Even I, who have been writing about terrible American showers for 10 years, was shocked with delight at the shower in Brazil. Now, here we have a socialist country and an entire population that grouses about how hard it is to get ahead. And yet, step into the shower and you have a glorious capitalist experience. Hot water, really hot, pours down on you like a mighty and unending waterfall, sort of like it used to sea to shining sea.
At least the socialists in Brazil knew better than to destroy such an essential of civilized life.
But here we’ve forgotten. We have long lived with regulated showers, plugged up with a stopper imposed by government controls imposed in 1992. There was no public announcement. It just happened gradually. After a few years, you couldn’t buy a decent shower head. They called it a flow restrictor and said it would increase efficiency. By efficiency, the government means “doesn’t work as well as it used to.”
We’ve been acculturated to lame showers, but that’s just the start of it. Anything in your home that involves water has been made pathetic, thanks to government controls.
The Flow Restrictor
You can see the evidence of the bureaucrat in your shower if you pull off the showerhead and look inside. It has all this complicated stuff inside, whereas it should just be an open hole, you know, so the water could get through. The flow stopper is mandated by the federal government.
To be sure, the regulations apply only on a per-showerhead basis, so if you are rich, you can install a super fancy stall with spray coming at you from all directions. Yes, the market invented this brilliant but expensive workaround. As for the rest of the population, we have to live with a pathetic trickle.
It’s a pretty astonishing fact, if you think about it. The government ruined our showers by truncating our personal rights to have a great shower even when we are willing to pay for one. Sure, you can hack your showerhead but each year this gets more difficult to do. Today it requires drills and hammers, whereas it used to just require a screwdriver.
I had to laugh when Donald Trump made mention of this during the campaign. He was challenged to name an EPA regulation he didn’t like. And recall that he is in the hospitality business and knows a thing or two about this stuff.
“You have showers where I can’t wash my hair properly,” he said. “It’s a disaster. It’s true. They have restrictors put in. The problem is you stay under the shower for five times as long.”
The pundit class made fun of him, but he was exactly right! This is a huge quality of life issue that affects every American, every day.
Water Pressure and Temperature
It’s not just about the showerhead. The water pressure in our homes and apartments has been gradually getting worse for two decades, thanks to EPA mandates on state and local governments. This has meant that even with a good showerhead, the shower is not as good as it might be. It also means that less water is running through our pipes, causing lines to clog and homes to stink just slightly like the sewer. This problem is much more difficult to fix, especially because plumbers are forbidden by law from hacking your water pressure.
As for the heat of the water, the obsession over “safety” has led to regulations that the top temperature is preset on most water heaters, at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only slightly hotter than the ideal temperature for growing yeast. Most are shipped at 110 degrees in order to stay safe with regulators. This is not going to get anything really clean; just the opposite. Water temperatures need to be 140 degrees to clean things. (Looking at the industry standard, 120 is the lowest-possible setting for cleaning but 170 degrees gives you the sure thing.)
The combination of poor pressure and lukewarm temperatures profoundly affects how well your dishwasher and washing machine work. Plus, these two machines have been severely regulated in how much energy they can consume and how much water they can use. Top-loading washing machines are a thing of the past, while dishwashers that grind up food and send it away are a relic. We are lucky now to pull out a glass without soap scum on it. As for clothing, what you are wearing is not clean by your grandmother’s standards.
So you might have a vague sense that your clothing and dishes aren’t coming out as clean as they might have in the past. This is exactly right. But because we don’t have a direct comparison, and these regulations have taken many years to gradually unfold and take over our lives, we don’t notice this as intensely.
When you travel to Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, or Switzerland – and probably many places I’ve never been – you are suddenly shocked. Why does everything work so well? Why don’t things work as well in the US? The answer is one word: government. This is the only reason.
But wait: what about the need to conserve water? Well, the Department of the Interior says that 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.
In any case, what is the point of some vague sense of “conserving” when the whole purpose of modern appliances and indoor plumbing is to improve our lives and sanitation? (Free societies have a method for knowing how much of something to use or not use; it is called the signaling system of prices.)
We haven’t talked about toilets but this much is true: they used to work well but the low-flow model is vastly inferior. Combined with low water pressure, toilets clog and break down, to the point that you always have to have a plunger nearby (this didn’t use to be the case). Folks, we know how to make toilets that work: they need lots of water. Your constant problems with flushing are not your fault!
But I haven’t even mentioned what might be the biggest factor in why our clothes aren’t clean and our dishes are dirty. The government forced soap manufacturers to remove from soap the thing that makes them work for these purposes: phosphates. Phosphates, used in soap from the middle ages until the 1980s, break down the soap after it has done its work and allow the water to wash it away along with the dirt and oil it scrubbed out of the clothes.
Now, soaps lack this crucial ingredient. In order to add it back in, you have to go to the paint section of the hardware store and buy it in a box (TSP, the real stuff, not the artificial kind). Add a quarter cup to your wash. You would be amazed at the difference it makes. Things actually get more-or-less clean.
So let’s put it all together: lukewarm water, low water pressure, low-energy appliances, water-conserving technologies, flow stoppers in showers, low-flow toilets, plus no phosphates in detergent. You have here a perfect recipe for a non-working home and a more miserable life, all courtesy of government regulations. Some you can fix if you are creative; others hopelessly ruin many once-great features of American homelife.
Donald Trump spoke the truth but he only knows a fraction of it. One of the great achievements of modern technology was to bring the best appliances and the conveniences they offer into every home. Government regulations have systematically taken all that away from us, seriously diminishing the quality of our lives.
If the public knew the whole truth about this, the anti-government feeling alive in the land would intensify beyond anything we’ve ever known. In the meantime, don’t blame the manufacturers. They are the victims, along with the rest of the public. We are all trying to live better lives but the government won’t allow that to happen.