How to Clean Up Your Toxic Shower

Studies have found disinfecting chemicals can be absorbed into your skin and lungs if you don't filter them out first.

October 18, 2010

Heads up: Your shower may be spewing more than water.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You don't want your bathing experience to be dirty. But between harmful chemicals in many shampoos and soaps and the way they can react with the chlorine in our tap water to create more chemical chaos, business as usual in the bathroom needs to change. One easy way you can do that is by installing a shower water filter. True, water filtration may not have as much cache as carrying a reusable bottle or the searching out an organic cosmetics line. But it's just as important because we suds up every day (most of us, anyway). Fortunately, there are retailers out there who want to help you clean up your act.

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THE DETAILS: In 2010, the President's Cancer Panel, along with eating organic and avoiding plastic, recommended installing both drinking water and shower water filters as one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from developing cancer. That's because previous studies have found some pretty alarming statistics regarding unfiltered shower water, including the fact that people absorb 100 times more chlorine in a 10-minute shower than they do from drinking a gallon of the same water.

"Most people know they should be filtering drinking water, but they don't always realize if they don't want to drink unfiltered water, they might not want to shower in it, either," says Todd Bartee, CEO of Aquasana, a leader in the home water-filtration industry.

WHAT IT MEANS: Filtering your shower water isn't just a way to conserve water; it's also an indoor air-pollution eradicator. Hot, steamy showers are relaxing, but the heating up of chlorine (if you're on city water) can create chloroform, a known carcinogen. Add that to the fact that homes are generally pretty well insulated, and it's easy to see how chloroform can actually recirculate throughout your home, aggravating asthma or other respiratory issues. The heat of the bath also works to open your pores, which causes your skin to absorb more of the chemicals found in your personal-care products.

From a cosmetic standpoint, the mild bleach in your tap water can actually strip colored hair of its hue, cause skin to dry, and aggravate conditions like eczema.

Here's how you can help keep bath time safe:

• Test your tap. Every summer, people who get their water from a municipal source should receive a water-quality report to get an idea of what's in their water. This helps you shop smarter when looking for a water filter, because no every filter can remove every contaminant. (If you're on well water, find an EPA-approved water-testing company to check your water for bacteria, heavy metals, and other harmful substances). For a copy of your town's latest report, enter your zip code in the Environmental Working Group's National Drinking Water Database.

• Find the right filter. Not all water filters are created equally. To filter out chlorine, be sure to look for NSF/ANSI Standard 177: Shower Filtration Systems - Aesthetic Effects, which means it's third-party tested to effectively remove chlorine. If your water test turns up elevated levels of other contaminants, make sure you buy a filter that is certified to remove them.

• Clean up your cleaners. Be picky about the products you use to clean not only your house, but your body, too. Choose plant-based soaps, like certified-organic Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, and avoid shampoos and soaps that are artificially scented by steering clear of ingredients like "fragrance," "parfum," and "linalool," a compound found in certain plants, but usually in a synthetic form in personal-care products. And wash your hands clean of ever using the antibacterial chemical triclosan, which messes up hormone function and is linked to the spike in antibiotic-resistant superbugs.