We've been discussing green home improvement on Inhabitat a lot recently. Last week we chatted about ways you can greenovate your kitchen, and this week we're heading into the bathroom with our eco-friendly home improvement agenda. While the bathroom may only take up a fraction of space in your home, it's often a spot where waste runs freely -- no, we're not talking about that... ahem. Rather, the bathroom is a hotspot for overindulgent water use, excessive paper waste, and it's a place where bath and cleaning products seem to multiply without end. If you've got a bathroom that seems more like the wild west for waste than a green haven, then we've got some great tips that can help you turn your throne into one of the most sustainable spots in your kingdom. From pointers on how to keep your bathroom clean without reverting to harsh and toxic chemicals to DIY improvements you can make to cut both your energy and water bill, jump ahead for our top 7 eco-friendly tips on how to green your bathroom.
Photo: Modern Flush Toilet via Shutterstock
TIP 1: Install a Low-flow Toilet
Toilets use approximately 27% of the water consumed in your home — more than any other appliances or plumbing — including the washing machine, dishwasher and shower. Replacing your old toilet with a low-flow model is a great place to start when greening your bathroom. Newer homes will boast more efficient low-flow toilets installed by their contractor, but those found in older homes can use up to a whopping 7 gallons per flush. While low-flow toilets used to get a bad rap for boasting a less than desirable flush, sometimes requiring users to hit the handle twice, modern low-flow toilets provide ample flushing power while still using just a fraction of the water.
If you already have a low-flow toilet you can still cut down on water usage even more by installing a dual-flusher that gives you a choice: push one button for flushing liquid waste (around .8 gallons of water) and another for solid waste (1.6 gallons or less). The BlueSource HydroRight Dual Flush Converter is our pick — it’s easy to install and costs just a little over $20.
If you can’t afford to purchase a new toilet at the moment, a temporary quick fix is to drop a little sand or pebbles into a 2-liter soda bottle and put that in your tank to displace some of the water that would have otherwise filled the tank. However, note that 2-liters does not equal the up to 5.5 gallons you could be saving per flush with a low-flow toilet.
TIP 2: Install a Low-flow Shower Head
Taking shorter showers is one way to cut down on excess water use — they say you really only need to be in there for 5 minutes anyway — but if you’re someone who likes to linger, then you should consider installing a low-flow showerhead. A typical shower head will use anywhere between 5 to 8 gallons of water per minute, while a low-flow head will bring that down to 2.5 gallons or less with the same amount of water pressure.
By installing low-flow showerheads, you’ll be saving in two ways: 1. The amount of water you use while showering; and 2. The amount of energy you are using to heat your water. Manufacturers of low-flow showerheads claim that an average family will save hundreds of dollars annually by making this simple change. Better yet, this is a very inexpensive upgrade, and installation is easy and should require no more than a wrench, a little PTFE tape and 10 minutes of your time.
We also recommend finding a shower head with a water filter built-in, especially if you have hard water (we like the Culligan WSH C125). Like any water filter, it will remove impurities, chlorine or other chemicals, and the potential health problems that these things harbor for both the skin and your respiratory system. Filters will also curb the drying effects of chlorine (your skin and hair will become softer and healthier!) and make cleaning residue in your shower much easier. If you already have a low-flow showerhead installed, you can simply upgrade your current system by adding an attachment filter like this one here.
TIP 3: Install Motion Sensor Faucets
Another place where water is wasted at rapid rates is your bathroom sink. Despite all the best intentions, most people find themselves using more water than they need to when washing their face or hands and brushing their teeth. Think about how much unused water flows out when you simply move your hand to and fro faucet handles while going through your daily routine. One way to keep this wasted water from adding up into an wasted pool the size of the Pacific is to install a motion sensor faucet. A motion sensor will be able to expertly track when you need H2O to flow. Moreover, using a faucet like this will also help you keep your bathroom cleaner (familiar with the gunk that builds up around your faucet handles?), and prevent the spreading and recontamination of germs.
TIP 4: Change Your Light Bulbs
If you haven’t already made the switch to LEDs, now is the perfect opportunity. Enormous technological advances have been made in the color renderings of LED lightbulbs in the past few years, and consumers can now find “warm LED bulbs” which glow at the same cozy amber color temperature that we know and love from old-fashion incandescent bulbs.
