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How to Conserve Water in the Kitchen

I have seen a lot of prepper information about how to store water for long-term usage.  There are many different methods.  There are even companies that sell canned water!  But I have not seen much information about how to determine your family’s water usage or really useful information about how to conserve water.  The 1 gallon per day per person is a good starting point, but this only takes into account drinking water and even then it may not be enough when working outside during the hot summer months.  Preparing to have a source of water in any disaster situation is essential, but how can you determine how long that water will last?

Are you willing to do a little experiment for a day?  The kitchen is a great place to start when learning how to live without running water.  You probably have everything you need in your home right now.  It just takes a little bit of relearning.  My family uses around 8 to 10 gallons of water a day in the kitchen, more than any other room in the house.  I will explain how we conserve water in the bathroom in a future article, but using a composting toilet in place of a flushing one goes a long way in conserving water.

Making a kitchen work without running water and what you can do to learn this skill.

I do a LOT of cooking and I have not had running water for almost two years.  I am proof that it can be done long term.  But even if you have no desire to do this long term, I believe that it is an important prepper skill to learn.

  • I manually pump and carry all of our water into our home.well-pump  Water becomes so precious this way!  And there really is no better way of learning your water usage and how to conserve it.  We have faucets because our house is a manufactured home and we plan to have a system to use them one day, hopefully this coming spring.  I have not reached to turn the handle of a faucet in a long time.  I always keep it pushed out of the way, but it can be entertaining for me to watch a guest try to turn on the water!  I know it is just out of habit.  In order to practice living without running water, I suggest filling containers with water and then putting painters tape or masking tape over your faucet and handles so that you don’t turn the water on by accident.  But I’m sure that you will still try to reach for it multiple times a day!  The dishwasher also gets a vacation for the day!
  • I primarily use 1/2 gallon size juice bottles to store water.  I fill these at our well and distribute them around the house.  I always have a crate of them in the kitchen.  I like them because they were free!  My parents saved them every time they opened a juice bottle.  I love re-purposing things!  But I also like their size and that they are easy to pour from.  But if you plan on doing a “no running water” experiment, any container will do.  Just fill a bunch from your faucet.
  • Whenever I am asked if I miss anything about living in a regular house, wood-stove-waterI am quick to say, “Hot Running Water!”  It really is such a wonderful thing!  We will one day have a wood burning hot water heater or some other way to get hot water through our faucets, but until then I have learned to heat water the old-fashioned way: on the stove.  I have tea kettles devoted to this purpose, but any pot would work.  In the colder times of year, I heat water on my wood stove and pour it into a 2 gallon igloo dispenser.  It keeps water hot all day!  In the warmer seasons, I heat water for dishes on our propane stove.
  • I have learned how to conserve water and reuse it!  When thinking about water, it’s important to keep in mind that all water does not have to be clean enough for drinking.  In America, we are very blessed to be able to turn on a faucet and fill an entire bathtub with clean drinking water.  But that isn’t the case for many people around the world.  Water does not have to be crystal clear to be usable!  In order to conserve water we have to get out of the habit of letting perfectly usable water go down the drain.  Water can have multiple lives!  Water that is not used for drinking can really have many uses before it goes down the drain.  I’ll explain that more below, but when learning how to conserve water it is really important to change how we look at water.  I’ve found that it’s pretty wasteful to turn on the faucet to rinse dishes, wash hands, etc. and have all that useful water go down the drain.

Conserving Water in Four Areas of Kitchen Water Usage.

Drinking is the most obvious.

I fill our Big Berkey water filter (1 1/2 gallon capacity) around twice a day.  Depending on the season, my family of four uses between 3 and 4 gallons of water a day.  That may seem like a lot, but this is our staple drink.  Juice and milk are both rare treats in our home, and soda is non-existent.  I use some of our filtered water for making water kefir, as well as brushing our teeth.

Food Preparation and Cooking.

When I lived in a house with running water, I used a lot of water in this area.  I was always turning on the faucet to rinse something sticky off my hands or rinse a speck of food down the drain.  I still use the same amount of water that I always used for actual cooking like boiling pasta or potatoes, but I’m more careful about my water usage in food preparation.

  • When I need to wash produce,washing-produce I fill a bowl with enough water to wash my fruit or vegetables.  I can reuse this water for things like wiping counters or sticky messes off the floor.  But once water has been used for the floor, it isn’t used for jobs where cleaner water is required.  The floor is usually its last use.
  • When I have sticky fingers, I use a wet washcloth instead of pouring water over my hands.
  • If I need to rinse a utensil to use again, I pour a small amount of clean water over it, catching the water in my plugged sink.  I always keep my sink plugged to have water to pre-rinse dishes before washing.  More on that below.

