Cold Showers

I had a recent experience with cold showers, which got me to thinking that they’re not so bad — at least in the summer.  Not only does taking cold showers have many health benefits (i.e., there are many claims of health benefits), it also saves money.

Every time you turn on the hot water, cold water flows into your water heater and that increases the amount of power (either electric or gas) it uses.  One sure way to reduce your bill is simply to reduce the amount of hot water you use.  If possible, don’t even touch the hot water faucet handle when you wash your hands or shower.  Use less hot water, and you save money every day.  Cold showers have the largest potential for saving money by reducing hot water use, because hot showers use a lot of hot water.

Cold showers are easiest in the summer, when the temperature of the “cold” water might be above 70° F (~ 20° C).  That’s not as warm as most people like for a shower, but it’s far from really cold.  For the past several days, I have taken only 100% cold showers, no hot water at all, and I’m getting quite used to it.  It’s really not bad.  Quite refreshing, actually.  (Of course, it’s July now.)  I’ll probably continue taking cold showers until fall, but I anticipate using less hot water than I’ve previously used during cold weather.

cold_showerNot only am I saving on the gas bill by reducing the amount of gas used to heat water, I’m also saving on the water bill.  Here are three reasons I use less water by cold-showering: (1) I don’t send water down the drain waiting for it to “heat up” as hot water moves through the pipes from the water heater to the shower.  I’m only using cold water and it’s there as soon as I turn the faucet handle.  (2) I use less water in the sense of gallons-per-minute of water flow and (3) I take shorter showers.  I also use the minimum amount of shampoo and soap, so as to reduce the amount of time and water it takes to rinse off.  No question about it, a cold shower is a quick shower.  Of course, I still use a shower shutoff valve.

Q: If cold water saves money, why not just turn off the water heater?

A: Hot water is absolutely necessary for washing clothes and dishes.  When doing laundry, hot water does a great job of killing germs, dust mites, and getting all of the grease and dirt out of your clothes.  Even though some detergents claim to work well in cold water, I still use hot water for the reasons stated.  If you try to wash dishes in cold water, you’ll find your dishes come out greasy and spotted.  (However, it’s a good idea to turn the water heater off when you go on vacation.)

To sum up: The shower is the place to save money by reducing your hot water usage.  Why not take the cold shower challenge?  Ease into it.  Reduce your hot water use in the shower by about half for your next few showers, then go total “cold shower” after that.  Good luck!



The Salux Washcloth

The Salux washcloth is one of those things that made me wonder, “how did I not know about this before now?”, when I became aware of it a few months ago.  After using a Salux washcloth, I now feel that when it comes to showering, “I’ve been doing it wrong”, at least for my whole pre-Salux life.

saluxWhat is a Salux washcloth?  Materially, it’s like the bath pouf (“pouf”, yes I guess that’s the word) that is common in showers in North America and probably elsewhere.  Both the Salux and the pouf are made of nylon and polyester or similar synthetic fabric.  But while the traditional bath pouf is bunched up into a spherical shape (usually with a cord loop for hanging), the Salux washcloth is shaped like a scarf, flat, about 10 inches wide and 35 inches long.  You might not assume this difference in shape would make much difference in performance, but … you’d be wrong— it really does.

The Salux washcloth has a bit more texture than the pouf, so the Salux does a better job cleaning and exfoliating.  After I’m done, I feel really clean, cleaner than I’ve ever felt after showering any other way.  (Although I should mention that I don’t think I need that much cleaning every day; I use the Salux once or twice per week.)

How to use it:  While you’re in the shower, skin wet, you put a small amount of soap, body wash liquid, or shower gel onto the Salux washcloth.  You should turn the water off, so that you don’t rinse away the soap before it’s had a chance to do its work.  Then, holding the Salux by the ends, one end in each hand, you wash yourself with a back-and-forth “shoeshine” motion.  This is especially good for washing your back.  (See the picture.)  The Salux makes lots of suds — more than the pouf, probably due to the quick back-and-forth motion.  You can also bunch it up and use it as you’d use a pouf or old-fashioned (cotton terry) washcloth, but I mostly use it fully stretched out between two hands pretty much everywhere: my back, underarms, legs and feet, even between toes.  (But not my face, the Salux experience is a little too intense for face cleaning.)

