Over the last decade, I’ve talked a lot about the ingredients we put in our bodies and slather on our bodies. That includes food, water and our natural beauty care. Today I want to talk about water, but not the water we drink. We often get so caught up in the kind of water we’re drinking and whether we’re hydrated enough that we completely forget about the water we are bathing in every single day. Instead, it’s time to explore the reality of how our shower may be harming our health.
Something we don’t often consider is that a long, hot shower might be dangerous to our health. Yes, your shower might be toxic – but not to worry, with a few simple fixes we can greatly reduce our risk.
Showers, Chlorinated Water and Your Health
Most municipalities treat their water with chlorine. Chlorine is universally used to disinfect, killing bacteria and other micro-organisms. But once it arrives in your home, chlorine can negatively affect your family’s long term health. Drinking chlorinated water can increase the risk of colon cancer and bladder cancer (particularly in men), as well as aggravate asthma and induce inflammation. As well, given that it’s intended to destroy bacteria, it can disrupt the beneficial bacteria in our gut – and as we know, gut health is essential to our overall health.
While reducing the amount of chlorine in our drinking water is important, it doesn’t eliminate our everyday consumption of this chemical.
Evidence indicates that showering in chlorinated water might actually be worse than drinking it.
A ten minute shower or a 30-minute bath is equivalent to drinking two litres of chlorinated water. Most of us aren’t able to chug two litres of water in such a small amount of time, so every time we shower we are accelerating our exposure.
Let’s not forget that our skin is our largest organ and while it definitely protects our insides from everything outside, our skin is not impermeable. When our shower water is hot, or even warm, our beautiful pores are wide open – meaning we’re setting out the welcome mat for chemicals to enter our bodies.
Download your FREE reference guide to help keep your personal care routine clean and safe. Learn More
The Heat Factor + Chlorine In Your Shower
When we bathe in hot chlorinated water, chlorine is not only being absorbed through our skin but as it vaporizes we’re also inhaling it into our lungs, which can affect their function. When you breathe in the fumes, the vapors bypass the digestive system and are inhaled directly into your bloodstream. That is why breathing these compounds in the shower is even worse than drinking them.
How Chlorine Byproducts May Harm Your Health
And it’s not just chlorine we need to be concerned about. When chlorine interacts with other compounds in the water, it forms other harmful byproducts like trihalomethanes, chloramines (these are formed when ammonia is added to water) and chloroform (yes, the stuff that doctors and dentists used to use to knock people out).
Evidence shows that we can inhale and ingest chloroform as we shower, while chloramines have been linked to asthma and even DNA damage in animal models.
Other research indicates that as we shower, chlorine vapours spread beyond the bathroom and into the rest of the home, increasing our airborne exposure to these volatile chemicals.
Chlorine is an oxidizing agent: when it encounters organic materials it produces new toxins we need to be concerned about. Its chemicals react with other chemicals to produce way worse chemicals: the poison produced is worse than the sum of its parts.
The poison produced is worse than the sum of its parts.
One local study of Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton calculated the risks of trihalomethane exposure through inhalation and the skin during showers and bathing. The study predicted 36 total cancer incidents in these cities just from showering alone. Another European study found that lifetime exposure to trihalomethanes via showers and baths increased the risk of bladder cancer.
Chlorine byproducts in our water sources are associated with an increased risk of:
- Bladder cancer
- Colon cancer
- Birth defects
- Low birth weight and preterm births
- Irritation in the eyes, nose and throat
- Skin issues like dermatitis – alarmingly, one study found that domestic water sources increased the risk of atopic dermatitis in infants.
Benefits of Shower Filters
Given that most of us bathe on a regular basis, we’re exposing ourselves to a boatload of chemicals. The good news, we can greatly reduce our risk by using a shower filter. They’re easy to install and are inexpensive.
Key Advantages of Using a Filter for Your Shower
A good quality shower (and/or bath) filter can significantly reduce the health risks for people of all ages. They:
- Provide a significant reduction of exposure to chlorine and disinfection by-products (DBPs)
- Filter out volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as some heavy metals such as lead and copper
- Improve the texture of skin and hair
- Maintain free-flowing water and is easy to install
- Require no effort on your part – aside from unscrewing shower head, attaching filter, and then screwing shower head to the filter.
Bath and Shower Filter Options To Consider
- Both chlorine and chloramine can be removed for bathing purposes by dissolving Vitamin C in the bath water.
- One 1000 mg Vitamin C tablet will neutralize chloramine in an average bathtub.
- Shower filters made with Clorogon, a blend of copper, zinc, and calcium sulfide, convert chlorine into chloride salt.
- Can also find filters with just zinc and copper.
- This new chloride salt is not as volatile as chlorine, and cannot evaporate.
- To inhibit absorption of chlorine and chloramine from a bath, add 1000 mg of ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Note: Carbon filters do not work in showers, as they can’t handle the high flow, and don’t work with warm water.
I am not recommending any one shower filter here because it’s important to first know what is in your water. This information should be listed on the municipal government website.
Shower Curtains and Your Health
Many shower curtains and shower curtain liners are made of a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). You know I’m not a fan of plastic in the slightest, and you can read all about the health effects of plastic here, as as well as some awesome plastic-free alternatives here.
