shower me with tips!
December 16, 2011 6:28 AM   Subscribe

We have no water pressure and may be without it for some time, which makes showering difficult. What can we do about this? By which I mean (a) what can we do to get our water pressure back, and, in the meantime, (b) what are some tips and tricks to keeping clean without a working shower?

Note: I'd prefer tips for keeping clean at home than "why not just buy a gym membership and shower there every day?"

Our entire NYC apartment building (and probably some of the other buildings on our block) has been without significant water pressure for a week. Gravity being the bitch that it is, the problem gets worse on upper floors, and we live on the top floor. Turning on the shower elicits an microscopic trickle of water.

In addition to having bodies to keep clean, my wife and I both have rather dense masses of hair (mine is curly) that take a while to clean even with fully-functioning showers.

There is no end in sight to the problem, which involves some kind of nasty city politics. There's road work going on nearby, which includes, for some reason, guys digging up a huge number of pipes and messing with them. This is, in some way, causing the problem. The construction project is massive and looks like it could go on for months.

The hundreds of tenants, the super, and the landlord are all complaining to the city, but so far nothing has been done. My (a) question is about whether anyone has tips regarding bugging the NYC (Brooklyn) powers-that-be about this sort of thing.

But knowing that any action on that front is not likely to occur today or tomorrow, I'm more concerned with question (b).

Okay, I realize this is a middle-class problem, and that countless people throughout the world and throughout history have kept clean without showers. But our privileged lives have thus far allowed us to live without water basons. Looks like that privilege is on hold for a while.

Any tips would be welcome. We have a perverse, American fear of the slightest trace of body oder and an ingrained, pathological, equally-American fear of not taking long showers every morning before commuting to the office.
posted by grumblebee to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried one of the low flow shower heads? They usually have airators and things in them to make low water at least feel like more pressure.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:30 AM on December 16, 2011

Best answer: Question b:

Get a bucket and a light plastic object shaped like a mug (even bottom of a 2l milk jug will do; you want a capacity of at least 500ml). For added luxury, a small plastic stool so you don't have to bend down. Fill bucket with water, use mug to pour water over body. I gather you don't have an actual water shortage, but using this method you can have a reasonable bath with one bucket of water, and make the most of every mugful by using your other hand to scrub as you rinse. I recommend keeping about 6cm of water at the bottom of the bucket and pour that over your head or torso as a finale. Very satisfying.

If the dense hair is on your head, I recommend washing it separately, in the sink, hair salon style.
posted by tavegyl at 6:41 AM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

You could buy a hanging camp shower (this particular one has pretty mixed reviews, but I wanted to provide some kind of visual at least). You can fill it in the tub or sink and hang it from the shower head.
posted by bcwinters at 6:41 AM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've used one of these solar showers while camping - they're not going to give you the water pressure experience you're used to, but they'd at least be a steady stream of water. Just hang the full bag in front of a sunny window to warm it up.

I have super-thick, long wavy hair. My old solar shower worked well to get all of the shampoo out of it.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:42 AM on December 16, 2011

Do your downstairs neighbors have more than a trickle of water coming from their showerheads? If so, can you talk to your super about finding a shower to use on a lower floor of the building? I know that this is perilously close to your "don't tell us to get a gym membership" request, but this is something I've done while my bathroom ceiling was being repaired.

Otherwise, I'd suggest sponge baths with occasional showers elsewhere to deal with hair washing. I also hear that there are leave-in shampoos, but find the idea a bit weird.

When my building was without hot water a couple of winters ago, we ran cold water in the tub and added pots of boiling water. This might work for you since your water is slow - filling the tub with a few inches of water might take a while but you can bathe fairly well in it.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:42 AM on December 16, 2011

In addition to the camp shower, you can find no-rinse soaps or baby-wipe style cleaners to at least get the funk off your body.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:43 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and I should say, in case it's not obvious, buckets may be filled - and even continually filled, if you have decent pressure in your taps, with a hosepipe from the bathroom sink.
posted by tavegyl at 6:44 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you have a tub, or only a shower? If you have a tub, can you run water in slowly, and maybe heat up enough water on the stove to make it at least luke-warm? That'd be my first suggestion (and in fact is how a friend make it through a series of boiler outages last year).

If you don't have a tub, I'd suggest buying a portable camp shower (or three) from a camping goods store and filling with regular tap water + hot water.

Is everyone who's complaining to the city contacting the water and sewer people? If so, could you try NYC Department of Environmental Protection? They deal with low-water-pressure complaints.

