Hand Washing puts Environment in Hot Water

hot-water-wasteAs someone concerned with energy efficiency and preserving the environment, I often find myself looking for ways to help the cause. Unfortunately, some of the most effective strategies to reduce energy are simply out of reach. I’m not in the position to buy an electric car, nor can I plant a garden in December here in Buffalo, NY. Fortunately, thanks to a study done by the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment (VIEE), I now know there’s at least one strategy literally everyone can implement in their daily routine- using cold water when washing hands.

Reported by National Geographic, a study conducted by Amanda R. Carrico, an assistant professor at VIEE, disproves the age-old myth that hot water kills germs better than cold when washing hands. In fact, water hot enough to kill all germs would scald our hands. Carrico said, “It’s certainly true that heat kills bacteria, but if you were going to use hot water to kill them it would have to be way too hot for you to tolerate.”

Therefore, even when we do use warmer water, it’s not doing a better job at keeping us healthy and anymore germ-free than cold water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization don’t recommend a certain temperature for us when washing our hands. They only suggest that we use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Florida physician Todd Sack of the Florida Medical Association reiterated to National Geographic, “You don’t need hot water; you need soap, water, and friction.”

How will curbing our hot water use help the environment?

According to Carrico’s team, Americans use warm water 64 percent of the time when they wash their hands. Americans wash their hands approximately seven times a day and when you combine all that hot water, over a year’s time it really adds up. Carrico said, “Although the choice of water temperature during a single hand wash may appear trivial, when multiplied by the nearly 800 billion hand washes performed by Americans each year, this practice results in more than 6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually.” That’s about the same amount of emissions as two coal-fired power plants – or the entire country of El Salvador for a single year.

Cold water is less comfortable than warm water when you wash your hands, but it really can make a big difference. If everyone in the U.S. used cooler water, it would be equivalent to eliminating energy-related carbon emissions of 299,700 homes. Carrico added, “While behaviors like hand washing don’t account for a large source of emissions, they do play a role in meeting emissions targets and they are one more example of something people can do.” So, if you’re looking to do a small part in helping environment and saving some energy, simply switch to cold water. It’s a task we can all easily do and we can feel great knowing we help the environment – seven times a day!

For more tips on how you and your business can reduce energy usage and take steps toward becoming a leader in responsible energy management, visit ECSgrid.com for industry-specific information.

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