Washing dishes can be the biggest use of water in the kitchen.

There are three things that I do to conserve water in this area.  No running water means that I am the dishwasher!

  • I try to only do dishes once a day.drainer  I usually use around 2 gallons, 1 gallon for washing and 1 gallon for rinsing.  If I have a lot of dishes, I’ll start with less than a gallon in each side of the sink and keep adding hot water as I go.  A large drainer is a must when washing dishes by hand.  It’s one of my most important kitchen tools.
  • It’s important to have water in both sides of the sink.  The biggest drain (pun intended) on water when doing dishes by hand is allowing the faucet to run while rinsing.  Good plugs with drain baskets are an absolute necessity for me!  There has been more than one occasion when a plug got loose and all my water went down the drain before I could stop it.  Ugghhh!  I have to start all over again.  I hate losing hot water down the drain.
  • I always pre-rinse the dishes.  Without doing this simple thing, dishwater can get so yucky that dishes cannot possibly get clean.  Pre-rinsed dishes save me from having to empty the sink and get fresh water half way through.  But doesn’t it take even more water to rinse them?  No!  Because after the previous time of washing dishes, I didn’t let the water go down the drain!  I always save the water for pre-rinsing throughout the following day.  This way I don’t have dried on food and I can get my dishes ready for the once a day washing.  With this system, I can use the same 2 gallons of water for washing the dishes and pre-rinsing dishes for next time.  When I’m ready to wash dishes again, I’ll use the drain basket to collect all the food bits, dump those in the trash, use a little water to wash out the sink, and fill it again.  Yes, the water gets dirtier as it gets closer to time to do dishes again.  That may be a bit offensive to some and there have been times that I have emptied my sink and filled it with fresh water before time to do dishes.  I use my judgment.  But I only use the dirty water for rinsing dirty dishes!  I use the cleaner water on the rinse side of the sink for things like rinsing off my hands while cooking or getting my dishcloth wet for wiping off the kitchen table and counters.

Washing hands

Everyone in my family uses the kitchen sink to wash their hands. I usually hold a bottle of water so that a small stream comes out. It doesn’t take a lot of water and again it falls into my plugged sink to use for pre-rinsing dishes and soaking sticky things like a bread bowl. When a friend visited recently, she suggested trying a spray bottle for hands. I don’t use this tip regularly, but it can help kids wash off their own hands.

I would love to hear if you tried your own experiment in your kitchen.  Did you learn anything?  How much water did you use? Let me know how it went for you!

For more thoughts about living without running water, check out 9 Lessons Learned From Living Without Running Water and Getting Water Off Grid.

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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13 comments

  1. Have you guys thought about or looked into solar water heaters? There are many different kinds, but a great option for running hot water daily! My Father-in-law made his own (he lived out in the Kalahari Desert) and it worked awesome! Shalom!

  2. I really enjoyed reading ALL your GREAT tips. I will for sure remember all of this and apply it. After loosing water each winter I really appreciate water, it is like liquid gold. Thank you so much for sharing all that you have learned.

    Shalom my sweet sis in YHWH,
    -Mary

  3. A great article. It is amazing how much water we use and don’t even know it. A few years ago we were living in a rent house and all the pipes froze for 2 weeks. It was a lesson well learned, but we didn’t panic like a lot of people do. We filled containers at a relatives house, but it was enough that we could shower (those camp showers are great), cook with, and wash dishes. People take too much for granted these days.

  4. You are right, we really don’t think about the amount of water we use. We have deep wells on our farm and plan on putting hand pumps in next year so that we can get to the water when the power is out. It is hooked to a propane powered generator now, but we still feel the hand pump is a necessity. I appreciate your honesty in sharing about how your kitchen functions in the real world of off grid living.

  5. Thanks for this article! So many great tips. We are finishing up our off grid cabin to move to next summer and our water set up will be very similar to yours, at least in the beginning. The Igloo for the hot water is genius! We did build a small solar water heater that we’ve used up at the cabin this summer and fall. It works very well. Here’s a link that shows it: http://homespunoasis.com/our-outdoor-shower-and-solar-water-heater/. But on days like today (temperature is below zero) I think the Igloo idea is perfect.

  6. Jaime I would like to hear how using Igloo drink jugs for hot water works for you. I have small blog but I am trying to get people info too prepare in ways that works in all sorts of situations. A small Igloo jug seems to work for your kitchen clean up very well and I have played that game. I really want folks to get a couple of big Igloo jugs becuse they are great multi-taskers for storing water and especially hot water in a grid down situation.

    While I don’t mind getting a little credit. The most important thing is getting people prepared for any disaster. Every person that gets prepared is less of a drain on folks and someone that does not suckup FEMA funds.

