Baths Are Better Than Showers

A manifesto.

baths are better than showers.
See, everyone likes a good bath!

Photo by Shutterstock

I’d like to think that I am measured on my intellect, but the truth is that the most radical and fascinating thing about me seems to be that I take a bath every day. People can’t get over it. They’ll act like they’ve let it go, and then years later, when I think we should have pizza and they think we should have burritos, they’ll say, “Well, you take baths.” I’m honestly just impressed by how much it matters to people.

Take for example, this Deadspin column from last week titled “Baths Are for Gross People.” The thesis is probably pretty clear to you, but in case you need more context: “No full-grown adult should opt for taking a bath over a shower when it comes to personal hygiene.” Author Drew Magary’s basic answer to the question “Can you get clean from a bath?” is “I think you can,” but that’s as far as he’ll go toward meeting bath-takers halfway. “I’m lying down in a short white coffin. This does not relax me.”

I’m not going to try to convince you that you personally should take baths. I know it wouldn’t work. The idea of changing your time-honored shower routine is probably laughable. But I’ll explain why baths are actually superior to showers and then you can go back to yelling at me.

Let’s address the water usage issue up front. In February, Grist did some calculations about average bathwater volume versus the average showerhead’s gallons-per-minute rate. The results tracked with common sense: Short showers use less water, longer showers (more than eight minutes) approach baths in terms of gallons used. I have a simple solution to this issue that automatically accounts for variation in tub size, showerhead flow, etc. When I’m going to use a particular bathtub often, I take a seven-minute shower with the drain plugged. However high the water gets during that shower is how high I fill the bath from then on. Cool.

Author, pre-bath.
The author photographed before taking a bath in her friend’s luxurious tub. Some friends make a point of cleaning their tubs for her before she visits.

Photo by Lily Hay Newman

Grist is skeptical of my technique, though. “You can experiment with filling the tub less and less, I suppose, but at a certain level you begin to lose the point of a bath in the first place.” This shows exactly the type of reimagining that chronic showerers should do to understand daily bathing, though. The “point” of taking baths every day is very different from the point of taking a long bubble bath (complete with candles and deluxe skincare products) as a treat. Once-a-day baths don’t have to take a long time, involve perfumed bubbles, or use a lot of water. Plus there’s never mildew on my shower curtain.

But let’s get to the real heart of this issue: the “sitting in your own filth” thing. People are really concerned about this! It seems to be a big part of why baths aren’t more popular, and I can see why it might be off-putting. “Listen, most of us in this country are bathing daily or every other day. Most of us are not all that dirty,” said Bernard Cohen, a professor of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins. “Honestly I don’t think it makes that much difference” whether you take a bath or a shower, Cohen adds. “In a therapeutic setting I could argue that a shower would be better in some settings and a bath would be better in other settings.”

Dermatology aside, Cohen hit on what I think is the most compelling part of baths: “Psychologically, a bath with an old-fashioned newspaper seems like the way to go!” He was laughing about the premise of this article as he said that, but still. My daily bath isn’t an hour-long meditation on the state of my life, but it’s definitely enjoyable and calming—a quick respite before the day charges on. I can lounge, read, watch some TV on my computer (which sits on the closed toilet), or just do some free thinking. It’s also a great setup for shaving my legs.

I definitely take my bathing to an extreme sometimes. For example, I wash and condition my hair in the tub, which I know leads to some murky water. (For context, some people never wash their hair and that’s apparently fine.) I have also been known to take phone calls while hanging out in the tub. At least once, while working from home, I called into the weekly Slate editorial meeting from the bath. I can see how this might stretch societal norms, but it’s not like you can hear that someone is naked.

Like I said, I’ve experienced the ridicule of too many staunch anti-bathers to have any illusions about my proselytizing. So go ahead with your status quo. Try cleaning your feet in the shower even though you’re putting slippery soap on the part of your body that is supporting your entire weight. Scrub all that gunk off your shower curtain. Stand when you could be lounging. I’ll be in the tub.