Switching to LED light bulbs is one of the simplest ways to save on both your energy bill and the need to constantly buy replacement bulbs. On average an LED bulb consumes 80 percent less energy than its outdated predecessor, and it lasts 25 times longer — that’s a rated life of about 25,000 hours. And because LEDs operate at a lower wattage, without sacrificing lumens or light quality, a single bulb alone can help knock hundreds of dollars of your energy bill. For example, the Phillips EnduraLED A2117 watt bulb, an LED-based replacement for the 75-watt incandescent light bulb, boasts an energy savings of $160 per bulb. LEDs are quickly growing in popularity, and there are plenty out there to choose from.
Another great reason to make the switch is because high wattage lightbulbs (those over 50-watt, aka most of the common incandescent bulbs) will be gradually be phased out of stores over the next 3 years. You’ll want to stock up on low energy bulbs now to get ready for the phase-out. If you want more details on how to make the switch, check out our how-to video.
TIP 5: Switch to an Energy-Efficient Vent Fan
How’s the ventilation in your bathroom? If you depend on a vent fan to keep moisture at bay, a great way to cut down on energy usage is to replace that standard fan with an ENERGY STAR-rated fan. While it may only be switched on briefly a few times a day, an energy-efficient replacement fan will provide you with a 60% energy savings over your old model. And if you don’t already, it’s important to keep your fan running during your shower and for 15 minutes after to make sure moisture in the air doesn’t become mold in your walls. Just a little can build up into a seriously unhealthy, not to mention costly, situation.
TIP 6: Buy Eco-friendly and Sustainable Bath Products
From bath towels to hand soap to toilet paper, all the products that you’ve got packed into your bathroom can all be made more green. Purchasing green and certified organic products ensure that you’re bathroom routine has a lower environmental footprint – and just as importantly, is safe and healthy for your body and skin. Ingredients in conventional toiletry products are frequently laden with petrochemicals and toxic preservatives like parabens, have often been tested on animals, and the source of ingredients are frequently shrouded in mystery (“Parfum” anyone?)
Moreover, buying eco-and sustainable products has a larger global implication — these products often use natural ingredients sourced from organic farmers and fair-trade organizations, meaning that you are supporting ethical business practices that put environmental and human interests above monetary interest. And lest you fear that green products are significantly more expensive than their non-environmentally friendly equivalents, remember that as more people demand green products, and economies of scale kick in, the cost will eventually come down. Also, the old mantra “you get what you pay for” really rings true in this case. Isn’t your health, beauty and the state of your environment worth a few extra dollars?
TIP 7: Clean With Homemade Products
Plenty of studies show that conventional harsh cleaning products can be detrimental to your health, not to mention the planet’s health (products labelled with a skull and crossbones and the word ‘HAZARDOUS’ will hopefully have tipped you off). But there’s no need to purchase caustic cleaning solutions when you’ve got everything you need right in your kitchen cupboards to get the job done of cleaning the bathroom. If you’re looking for ways to clean your bathroom safely and ecologically, a bit of baking soda and vinegar is enough to get your bathroom sparkling. Simply sprinkle some baking soda on problem areas add a little white vinegar, let it foam and sit for about 5-10 minutes, and then scrub the area down with an eco-friendly sponge or brush. You can also use a little lemon or your favorite essential oils to help mask the vinegary scent. Moreover, oils such as tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, lemongrass and rosemary boast antiseptic and antibacterial properties in addition to smelling great!
Some other quick mixes:
- Window wash: Mix 3 tablespoons vinegar with 2 cups of water (or for a bigger job – 1/2 cup vinegar to 1 gallon water) and spray it right on your windows. Club soda and lemon will also work wonders.
- All-purpose disinfectant: Mix 2 cups water, a few drops of natural soap, and 15 drops each of tea tree and lavender organic essential oil. Use this on floors, countertops and generally any surface except glass, as it will streak.
- After shower cleaner: Make your own daily shower cleaner by mixing two cups of water and three drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle. After you shower, simply shake your spray bottle, mist, and then walk away. This should help keep mildew at bay between cleanings.
As the #1 faucet brand in North America, Moen offers a diverse selection of thoughtfully designed kitchen and bath faucets, showerheads, accessories, bath safety products and kitchen sinks for residential and commercial applications – each delivering the best possible combination of meaningful innovation, useful features, and lasting value.