How it saves money:  The main advantage to using the Salux washcloth is that it allows you to use less soap.  With the Salux I use only about 1/3 the amount of body wash liquid as I normally use without it.  Getting cleaner while using less soap means that the Salux will pay for itself long before it wears out.  One reviewer on Amazon mentioned that after a Salux washcloth is too worn out for use in the shower (because it begins to fray at the ends and loses some of its texture), he saves it and uses it for household cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom.

Another nice thing about the Salux is that because of its shape it’s easier to rinse clean after use and it dries quickly and completely, thus making it more sanitary.  Poufs don’t dry as well because the bunched-up shape doesn’t allow as much contact with air.  You can also wash the Salux in a washing machine (same for the pouf), but this doesn’t seem necessary.  They get clean just by rinsing them well after use.  The need to launder cotton washcloths is one of the main reasons they are inconvenient and inefficient.  (If you launder your Salux washcloth in your washing machine, do not put it in the dryer.  Heat is not good for synthetic fabrics.)

A couple final notes.  (1) Some webpages use the word “towel” to describe the Salux.  I think that’s a mis-translation (given that these are made in Japan).  The Salux is a washcloth, intended to be used with soap and water for cleaning, not drying.  It wouldn’t be good for drying off after a shower.  (2) It’s been reported that Chinese-made fakes and knockoffs are common, but the consensus seems to be that these are inferior and that the real Japanese-made Salux is much better than any imitator.

Treating a Sprained Ankle

If you think you have a serious health problem, you need to see a doctor.  Don’t rely on the internet to treat serious medical conditions.

ankleThat said, I was suffering, but not from a serious medical condition.  A couple years ago, while walking in my own back yard, I slipped on some damp grass and sprained my ankle.  (What is it that’s often said about accidents happening close to home?)  The pain was so bad that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get back into the house.  I spent most of the next few days on the couch, alternating between applying ice packs and a heating pad to the injured foot.  Within a few days I was able to walk, albeit with quite a bit of pain.

The pain slowly subsided over the course of a few weeks.  But several months later there was still notable pain.  Not severe, not debilitating, but still bothersome.  The ankle just didn’t seem to be getting 100% better.  I waited a few months more, but still the pain hadn’t gone away.

Finally (sometimes, I’m just slow), it dawned on me to search the internet.  I had a vague idea that a physical therapist would do me some good, but I didn’t want to take the time to actually go see a physical therapist.  I just wanted to know what a physical therapist would be likely to tell me.

Of course, within seconds of typing a few keywords (and what is a “keyword” anyway? why don’t I just write that I typed “words”) into my favorite search engine I found a blog written by a physical therapist that discussed what kind of exercises he usually prescribed for patients who complained of persistent pain from a sprained ankle.  There were also helpful videos on youtube.  Basically, it was standing one one leg, standing on tiptoes, and leaning and pushing against a wall from a distance of an arm’s length or more.  Also, while seated, stretching the heel, pointing the toe, and lifting the outer and inner sides of the foot.

I started doing the exercises a few times each day, and after a few weeks, hallelujah! I’m healed!  The pain was reduced to almost nothing.  The exercises were just the right thing.  The internet to the rescue!

No Hot Water Not So Bad (in the Summer)

shower_every_dayThe gas company has been installing new gas meters on my street and because of some miscommunication (probably someone in my house not paying attention to a note that was left on our door), we’ve had no gas for the past couple days.  That means no cooking on the stove and no hot water.  Coincidentally, we weren’t doing any stove cooking these past couple days, so we only noticed the no-gas situation when the water in the shower stopped being hot.  A call to the gas company got everything sorted out.  My house didn’t actually need a new meter, so the gas will be turned on and we will be able to cook and shower as normal starting tonight.