It depends a lot on the circumstances, but low water pressure can be a contamination hazard; most municipal systems rely on positive pressure in the underground distribution pipes to keep things like contaminated groundwater out of the water distribution system. I do not know any of the details and it is possible your underground distribution pipes are positive-pressure despite the low water pressure in the buildings. However, if I were in your situation I'd be asking the city about contamination and water quality. (Especially if it's multiple buildings.)
posted by pie ninja at 6:47 AM on December 16, 2011

I moved out of my Brooklyn apartment (in fact, I left NYC all together) after dealing with this problem for a year. It was awful and I spent way too many mornings crying and shivering in the shower when my trickle dried up. I know you don't want to hear about joining the gym, but that's what I finally ended up doing. The receptionist probably thought I was homeless because I only came in to shower each morning. I realize this isn't very helpful, but I certainly can commiserate.
posted by jrichards at 6:47 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

How is the water from your sink? Do you get enough water so you can fill a bowl or two with hot water in a reasonable amount of time? Or do you need to bring in water from elsewhere?

If you need to bring it in, you'll need to heat it up on the stove. If you're a morning showerer you can heat it at night and keep it inside some water bottles in a cooler. This should keep it hot enough for the morning.

You can clean up fully with very little water. You need a bowl of water and a smaller cup that you can use to dip into the bowl and pour over yourself.

Acquire hot water, either by heating it or from the sink if that's possible. Fill the bowl with as much hot water as you need. Probably don't need much more than a gallon or two. Step into the shower, wet a washcloth and get your whole body wet. Get the soap a bit wet. Lather up. Now wet your hair and lather up with shampoo.

Rinse by pouring water over your head and shoulders. You want to rinse from the top of your body so the water trickles down and rinses your lower body. Once mostly rinsed, rinse all the nooks and crannies lower down.

Dry off. You're done.

This is what I did after Hurricane Irene and the October ice storm. It works surprisingly well and doesn't take much longer than a shower.
posted by bondcliff at 6:48 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know how often you both wash your hair, but I have super thick hair that has a tendency toward collecting shampoo residue.

Every once in a while, I'll drop in to my neighbourhood salon (It helps that I use one of the low-end ones and my daughter and I are regular customers) and my usual stylist will give me an awesome shampoo only for $5; a shampoo and quick blow out for $10; or shampoo and proper blow-out for $15 (I tip $2-5, depending). That will last me a good four days. It might be worth it to see if you can work out something with a neighbourhood place, and then you only need to worry about bucket or sponge baths for your body. Considering the great head massage, better quality product and better-looking result I end up with from the salon, all for the price of a fancy cup of coffee or two, I ought to do it more often... Maybe that would work for you?
posted by peagood at 6:50 AM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Our sinks are fine so far. And we have a bathtub. So obviously we have a bunch of assets to work with. But thanks for the tips so far, please keep them coming, and feel free to post tips for people without bathtubs or working sinks. This thread might as well be a resource for folks with similar (but not quite identical) situations.
posted by grumblebee at 6:51 AM on December 16, 2011

I vote for the bucket-and-ladle approach. I bathed that way for weeks, and it's far more effective than you might think.
posted by ceiba at 6:57 AM on December 16, 2011

Here is an inexpensive pressurzed camp shower system that uses a battery powered submersible pump. It should work well in a pot of hot water or in the sink if it's close enough to the bathtub.
posted by gimli at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: I should say that part of the reason I want tips is for speed. I know we could both take baths, but we're super-busy, office-working, commuting New Yorkers. So I want to strike the best balance I can between cleanliness and speed. That's also why I'm not crazy about a gym approach. It would add an hour to a morning that is already packed with duties.

And I know plenty of people do it, but I shudder at the idea of bathing at night but not in the morning before work. So if bucket-and-ladle is faster than running a bath, I'll go with the former.
posted by grumblebee at 7:02 AM on December 16, 2011

I'm sort of going through this now because a hot water pipe is broken and turned off, so no hot water until we can get it fixed, which will have to wait a bit. I use an electric kettle to heat water quickly (it will also keep it hot for a while) and mix it with cold water in my largest cooking pan to get warm water, and wash my hair in the sink with that, using a dipper to pour it over my head. For body, I use a laundry tub inside my bath, mix two kettles of hot water with cold and do a washcloth bath, again using a dipper to wet and rinse.