PVC shower curtains leach phthalates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air around them. Childhood and fetal exposure to phthalates can disrupt normal development. In adults, they can mess with our endocrine systems.
Skip the PVC shower curtains and opt for a non-toxic one instead. Options include:
- PEVA (pthalate free, though still plastic)
- Heavy organic cotton or canvas liners
- Hemp (this is what I have at home and love it)
How We Detox Our Shower In Our Home?
Once we moved into our house, we installed a de-chlorinator on the whole house. This blocks the chlorine before it even enters and is a worthy investment. You will have to call a professional to install it and there are different companies in different cities.
However, prior to this, I used a simple shower filter. All I needed to do was replace the cartridge once a year. It’s perhaps one of the easiest ways for us to reclaim our health and reduce a little of our toxic load.
Download your FREE reference guide to help keep your personal care routine clean and safe. Learn More
18 responses to “Is Your Shower Harming Your Health?”
This is such great information! I’ve been researching a good shower filter recently and this article confirms the need for it even beyond my initial intent (healthier hair and skin). And it just so happens that I purchased a PEVA shower liner this past weekend, so I’m on track! Looking forward to receiving more great tips from you, as always!
This informative article has me looking into a whole home de-chlorinator. This is different than a water softener, correct? Is it the same as a whole home water filtration system? You mention that carbon filters don’t work in showers – but do the whole home de-chlorinators use carbon to filter all the bad stuff? Sorry for all the questions – started looking into water filtration companies in Toronto and now I’m just overwhelmed and confused as to what de-chlorinators are and are not. You help/guidance/advice is greatly appreciated. :)
Great question Nancy! There are various types of whole home filtration systems. Depending on the type, these systems filter out chlorine and other harmful chemicals and by-products. I recommend first taking a look at what is in your local water source, prior to looking into filters. If you want to learn more, I offer lots of information about water filtration systems in my upcoming course, Healthy at Home. In the course we offer a review of all of the best water filter options and how to know which is best for where you live and your living set up (renters, condos, homes etc). You’ll find more information on the course here: https://www.meghantelpner.com/healthyathome
Our home has well water. While that means we aren’t subjected to chlorination, we still have a whole-house water filtration system to address other imbalances in our water. However, this article also made me think about other times we’re exposed to chlorinated water: swimming pools and hot tubs. I certainly don’t want us to stop enjoying those activities, but it worries me. What are your suggestions?
Hi Michelle, thanks for your comment! Looking for a salt water pool would be the best option. I don’t know that it’s possible to avoid the effects so the best option is to reduce exposure wherever else is possible.
Josh posted about this in 2012-
Can you tell us which shower filter you like? Mine is called a Sprite. It came from Home Depot. I’m hoping it passes your approval test. Thank you.
Thanks Virginia! Here is the link to the one I use: http://amzn.to/2mBCEkR. As I mentioned, it’s best to check your own water supply to decide which filter is right for you. If you are interested in learning more, I offer a review of all of the best water filter options and how to know which one is best for where you live and your living set up in my upcoming course Healthy at Home. You can learn more about the course here: https://www.meghantelpner.com/healthyathome
So if you live in a hi-rise what can you do for a filter?
I will be moving to a new hi-raise apartment blog next year. What sort of filter can I get for my shower and drinking water supply.
Great article, Meghan! I use the Santevia shower filter. I change it 2x a year. But I don’t use it when I am filling up the bath. I guess I should get one that goes over the faucet for pouring a bath too.
Great article. I was wondering if you had any other suggestions for showering, aside from the shower filter, because they are out of my price range at the moment? I’m now concerned, and want to know if there are any other solutions (aside from only taking “Vitamin C baths”).
Hi Ella, thanks for your message! There are various types of shower filtration systems. I recommend first taking a look at what is in your local water source, prior to looking into filters. There are shower filters available online or at your local hardware store starting at around $30. If you want to learn more, I offer lots of information about water filtration systems in my upcoming course, Healthy at Home. In the course we offer a review of all of the best water filter options and how to know which is best for where you live, your living set up (renters, condos, homes etc) and your budget. You’ll find more information on the course here: https://www.meghantelpner.com/healthyathome
I don’t think that a shower filter cost a lot. First of all think about your skin and hair. If they got sick do you mind to cost a lot for your hair and skin. I don’t think so. Thanks Megan for your valuable post.
This is important to consider not only the presence of pathogens or contaminants, but also the routine addition of chemicals that may cause us harm. The quality of our drinking water is a major determinant of our health. Shower can make you sick. In order to fix this problem, I must recommend to use eco-friendly shower heads to avoid the disadvantages of shower.
Thanks Meghan for sharing post. I must bookmark it and keep posting interesting articles.
Huge thanks to you for sharing this valuable information.
How do I know what is in my local water source? I stay in downtown Toronto. Is there a website that Toronto municipality maintain to show what is in the local water supply?
Yes, a good first step is to check with the city. Some information about Toronto water is on the city website: https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/tap-water-in-toronto/
Anther thing – almost all of the shower heads and hoses on the market are made from plastic, which causes me to wonder about the possible leaching of petrochemicals into the hot water used. I recently found a beautiful all metal model made in the United States by HammerHead Showers which is truly wonderful – an investment, but a worthy one!