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

[water pitchers by my kitchen sink] 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

[bucket in bathtub] You may not need to empty the whole tank full of water into the toilet bowl. Or maybe you don't need to flush at all! Experiment with these ideas:

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.

Efficient Dishwashing

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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 to rinse.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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?

[strainer cap for garbage 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 garbage can.

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:

Two mores notes about not using your disposal (much):

  1. 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.
  2. 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,, and eHow, 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 Pyrenees. Their bathroom had a washbasin (sink) with hot and cold faucets, as I was used to. 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.

Readers' Ideas

When people send me their ideas for saving water, I'll add them here.

More Tips?

If you've got other creative water-saving ideas, please let me know by clicking on the "contact" link below.

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Last change: 17 May 2012

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