If you do have a problem with hot water because by the time you've collected enough it's no longer hot, the electric kettle is very, very quick and handy.
posted by taz at 7:06 AM on December 16, 2011

When my bathroom fell into my living room, I cleaned my body in the kitchen via sponge-bath and cleaned my hair with dry shampoo (google search for "dry shampoo" or "waterless shampoo" and you'll find a lot of products). Dry shampoo isn't ideal for long curly hair (mine is very short) because it has to be brushed out, but it might help your wife.
posted by kataclysm at 7:13 AM on December 16, 2011

When I've gone camping in the desert for extended periods, I've always brought along a package of baby wipes and simply wiped off my body as thoroughly as possible then put on some deodorant as a way to freshen up while roughing it. Obviously this will not help your hair, but as a back up plan it's probably worth the $2.00 or so.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:17 AM on December 16, 2011

Seconding peagood's advice. I want add that if you wash your hair everyday, you can safely go four (or more) days for a while if you need to. Your scalp will adjust to less shampooing by producing less oil. After a week or so of less washing, your hair won't seem as dirty as it might have otherwise. I learned this under similar circumstances as yours. There are powder shampoos out there that work, are strange/awkward to use at first but are something to consider in your situation. Some are spray-powders, some just powder. You just apply the product then brush it out. When I had no shower for a few weeks I wore my hair in braids or a big bun on top of my head almost the entire time (mainly to save the time I'd lost racing around bathing in new, weird ways). I did use my gym a few times a week, friend's showers the rest of the time and I relied heavily on sponge-baths (as described above by many--but abbreviated--just my feet or just my face, etc). Unscented baby-wipe type products were a huge help. They, being convenient and portable, meant in a pinch I could clean myself without having to appeal to others (for their showers). Good luck!
posted by marimeko at 7:24 AM on December 16, 2011

if your sink is good you might try the sink shower converter type things. That's not a long enough hose but you could get one and use a pair of compression fittings and a long middle piece to create something long enough to reach you in the shower.

My only caution would be that, based on my experience with these things a decade or so ago, the fitting over the sink head comes loose easily; you might want to use some sort of contraption to hold it in place.

Alternately, if you sink has an aerator you might be able to find an adapter to let you attach a traditional hose to it.
posted by phearlez at 7:52 AM on December 16, 2011

Best answer: This might be obvious, but washing your hair in the sink will be easier if you and your wife wash each others' hair, salon-style, rather than trying to do it yourself.
posted by yarrow at 8:24 AM on December 16, 2011

Best answer: What you want is a big sturdy jug with a wide pouring spout (look for pics of Victorian bathing equipment - there is a huge bowl and jug on a stand, you want a jug like that). You fill it up with water then you sit in the bath and you pour it over your head, soap body, shampoo hair, pour the rest over to wash off. This is much better than ladles and buckets.
posted by meepmeow at 9:19 AM on December 16, 2011

Nth-ing the call to pour water over yourself with a scoop. This is actually the method used in Turkish and Roman bathhouses, with a particular bowl used for scooping up the water. It's a wide flat bowl (maybe 2" tall, 8" diameter) with bump up in the middle of the bottom (images). It looks odd, but it's sized for your hand so your thumb is over the rim and the tips of your fingers are in the indentation on the bottom. I've forgotten the name but I vaguely remember my friend saying something about them being "belly-button bowls".
Anyway, not suggesting you rush off to Turkish Artifacts R Us, just pointing out that the scooping-water bath is a long-running method.
posted by aimedwander at 10:26 AM on December 16, 2011

For people who won't have working hot water for the long term (since you mentioned you wanted broader answers to this question), you can buy a hot/cold water cooler for a surprisingly small amount of money and have water delivered to you periodically (or fill up the jug at some convenient hose or something). You could work up a combination of hoses that gives you the water temperature you want to bath in and do the Navy shower thing--fifteen seconds to soak down, lather and wash, fifteen seconds of rinsing, etc. Also cut your hair shorter.
posted by _cave at 10:29 AM on December 16, 2011

I spend days at a time in the desert backpacking, and carry baby wipes (or Wet Ones) with me to wipe down in the morning. Between this and a good sink-washing every few days, you should be fine.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:53 AM on December 16, 2011

Best answer: A) If you are really mad, write up a sample letter to your city representative and leave a stack of photocopies in the lobby so your entire building can send them in. Have you tried calling your local government representative or building code enforcement? If this is a project of the bureau of public works, you can go to one of their regular public meetings to inform the commissioners or whatever they're called in your area, about your problem. In my city (LA), you can look up the meeting times on the website, show up and fill out a comment card which will allow you 3 minutes to make comments during the open comment period. They usually do open comment period before their agenda items. I attend meetings like this for my job as a public advocate and in my area it usually gets a response because it is so rare that the public, and not people that are paid consultants, attend.

