WATER: HOT OR NOT by Bonnie Halper
There’s no disputing it: water is hot. Walk into any corner deli and you’ll not only find your pick of brands, but also your choice of sparkling or still and a selection of flavors as well. But truth be told, water is not as hot as it used to be.
Not the water in which you shower, or with which you wash your dishes and clothing. In fact, it’s not hot enough to kill most bacteria.
The Dirt on What Happened
Starting back in 1992, the Federal government started passing a number of regulations in the name of energy efficiency, without any fanfare or public announcements, and as a result, your water is now 120 degrees, or just slightly higher than the temperature at which yeast blooms. “But raising the temperature above 120 degrees is recommended by many health experts to reduce the risk of exposure to bacteria,” says SFGate, “as long as cautionary measures to avoid scalding are implemented, as well.”
Such as wearing the proper gloves when you’re hand-washing dishes and being careful not to take a swim in the dishwasher. In fact, don’t even think about it.
According to the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), water temperatures need to be 140 degrees in order for things to get clean. In fact, 120 is the lowest-possible setting for cleaning, but 170 degrees gives you the sure thing.
The American Society of Sanitary Engineering recommends setting the temperature of home water heaters to 135 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a range shown to destroy bacteria. As for 120 degrees, it’s the perfect temperature for your tank to breed Legionella pneumophila, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease.
Of course there are anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers, but as a result of their now fairly widespread use, many bacteria and diseases have grown resistant to even our strongest known antibiotics.
And speaking of anti-bacterial soaps, according to the Washington Post, Triclosan, found in antibacterial soap and other products, causes cancer in mice. The type of cancer that the mice in the study developed, called hepatocellular carcinoma, is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, but relatively uncommon in the United States. Most cases of hepatocellular carcinoma are caused by chronic hepatitis B and C infections.
If you have a home water heater, it is possible to push the dial beyond 120 degrees (many ship set at 110 degrees, just to be on the so-called safe side). Just takes a bit of effort, and remember that the water will be hot enough to scald you. Wear gloves when doing dishes – and enjoy the clean clothes! If you have no control over the water temperature, you still have alternatives, and truth be told, many people do a cold water wash in the washing machine anyway, where the water, again, needs to be 140 degrees to kill germs: the fecal matter in your dirty underwear can carry bacteria that can lead to hepatitis A virus, norovirus, rotavirus, Salmonella, and E. coli poisoning. How to combat this? Bleach, of course, including bleach designed for non-white clothing and cold-water washes, or good old-fashioned vinegar in the liquid chlorine bleach dispenser.
Speaking of vinegar, after cutting meat or poultry, you might also want to wash down your cutting board and utensils with vinegar as well, to kill the germs that your so-called hot water won’t. In fact, a sprayer bottle filled with ½ vinegar and ½ water is a great cleanser and something you might want to consider keeping on hand in your kitchen to rinse down counters, et al.
The Pressure’s Off
It wasn’t simply the water temperature that changed. It was the pressure as well, thanks to yet another government mandate that restricted the flow, in the name of saving water: your shower now has a flow restrictor, which is why you’re not enjoying the same experience as your grandmother – or people in most other countries around the world who have access to indoor plumbing. Even Seinfeld’s Kramer noticed it.
But it’s not just the showerhead that changed. It’s the water pressure, too, thanks to yet other EPA mandates on state and local governments. While in most cases you can hack your showerhead, not so with water pressure. There’s just less water flowing through the pipes, again, in the name of conservation.
Prior to 1994, showers dumped 12 gallons of water on us per minute, but due to Congressional legislation, they now only push out 2.5 gallons. Meaning that you’re taking longer showers, and even then, you might not be getting all of the soap off your body or out of your hair.
While none of us has anything against water conservation, truth be told, according to the FEE, “domestic water use, which includes even the water you use on your lawn and flower beds, constitutes a mere 2% of the total, so this unrelenting misery spread by government regulations makes hardly a dent in the whole.”
Water, Clean and Simple
The amount of water the human body needs varies from 50% to 75%, depending on age and gender, but one thing is certain: we can’t live without the stuff. Just consider all of the water sources in your home, in the kitchen, the bath, the laundry. It’s great having modern and even connected appliances that make our lives easier. And they’d make our lives even better and help us to live even healthier lives if bureaucrats would stay out of the wash cycle. But it all only confirms what we already know: that politics can be a dirty business. And it may be time to turn up the heat.