But a couple days without gas-heated water made me think:  It’s really not too bad to shower with only cold water in the summertime.  (Obviously, it would be a different thing in January.  I’m very glad the gas company is replacing the meters in the summer and not during the winter.)  The water is a little cooler than I’d like, but I got used to it.  It might even be good for a body to get cooled off a little more than is comfortable.

So, the thought struck me:  Regularly showering with cold water (in the summer) might save some money.  Not much, considering the summer gas bill is less than $25 per month.  Aside from showering, we still cook with gas and use hot water for clothes washing and doing the dishes.  So, at most, maybe half of the bill goes for hot-water showering.  You have to ask yourself: $12 for hot water used for showering … or $12 towards being mortgage-free.  It’s a question worth thinking about.  Even if the answer is “hot showers”, it’s good to always be working at finding ways to save money.

Shave With a Double-Edged Razor

Savings from a little thing, done repeatedly,  can add up to a large total over time.

Take shaving:  Most men shave at least 4 times a week, many every day.  Look at the money a man allocates to the daily shave and consider how it adds up over the course of decades.  Shaving is a big deal.  If you can adjust your shaving habits a bit and spend a little less, the savings can be significant.

How much can you save if you change the way you shave? It might not sound like much, but, like I said, a little each day, each week, … adds up to quite a lot considering the number of times you’re going to shave over the rest of your life.  Why give more of your $$$ to the shaving industrial complex than is necessary?

First, let’s define some terms we’ll be using.

It’s the razor that holds the blade.

Razor.  The device you hold in your hand that holds the blades that cut your whiskers.  Don’t confuse “razor” and “blade”.

Double-edged razor.  A type of safety razor that takes double-edged blades.  Double-edged razors were the way that most men shaved during most of the twentieth century.  Safety razors are so called because the blade is partially covered, making them safer to use than the straight razor used in the 1800s and earlier.

Double-edged razor blades.  The blades, with a sharp edge on two sides, that go into the double-edged razor.  (There is also a type of blade that is sharp on only one edge that is used with a different kind of safety razor.)

Multi-blade razor.  A razor that uses 2, 3, 4 or ??? blades.  These started becoming popular in the 1970s.  Some are cartridge razors, which use blades that come in a plastic cartridge, others are disposable razors.  These razors can also be classified as safety razors because the blades are partially recessed under a cover.

My Shaving Odyssey

After shaving for more than 30 years with cartridge razors — the Trac II, Mach3, Fusion, and other similar 2-blade and 3-blade contraptions that were becoming popular when I started shaving in the 1970s — I somehow got interested in shaving with a double-edged (DE) safety razor. (Maybe it was those ads on TV with Rick Harrison, the pawn shop guy.)

If you were born after the early 1970s, you might have never seen anyone shave with a double-edged razor.  I can remember my Dad using one when I was young, before he, along with most American men, switched to cartridge razors.  I did some research and found lots of websites where enthusiasts share information.  That got me interested.  I bought a razor and started shaving with it a couple years ago.

The truth is:  You don’t need 2, 3, 4, or 5 blades on one razor to shave your face.  That’s just advertising and marketing.  You don’t need to throw away a handful of plastic every month.  You don’t need to spend $5 to $10 per month on blades.  Look what’s happened:  Big razor company wants to make more money by selling patented razors that take only one kind of blade cartridges — the kind they make.  The company gets you started with their razor for which they are the only supplier of blades, the monopoly supplier.  And they get to charge you monopoly prices.  Of course, if you know any economics, then you know that those prices are going to be as high as possible.  Much higher than the prices in a competitive free market.

DE safety razors are a more economical and enjoyable way to shave.

