine glasses and etc. for last, when the boiling water
has cooled some; this might be less of a shock to them than suddenly
being plunged in very hot water.
If you have fine glassware or china, be careful about this.
When I worked in a restaurant dishroom, state law said that water had
to be at least 165 degrees F to kill germs.
Boiling water is at 200 degrees or so.
Most peoples' water heaters aren't this hot!
So I believe this system is actually healthier than rinsing in
the lukewarm water that comes out of many peoples' water heaters.
I have quite a few dishes, so this system also saves water because I
only need to wash dishes once a week or so.
The dishes are already basically clean, so the wash water doesn't need changing.
I use just two dishpans of water (one wash, one rinse) per week.
Really Need That Disposal?
I've got a garbage disposal in my kitchen sink, but I don't use it much.
It seems wrong to me to use lots of water to flush garbage down the drain.
Instead, I do what people without disposals do: put the garbage in the
If the garbage is wet and your sink has strainers in the bottom, let the
liquid run down the drain before you toss out the solid stuff.
Ditto with coffee in a filter: let the grounds drain a bit before you
toss them out.
The picture at the right shows a simple plastic strainer disc, with a
handle, that fits into the top of the disposal.
It catches food but lets liquid through.
You can take it out if you need to use the disposal.
I bought it at a local kitchen-gadget store.
My mother used to have a triangle-shaped plastic box, with a drain in
the bottom, that sat in one corner of the sink. (It was one of those
things Rubbermaid would have sold.) She could toss garbage in it,
then take the drained scraps to the garbage can or compost heap.
If you can't empty your garbage can before it starts to smell, try one
of these ideas:
Put the wet garbage in an old plastic bag.
Tie or seal it tight before you put it in the garbage can.
(Used and rinsed zipper-lock-type bags are great for this!)
Use old plastic containers (from yogurt or cottage cheese, for instance)
to hold the vegetable scraps and other not-too-disgusting ;-) garbage.
Keep the containers in your fridge for a couple of days; because the
lids are sealed tight and the fridge is cold, the garbage won't rot or
When it's time to take out the garbage, empty the plastic containers into
the garbage can and rinse them out with some soap and water from your jugs
Use water from one of your jugs (see note above) as you run the disposal.
Two mores notes about not using your disposal (much):
Once I used my disposal so little that it "froze": turning on the switch
just made it buzz and get hot without spinning.
After I broke it loose (by using a hex wrench to turn the disposal
innards manually), I've tried to run it at least once a month.
A few times I've run the disposal to actually send garbage down the drain.
Then it started to smell.
After some web searches, I learned that the general advice is to use
lots of water -- for maybe 30 seconds after the disposal
empties -- to be sure food is rinsed out completely.
What a waste!
(The articles I read, from Ask
The Builder, HowToGetRidOfStuff.com,
had various methods for fixing the problem.
But what a hassle.)
Faucets and a Footpedal
On my first trip to France many years ago, I visited a home in the
Their bathroom had a washbasin (sink) with hot and cold faucets, as I was
But it also had a foot pedal on the floor.
The water ran only when I turned on the faucet and put my foot on the pedal.
This simple system made it easy to save water.
The faucets stay on, set to give the temperature of water you want...
and the water runs only when you press the footpedal.
Your hands are free for washing your face, shaving, or whatever.
When people send me their ideas for saving water, I'll add them here.
Joseph Rene DuPont is creative!
He uses a pump-type tree sprayer -- with a tank that holds two or three
gallons -- to wash dishes.
He uses two -- one with soapy water, one with clean -- to shower.
They save money for washing cars (go to a car wash to rinse/wax).
Spray-paint them flat black to heat them in the sun --
though the pressure rating is reduced when heated.
The pressure helps to clean, and the squeeze-type trigger
makes it easy to shut off to save water.
Joe used a plywood cover with a hole in it, and a vacuum cleaner blower,
to flush a toilet using air.
(He had a holding tank for sewage, so he only needed enough water to re-fill
Joe hopes to use foot switches to control electric water pumps.
If you've got other creative water-saving ideas, please let me know
by clicking on the "contact" link below.
[You've heard these tips (or have you?)]
Last change: 17 May 2012
Contact Jerry Peek