You may be drinking filtered water to reduce the number of contaminants you ingest but if you are like me, you had no idea that your shower produced a significant amount of airborne contaminants. The heat and the water treatment chemicals and byproducts combine to create airborne chemicals. Studies have shown that inhaling these airborne chemicals can be more dangerous than drinking the chemicals in water.
You are probably wondering why you are subjected to airborne contaminants while you shower. Disinfectant chemicals like chlorine are used during the water treatment process to keep our drinking water safe. These chemicals react with the organic matter in water and form Disinfection By-Products or DBPs so it’s simply chemistry. When we shower, the heated water releases the chlorine disinfectants and DBPs into the air on onto your skin.
Several DBPs, particularly trihalomethanes (THMs) are shown to increase the risk of bladder, colon, and rectal cancers, cause birth-defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Exposure to DBPs occurs with all activities involving chlorinated water and include drinking, cooking, laundry, dishwashing, bathing and showering.
The data from one study sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences (Andelman 1986) indicates that hot showers can release between 50-80% of the dissolved chemicals into the air. Emissions from hot baths are 50% lower because water droplets dispersed by a shower head have a larger surface-to volume ratio than water streaming into a bath so more of the volatiles can vaporize.
Another more recent study by environmental engineers from University of Texas at Austin documented that showers and dishwashers contribute to indoor air pollution. The experiments determined that significant percentages of all tested pollutants were transferred from water to indoor air and that exposure from breathing may rival or exceed exposure from drinking the water. EPA studies also support that the shower is a contributor to indoor air pollution. After conducting 29 experiments, the EPA concluded that showers contribute 45% of waterborne pollution spewed into indoor air.
So, what can you do to reduce your exposure?
- Use shower filters to remove chlorine which will reduce the dissolved chlorine in your shower and also reduce the creation of THMs during your shower (it will not however remove THMs or other DBPs already present in the water)
- Shorten your shower time
- Reduce the temperature of your shower since colder water reduces the vaporization of the dissolved chemical
- Opt for baths rather than showers
- Use the bathroom exhaust fan to remove the gases from your bathroom
- Use an air cleaner that removes VOCs to remove the gases that accumulated during your shower
So, it may be a hard sell to shorten your shower length or turn down the heat. I know I wasn’t anxious to do this! However, I have made some changes. I installed a shower filter that I really love. Also, I always use the bathroom exhaust fan when showering and finally, I have an air cleaner in my bedroom that I know is helping to remove the gases that accumulate from a shower.
The shower filter was a lot simpler to install than I initially thought. Although I could have purchased a new shower head with a filter, I opted for adding a filter to my existing shower head. I was able to match the brushed nickel finish, so it looks nice. I did not need a plumber, but I did need a wrench and some white plumber’s tape.
To install, all I had to do was unscrew my current shower head and add the filter and attach the shower head.
In addition to reducing contaminant inhalation, shower filters will also benefit your skin and hair. Many people report improvements in skin irritation and hair softness after installing filters.