5 Simple Ways to Go Green in the Bath

Get five easy tips on greening your bathroom, from organic linens to water-saving fixtures.

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The bathroom is a great place to go green: it's a room where you typically find lots of toxic chemicals; and water and energy usage in the bathroom often far outstrip its modest size relative to the rest of the house. If you can find ways to cut down on chemicals and resource consumption in the bathroom, you can improve your impact on the environment. Here are some ideas:

1. Think Organic Cotton

Bath linens made from organic cotton are not only comfy and soft, but they require less pesticide to produce than regular cotton towels. Manufacturers that use the slightly more expensive organic cotton also tend to use natural dyes and softeners that are less toxic to the environment than man-made chemicals and are gentler on sensitive skin.

Consider replacing your vinyl shower curtain with a heavy cotton duck curtain, says Annie B. Bond, author of Home Enlightenment and executive producer of green living content at Care2.com, a site devoted to natural health. "The plastic in a shower curtain is PVC, and the plasticizers in PVC are hormone disrupters," she says. "Those toxic ingredients can become airborne. At the very least, air out the curtain in the sun until it doesn't smell anymore."

2. Try an All-Natural Approach

Natural bath products are friendlier to your skin than chemical-laden offerings from major cosmetics companies, says Bond, and they won't create toxic air pollution. She recommends visiting the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website to research products you currently use and discover healthy alternatives. Her favorite natural touches include 100 percent beeswax candles, which are natural air fresheners and do not contain potentially harmful petroleum products, and handmade soaps.

A bathroom in harmony with nature can be a true oasis. "Create an ambiance in your bathroom that is beautiful and serene," Bond says, "using whatever elements connect you personally to nature. My own bathroom was once a very dark, dingy place, but I put in a deep soaking tub and windows on two sides so I could lie in the bath and look out at the sky. It's really beautiful."

3. Be Water-Wise

A low-flow showerhead can reduce water consumption by 30 percent, yet still provide a pressurized spray, Bond says. Another nifty gadget, a grey-water diverter, sends used water from the shower or bath to a collection container for distribution to your garden.

Insulating your water heater and lowering its thermostat to 120 degrees makes a real difference in the amount of energy used to heat your morning shower, Bond says. And consider replacing your toilet with a low-flow model if it's more than 12 years old. Although 1995's National Energy Policy Act mandated that all new toilets sold in the United States use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush, if your toilet is older than that, it may use anywhere from three to seven gallons per flush.

4. Use Recycled Building Products

Remodeling your bathroom? Seek out tile made from recycled materials for floors, baths, showers and countertops. Thanks to recycling's popularity, colors and finishes are plentiful. Recycled glass tile is a particularly good choice for low emissions.

5. Clean Green

Finally, get rid of the harsh chemicals you use to clean tubs and toilets. Pay attention to the government-mandated warning labels on cleaning products; the terms used, from least to most toxic, are "caution," "warning" and "poison/danger." Aim for products that say "caution" only, Bond says, or seek out environment-conscious brands like Seventh Generation and Ecover.

Lest you think green cleaners can't do tough jobs, try Bond's solution for clogged drains: pour a cup of dry baking soda down the drain followed by three cups of boiling water. If the clog doesn't dislodge, follow with a cup of vinegar. The fizzy reaction should overpower even the most stubborn clogs.

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