Jane Says: Using Less Water Starts at the Kitchen Sink

These tips will help you conserve this increasingly scarce resource.

(Photo: Michael Bodmann/Getty Images)

Jun 4, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart and the executive editor of CURED, a magazine devoted to the art and craft of food preservation. She was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.
“What are some ways to save water in the kitchen?”
—Jeanne Vincent

People living in areas where water is scarce understand the critical importance of conserving it, but too many of us still take vast supplies of clean water for granted. As water-related risks such as droughts and monsoon floods increase, however, stable supplies of freshwater are more difficult to come by in many countries. The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored water risks in 100 river basins, ranked by area and population, and 180 nations—the first such country-level water assessment of its kind. One series of interactive maps shows 56 percent of irrigated agriculture worldwide faces high water stress; some of it is right in our backyard.

The good news is that we can all make a difference just by initiating a few small changes in our daily habits. A great place to start saving water at home (and an equally great way to celebrate World Environment Day tomorrow) is with the Water Footprint Calculator devised by Grace Communications Foundation, which helps to increase public awareness about the relationships among food, water, and energy systems through philanthropic partnerships and media strategies.

Saving Water in the Kitchen14 Tips and Strategies

• Install a low-flow faucet or less-expensive aerator on your kitchen sink (and the showerhead, while you’re at it). Apartment Therapy’s roundup of the 10 best models, at various price points, is helpful.

• If you have a dripping faucet, fix it right away. In most cases, the expense of the repair is minimal, and according to the EPA, a leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year.

Compost raw vegetable and fruit waste instead of tossing it down the garbage disposal. You’ll save hundreds of gallons of water a year.

• Instead of using the faucet or spray hose to power-wash produce, use a large bowl of water and, if necessary, a vegetable brush.

• Keep a designated water pitcher or bowl on the kitchen counter. If you drop ice cubes while making a cold drink or smoothie, toss them in. Catch cold running water in it while waiting for it to warm up. If there’s water left over in the teakettle, let it cool down and pour it in. You get the picture. Then repurpose that water (you’ll be stunned at how quickly it adds up) to water houseplants or the garden.

• The food-safe way to fast-track thawing frozen meat, poultry, stock, and other items is to put the food in a waterproof bag and submerge it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. I’m all for food safety, but that method doesn’t do much for water conservation. Instead, plan dinner ahead and thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator overnight.

• Use the proper-sized pot for cooking. One that’s larger than what’s called for in a recipe may require more cooking water than necessary.

• Use leftover water from cooked or steamed foods in a soup or stew, or let it cool and add it to that countertop pitcher.

• If greens such as broccoli rabe shoveled over pasta are part of your culinary repertoire, do as I do and cook the pasta in the same water you used to blanch the greens.

• Dishwashers generally use less water than washing dishes by hand. Newer models don’t require prerinsing, clean more thoroughly, and use less energy and water than older ones. In fact, an Energy Star–qualified dishwasher will save, on average, 1,300 gallons of water over its lifetime. Before buying a dishwasher, compare the water use of different models at the Consortium for Energy Efficiency website. Last, wait until the dishwasher is full before running it.

• When washing dishes by hand, it’s not necessary to let the water run the whole time. If you have two sinks, fill one with soapy water and the other with rinse water. If you only have one sink, get a rinse tub that can be stowed under the sink. If you don’t go overboard on the dishwashing liquid, that will reduce the amount of rinsing required.

• Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scour them clean.

• Keep a bottle or pitcher of drinking water in the fridge instead of running the tap to cool it every time you’re thirsty.

• To cut down on the number of glasses to wash, have family members choose one for their drinking water each day and mark their names on them with a dry-erase marker or a Dixon Phano china marker, which also works on glass or plastic and comes in a variety of colors. Keep a supply of the chic white markers to use for parties, which will cut down on the “lost my glass” syndrome—a tip I learned from Sally Schneider’s always-inspiring Improvised Life blog. The marked glasses also serve as a rather covert and elegant name tag for guests, she concluded. Sold.