A DE safety razor (remember, that’s the handle and mechanism that holds the blade) is made of metal.  It’s solid.  It’s heavy.  Not a piece of plastic.  A good DE safety razor, costing $25 to $50, will last a lifetime with normal use and basic care.  In fact, a good razor might last more than a lifetime.  You can use your father’s or grandfather’s if you can obtain it.  The DE razor I use most of the time belonged to my grandfather.  He probably bought it before the 1970s.  You can buy vintage DE razors on eBay.  Sterilize them with alcohol before you use them.

I will admit that using a safety razor requires developing a new set of skills.  That takes several days.  You don’t handle a DE razor the way you handle a cartridge razor.  There are lots of helpful websites and videos.  Study a few before you try a safety razor.  Now that I have learned, I am able to get a better, smoother, closer, and more enjoyable shave with a safety razor than I ever had with cartridge razors.  Yes, as weird as it may sound, it’s actually enjoyable to shave with a DE safety razor.

There are some other advantages to using DE razors.

Safety razor blades are more sanitary than cartridge blades.  And when you’re pulling a piece of sharpened steel across your skin, you want it to be clean!, don’t you?  The DE safety razor can be opened and cleaned with running water.  Compare that with cartridge razors; they’re difficult to clean and get gummed up with shave cream, whiskers, bits of exfoliated skin and whatnot.  Did you ever look closely at one after you’ve used it for a several days?  No matter how you rinse them, you can’t get them clean.  There they sit in your bathroom, damp and gunked up with scum: the perfect breeding ground for germs, bacteria and who knows what.  Multi-blade cartridge razors are more likely to irritate your face and leave you with razor bumps (ingrown hairs), irritation, and infections.

Safety razors better for the environment.  All I dispose of each week is small piece of steel (the blade itself) and a bit of paper (that the blade comes wrapped in).  All of that can be recycled.  Multi-blade cartridges consist of steel blades encased in plastic.  They can’t easily be taken apart, so they can’t easily be recycled.

[Note: I actually don’t throw the blades in the trash. That might be dangerous. I put them into a “blade bank” that I made from an empty chicken broth can.  I took a can of broth, cut a slit in the top (just big enough for a blade to slide thru), drained the broth into a pot of french onion soup I was making, and then rinsed the can a few times.  I put my used blades thru the slot into the can.  It will take years before the can is full.  Then I will put it into the recycling.  Fun fact: Bathroom medicine cabinets in older homes have small slots that allow used blades to be deposited between the walls of the house itself.  They accumulate there never to be seen, unless the house is torn down.]

But here’s the real deal:  It’s less expensive to use the double-edged blades and razor system.

DE blades are a commodity.  Many companies, located in many countries, make dozens of brands of blades, and they are all the same standard size.  Thus, any DE blade will fit in any DE razor.  Free market competition at its best.  If you buy them in bulk, enough blades for a year will cost less than $25.  I use one blade a week, and am currently working my way thru a pack of 100 that I bought from a big online retailer for about $17.00.  That’s 45 cents per blade … 45 cents per week!  Compare that to the cost of new cartridges for a plastic multi-blade razor.

How much can you save if you change the way you shave?  It might not sound like much, but a little each day, each week, … adds up to quite a lot considering the number of days you’re going to shave over the rest of your life.  Like I said: Why give more $$$ to the razor companies than you need to?

Like a lot of things, it takes some upfront cost to get started.  Spend a little more now, save a lot over the years to come.  The cartridge razor companies know this; that’s why they are careful to price their introductory package lower than the cost of a safety razor.  Once you’re using their system and have to buy their blade cartridges, … that’s where they make their profits.

Let’s compare.

Cartridge Razor

$31 for the plastic razor and 4 blade cartridges. Each cartridge lasts a month, according to the manufacturer.  (I doubt that, but we’ll take it as a given.)

After that, you buy 12-pack of cartridges for about $35 every year.

Total cost after 64 weeks (to use up the 4 cartridges that came with the razor and the 12-pack): about $65, which is about $1 per week.