    • I feel that the 2 gallon igloo works very well for the hot water that I need. I had originally wondered whether I should purchase a bigger one, but I found the 2 gallon one for $3 at a flea market. I’m glad that I didn’t invest in a big one. I can easily heat enough water on my wood stove and fill the igloo first thing in the morning. I have hot water for whenever I need to do dishes during the day. I just don’t need 5 gallons of hot water throughout the day and it would take a while for me to heat enough water to fill it. We generally have a fire going in the evening and then I can easily heat enough water to warm up our camp shower bag for nightly showers. These are really the only two things that we use hot water for on a regular basis. In a completely grid down situation when we could not purchase propane for our cookstove, I would build a fire outside in the warmer times of the year and put that water in an igloo cooler. Thanks for spreading the word on how to be prepared!

  7. Andy over at Andybaird.com in his ‘Eureka’ section has some great water conservation tips (his is an RV site). One of which is using a spray bottle and spritzing & wiping down dishes immediately after use and then washing later. As I said we have a well but it’s pretty sulphury so we only use it for bathing and washing dishes. I do simple things like a bucket in the shower and use the water on our established trees. A tub in the sink that is used for outside ornamental plant watering, etc. Our drinking water comes from the spring and we do pretty similarly to you as far as storage and rotation. As I was raised country I can drink our sulphur water fairly easily but the rest of the family (city boys moved country) have a time with it!

    On hot water…have you seen those woodstoves w/a copper wire wrapped around the vent pipe to heat water with and then a storage container nearby so it stays hot? Pretty cool. I’d like that setup on my woodstove! What I’d also like is one of those bake-ovens that sit in the vent pipe and let the heated smoke go around the centralized oven. Maybe next year?

  8. Here they are:

    water w/copper coil heating system
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/217298750746689854/

    and here is the woodstove bake oven:
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/217298750746689862/

    ~Patty

  9. Would it be crazy to let our dog “pre-rinse” our dishes????

  10. Thank you for all these wonderful ideas and life experiences on how you handle things. I’m not sure I can get my family to do the one day water challenge but I will try. I have stopped using our electric dishwasher and have been washing our dishes for a few weeks now but I’m always thinking to myself that even though I may be saving on the electric bill, I’m still wasting so much water. I will try to do the 2 gallon challenge and see how that goes. We have a solar hot water heater and love it – with a propane backup. We also have a Simple Pump that we installed in our well for hand pumping water if the power goes out. We have a few more projects still in that area (pressurizing the water to the house) but slowly we are becoming more self-sufficient. Thanks again.

  11. Had frozen pipes a couple of weeks ago … for two and a half days. Funny how I was so excited to find out that it had thawed at the outside spigot by the well and I could refill at home, rather than driving to the farm 20 minutes away to get refills and my parents house. I think the two parts that I found the hardest thing I had to deal with washing hands after using the bathroom (didn’t use the kitchen sink) and rinsing dishes. I resorted to some wipes I had on hand for after using the bathroom, until I needed to get my hands on food. Then I wanted to be … a little more confident about the clean. Rinsing dishes in sitting water drove me nuts because after a bit, I’m struggling to get the soapy off and worried about soapy taste for the next user. I did find myself adding hot water as I went. When I added hot water to refresh the washing side, I also let out the soapy rinse water and started again. Flushing the toilet proved obnoxious, taking 1-2 gallons to get a flush out of it. A composting toilet would be extremely nice in that situation! All in all, I was very grateful for the experience as I learned a lot.

  12. Meant to ask you, what is keifer water?
    Do you have a well house?
    I live in Henderson, Nevada (Las Vegas) and this week it’s below freezing here!
    The weather is really a pain. It’s changing.
    How is it affecting you on your homestead?
    Do you use your green house/aquaponics set up for all your plant starts?
    When is the last frost date in spring where you live?
    I love purple Cherokee tomatoes. They take 90 days. I will start them inside my home. Our average frost date is Feb 16, but I’m wondering when to start the seeds? Gardening is a trick here. But I manage. I have a Meyer lemon tree outside too. Just got lots of lemons a week or so ago. It’s about 16 years old. I have to plant near west walls to protect from sun and wind.
    My small plot is covered with burlap blankets. But I’ve still got peppers and herbs! I have thick, 3′ tall boxwood on the southern edge to block cold wind and keep my garden a bit concealed, as it’s in my front yard. I’m on a corner lot, kind of up off street level. My front faces south. Only place workable.
    Seems here you just get a garden going, then it’s too hot for everything, so everything takes a break from producing, then, if your patient, it cools off and things get going again and some things go until very late fall.
    I can’t live from this but it’s a treat and a garden to dream in. Baby steps.

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