B) Sounds like you are lacking useable running water which is a habitability issue. If you have renters or homeowners insurance, you should see if you are covered for loss of use. My insurance company will pay for hotel or alternative accommodations under certain circumstances.
posted by dottiechang at 12:29 PM on December 16, 2011

I have curly hair and discovered GotToBe's dry shampoo via another curly haired friend. It's kind of awesome. I've only tried the RockingIt one so far.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2011

Bath can be pretty quick if you only run a couple of inches, enough to sit in. You have a quick wash sitting in the water, you can conceivably submerge your head in it to rinse and it definitely is quick because as you're not covered in hot water you feel cold very quickly. I have lived in a few different places for years that did not have showers, only bathtubs and this works just fine.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2011

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, I did the bucket-and-ladle method for a year. It was fine. I even included shampooing my (very thick, but short-ish) hair in it -- no need to do it separately. The trick is to save the shampooing until the end, and then rinse it by dumping the entire remaining bucket on your head. You'd probably have even more success with this than I did, because you don't actually have a water shortage; because all my water had to be carted from the nearby river, I was very sparing with water. But you don't have to be.

This method works fine, and is quite fast - once you are used to it, it's just as fast as a normal shower.

The best thing about it was showering under the stars at night but I imagine that isn't an option for you!
posted by forza at 3:30 PM on December 16, 2011

The hobo method is to get a bunch of gallon milk jugs, clean them thoroughly and poke holes in the tops of them. Fill them with water and either warm them in the sun or the microwave. No spendy camp showers, which actually aren't as good anyhow. I had a house with a bathtub and no shower for a while and I'm afraid washing the night before was the way I did it, but you might find that you're okay with having a "big wash" the night before and then just washing your hair, pits and crotch in the morning which you can do quicklike standing up in the shower [amd O agree, this is going to be faster if you wash each other]. Plus it's winter so wear a hat. Plus call 211 over and over and over again. Lack of hot running water is basically making your apartment uninhabitable which [CALL YOUR TENANTS UNION FOR SPECIFICS] can lead to all sorts of possible work-it-out situations with the landlords. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 PM on December 16, 2011

For speed, I wouldn't do the one-cup-at-a-time shower. I'd fill up two bucket ahead of time and take a submarine shower. Bucket one, get wet. Then, whole body soap and shampoo hair. Bucket two, rinse. It's pretty fast.

You don't need running water for most of a normal shower. It just feels good.

For just that little bit of extra water, you could let the first bucket fill back up as much as it can while you're soaping up.
posted by ctmf at 8:35 PM on December 16, 2011

And I know plenty of people do it, but I shudder at the idea of bathing at night but not in the morning before work.

Try to find a way to wash your hair at night and your body in the morning. That's what I did when we had a sketchy bathing situation in our apartment. I figured out how to tie back my long, thick hair and wash only near the scalp on most nights, using the sink. It actually did wonders for my hair, but it was too time-consuming to do right before work.
posted by BibiRose at 8:37 PM on December 16, 2011

I've lived in various places in Eastern Europe with major water pressure problems in the summer. We found that at times of day, when few other people are using water, that the pressure got a little better, so we would have a large container in the bathroom & when the water pressure was better at midnight, or 5:30am, we would race to fill them up. I don't know if you've checked the flow at various times of day, but it would be worth an investigation.

Then, once we had a barrel of water, I'd find that boiling 4 litres on the stove (we used an electric kettle, but I don't think Americans have those? Strange people :-) ) and adding that to a dish-washing-bowl-sized container of cold water would give a reasonable temperature. I would then stand in the shower and use a 2 litre plastic kitchen jug to pour it over myself. With a little practice I could do a clean-feeling body shower with 8 litres and a body + long, thick, wavy hair shower in about 16 litres.

And once I'd got into the routine, this was do-able in a reasonable time in the morning.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 12:38 AM on December 17, 2011

I've just seen your comments about the necessity of speed. Of course if you are saving water from higher-flow times and heating it, then the time while the water is heating can be used to do all the other stuff you've got to do. I had it down to pretty military style precision of what exactly could be accomplished in that period!
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 12:44 AM on December 17, 2011

It seems odd that your sinks still have pressure while your shower doesn't.
posted by gjc at 8:33 AM on December 17, 2011

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