Double-Edged Razor

This is a bit more complicated because you have a large choice of razors and blades. You will want to experiment with some different blades to see which one gives you the best shave. But you want to wait until you know what you’re doing, until you’ve learned the safety-razor basic technique, before you start experimenting with different blades.

Let’s say about $30 for a decent double-edged safety razor.

Buy a 100-pack of your favorite blades for $20 every year, assuming you use 2 blades per week.  (This price varies a bit, depending which brand you like, there are some blades that cost less).

Total cost after 50 weeks: about $45, which is about 90¢ per week.  To go 64 weeks (matching the cartridge razor example above) would cost about $58.

Continuing Savings with Continuing Shavings

In the second year, the multi-blade cartridges will be another $34.

Another pack of 100 DE blades, only $15.

And so the savings accumulate

Your metal safety razor should last for many years.  (And your plastic cartridge razor … do you think it will last decades?)

The longer you use your safety razor, the more you save.  Remember, the Gillette razor I currently use is as old or maybe older than I am — it belonged to my grandfather!

Furthermore, I find that I use DE blades at a slower rate than 2 per week.  And as I’ve already mentioned, I doubt that any plastic multi-blade cartridge will last an entire month.  If you use 2 cartridges per month, then your annual cost will be close to $70.

More Savings with Shaving Soap

Williams is an average quality shave soap at a modest price.

You can save even more by using shaving soap and a brush instead of canned shaving cream.  Shaving soap is usually sold in round pucks that fit into a bowl (or a cup, mug, or scuttle) that holds the soap so you can use a wet brush to whip up a good lather.

You don’t really need a special bowl or mug to put the soap in, thought one is nice to have.  To get started, you can use a bowl or mug from your kitchen.  I recommend something non-breakable: plastic, rubber, stainless steel, or wood.  (Some shaving soaps come packaged in a bowl, which you can save and re-use)

Arko (from Turkey) is quite good and a bargain.

Shaving soap also comes in sticks that you rub onto your face much the same way you apply stick deodorant, then you use a wet brush to whip up the lather right on your face.  Or you can smash the stick into your bowl.  Generally the pucks are larger than the sticks, by weight.  A puck of shaving soap costs more than a can of shaving cream, but it lasts far longer — so shaving soap is less expensive on a per-shave basis.

Proraso (from Italy) is higher quality and a bit more expensive, but still a good value.

Some luxury brands of shaving soap cost much more, so they might be good to receive as gifts (hint, hint).  Even modestly-priced shaving soap gives a better shaving experience than foam from a can.  It does take a little longer and requires handling a brush and bowl (getting them out, rising the brush, putting them away), but many men swear by it.

As with the razor and blades, some up front costs must be borne before the savings can be realized.  You definitely need a brush.  You can’t make lather with your hands.  Shaving brushes start at about $15.  Some are much more.  Some brushes are made with natural animal hair.  Badger and boar are commonly used.  Some brushes are made with synthetic bristles.  You should also get a stand that holds the brush, bristles down, and allows it to dry between uses.

My Advice

If you’re considering switching to a safety razor, here’s some advice.  Get yourself a safety razor and learn to use it.  If it comes with 5 or 10 blades, use those and learn the skills so that you can shave without getting any cuts or nicks.  Then, before you buy a box of 50 or 100 blades … get a blade sampler pack.  Most men find that some blades work better than others.  There is no one blade that works well for everyone.  It depends on your beard, your face, your technique, and your razor (different razors hold blades differently: slightly different angles, different amounts of blade exposure, etc.)  You’ll want to find which blade works best before you buy in bulk.

I shave right after I shower and wash my face. Gotta get the whiskers wet and well hydrated.  I use either shave cream from a tube, rubbed on with my fingers (no brush) or I do the whole shaving soap, bowl, and brush ritual.  (You get a lot more shaves from a tube of shave cream than from a can of foam.  Shaving soap is even more economical.)  After I get my face lathered, I rinse the brush and set it aside; this gives the lather a bit more time to soften my whiskers.  I adjust the shower to just a trickle; I can save water while I shave.  Then I shave with my safety razor!  It feels great.  I’ll never go back to cartridge razors.

