The peculiar bathroom habits of Westerners

But the availability of water isn’t the only factor affecting this. Frequent bathing is common even, for instance, in low-income parts of Lilongwe, Malawi, whose residents might take bucket-based baths two or three times a day despite intermittent water access.

Many Ghanaians, Filipinos, Colombians and Australians, among others, also bathe multiple times a day. This may not include washing the hair each time, and there might be supplementary foot washing in cultures where this is important. Multiple bucket baths might actually use up less water overall than a single high-pressure shower. But the habit is only partly related to a hot climate: some Brazilians take multiple showers even on winter days.

Today’s typical routine of a morning shower is partly a reflection of contemporary notions about how to structure the day, which is more rigorously ordered than in the past. (Today’s Westerners feel they have less free time than ever before, even though working hours are shorter, partly because so much of their time is scheduled.)

There’s also a stronger sense now of showering as a way of making yourself presentable to others, rather than washing away the day’s grime. It reflects the change in the types of labour done, too: fewer Westerners are now involved in the kinds of manual or agricultural work that would call for rinsing off dirt.

Scheduling sensibilities aside, is it more hygienic – or helpful – to shower daily, and to do so in the morning or the evening? Not always. Frequent hot showering can dry out the skin and hair (leading to the trend of women washing their hair just once or twice a week). Evidence also is mixed about the benefits of a morning or evening shower. Some swear by the alertness brought about by a morning jolt of water, but an evening bath, as is common in Japan, can help with relaxation of muscles before bed.

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