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Donald Morrison: Since COVID, Americans are showering less — 17 percent less

It has been two years since COVID-19 first disrupted our lives, and reports of an astonishing trend are dribbling in from the bathrooms of America.

Contrary to expectations and common sense, people are showering less — 17 percent less, according to a survey last May by the polling firm YouGov. Anecdotal reports in women’s magazines confirm this development, so it must be true.

Soap and sponges by shower

According to a polling firm, since COVID Americans are showering 17 percent less. This is not only better for our skin, say dermatologists, but also the environment. 

You would think that we’d be spending more time under the nozzle, not less. After all, we have more time to stay home, more reason to seek solace in small pleasures, and additional incentive to avoid offending close housemates with unwanted odors.

Instead, Americans are going to the dogs. We spend our days in drawstring pants, sometimes no pants, staring at screens and cut off from non-virtual human contact. We go shopping less, dine out less, exercise less, visit friends and family less, use less makeup and shaving cream. Meanwhile, we drink more alcohol, eat more junk food and weigh more pounds — 29 of them, on average, according to a 2021 American Psychological Association study. We’re becoming slobs.

What happened to our sense of self-respect, our famous obsession with personal hygiene — a trait that has long set us apart from those smelly Europeans?

The American preoccupation with cleanliness first erupted in the 19th century, when the industrial revolution sent people scampering to the cities. Those urban carbuncles were notoriously unsanitary, but eventually they sprouted public baths and benefitted from the advent of factory-made soap.

Meanwhile, the middle classes, perhaps to set themselves apart from these partially washed masses, began bathing more frequently. The filthy rich, locked in their medieval distrust of water-borne diseases, held off for a while, but soon they too became notably less filthy.

Thus began an under-arms race that saw Americans, rich and poor alike, investing heavily in perfumed soaps and shampoos and taking ever longer baths, sometimes two a day. In the early 20th century, shower stalls began to replace tubs as the preferred venue for ablutions, spurred by the perfection of indoor plumbing and water heaters. Also, by the rise of a punctilious white-collar workforce that wouldn’t think of starting the day without a shower.

Then came COVID, and all bets were off. Despite the recent setback to bodily propriety, however, the pandemic has turned out to be a boon to the environment. We are no longer wasting as much water (20 gallons for the average eight-minute shower), or the energy to heat it (the equivalent of burning a 60-watt lightbulb for 24 hours). We are taxing landfills with fewer empty body-wash bottles, crumbling shower caps and exhausted loofahs.

We are also helping save America’s skin. Dermatologists say that too many showers, especially hot and soapy ones, can dry out our epidermis, prevent our keratin from hydrating and cause our mast cells to release histamines, making us itch. Cold, soapless showers appear to be less damaging, but who would want to take those?

So perhaps this pandemic-related decline in hydraulic rectitude is a good thing. Besides healthier skin, we have more time to bake bread, stream movies, complete crossword puzzles and, finally, read Proust. Also get to know our immediate families better, or at least recognize them by smell.

Those of us who haven’t lost our jobs because of COVID may find our bank accounts swelling with money saved on foregone moisturizers, replacement bathmats and laundry loads of dirty towels. Our bathrooms are less moldy, our drains less hair-clogged. And we add an average of eight minutes to our lives for every shower we skip. Win-win.

Indeed, it is entirely possible that we, America’s untidy COVID-survivor generation, will march into history from our self-imposed slob-itude as heroes. Our children and grandchildren will praise us for helping save the planet. Our epidermises will thank us for preserving their moisture. And on archived Zoom calls, we will look like ageless, glowing gods.

Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and co-chairman of the advisory board. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of

The Berkshire Eagle.

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