So …

Do yourself a favor: Make the investment in a basic DE safety razor.

One Last Tip

It’s a good idea for your razor, blade, and brush to dry completely between uses.  Because I share a bathroom with other people who take long showers, I store my shaving equipment in my bedroom where the air is drier.  I also usually rinse my razor and blade by dripping rubbing alcohol over them to displace any water and sterilize everything before I put it away.

Here’s a video from “The Art of Manliness”,

Athlete’s Foot

athletes_footI know it’s not an appealing topic, but this might be of use to anyone who has a problem with athlete’s foot, a condition characterized by itching, scaling, and redness, usually between the toes.  It occurs when your hot and sweaty feet are kept inside shoes for long periods.
I had a minor problem with athlete’s foot.  The typical itching and scaly skin, just between the fourth toe and the little toe on one foot. It wasn’t bad, but it was persistent.  It didn’t get worse, but it also didn’t get better, though the severity varied.  I tried a few over-the-counter treatments (ointment, powder, spray), but they didn’t help much.  Over time, I developed this treatment.  What can I say?  It works for me.  Try it at your own risk.  No warranties expressed or implied.

Treatment of athlete’s foot (do as many of these as possible for best results)

  • Wash and dry your feet two or three times a day.  Use lots of soap and hot water.  Dry feet completely, using paper towels, especially between the toes, before putting on shoes.
  • Apply foot powder, baking soda, or similar to feet before putting on socks.
  • Separate your toes with “toe spacers”.  I make toe spacers from strips of paper towel, which I wind into a “rope” and then thread between my toes.  This allows air to circulate between your toes, keeping them cooler and dryer.
  • After each feet washing, put on freshly-laundered socks and a different pair of shoes.
  • Have several pairs of shoes and change shoes often, rotating through them so that each pair, after being worn for several hours, is rested for a couple days. If possible, change shoes during the day. I wear one pair of shoes on my way to work, then change into another pair at work, then change into the first pair before I go home.  I also have shoes that I wear only in the evenings and others that I wear only on weekends.
  • Consider wearing sandals (fisherman’s sandals are my favorite) some of the time.
  • Soak feet in a weak bleach or vinegar solution once or twice per day.  In a basin, combine a spoonful of bleach or vinegar to a gallon of warm water. Soak feet for 5 to 10 minutes.  Be careful not to overdo this or you might cause more harm than good.  If this causes any redness or soreness anywhere on your feet, then discontinue immediately.

When the athlete’s foot problem goes away, discontinue the soaks, but keep doing whatever is necessary to keep the problem at bay.

Use a Shower Shutoff Valve

shower_valveSave water and save money.  I’ve seen people showering, applying their soap, body wash, or shower gel while the water is running and rinsing the product off their skin and down the drain as soon as they start to use it.  Or they leave the water running while they shampoo or shave.  The better way is to

  1. Get wet,
  2. Turn the water off using a shower shutoff valve (even when I using a shutoff valve, I still turn the hot water completely off),
  3. Apply your favorite shower product, lather and scrub (a Salux washcloth works well),
  4. Give the lather time to work,
  5. Shampoo or shave,
  6. Turn the water on, and
  7. Rinse.

The problem is that it’s a bother to turn the water off the usual way, especially once you have the hot-and-cold mix adjusted the way you like it.  Solution: Get a shower shutoff valve.  It installs above the showerhead (or handheld shower connection) and gives you another way to turn off the shower.  Turn off the valve, and the faucet handles stay on (keeping the water temperature as you like it), as the shower flow is reduced to a drip.  Lather, scrub, shave, let the soap do its work, take your time, and then — after you’ve saved a few gallons of water — rinse as normal.

Save even more: take cold showers.