Gov. Jerry Brown has taken the unprecedented step of ordering mandatory water reductions for the first time in California’s history.

There are hundreds of ways that homes and offices can save water, like by installing low flow toilets and shower heads, building a rainwater collecting system or altering your landscaping to be drought tolerant.

Yet some of the simplest and most effective ways to save water are behavioral. Here are eight ways you can start saving water right now — no trips to the hardware store required.

Don't waste dropped ice. Put it on plants

No drop of water is too small to be saved. You can also use ice to water plants on a regular basis. It allows plants to absorb the water slowly, and generally uses less water than traditional watering. (Photo by Olivia Hubert-Allen/KQED)

Keep drinking water in the fridge
You don’t need a fancy water pitcher to make storing water in the fridge worthwhile. Keeping drinking water there will prevent you from running the tap while you wait for cold water to reach the faucet. And did you know your body absorbs cold liquids faster than room temperature liquids during exercise? So you’re not only doing the environment a favor, but helping your body rehydrate too. (Photo by Liz West/Flickr)

Avoid rinsing dishes before using the dishwasher.
Skip the rinsing, already! Scrape food scraps into a compost bin instead of rinsing them down the drain. Garbage disposals require a lot of water to work properly (and composting is pretty great.) Modern dishwashers have gotten good at cleaning stuck-on food without using as much water as hand-washing. By rinsing beforehand, you’re not only wasting water, but also time. (Photo by Peapod Labs/Flickr)

Use pasta water on plants
Collecting used water for watering plants is an easy way to save a few gallons of water each week. Try rinsing vegetables in a pot of water instead of under the tap. And when you replace your pet’s water bowl, throw the old water on a plant instead of down the drain. One super saver recommends keeping a gallon jug and a funnel under your sink for collecting lightly used water. (Photo by Julia Frost/Flickr)

Use a broom to clean patios
Make your cleaning routine a bit more dry. Try sweeping or vacuuming hard floors instead of mopping. (Photo by Pulpolux/Flickr)

Only do full loads of laundry

Always wait until a load is full before doing laundry. If you must do a smaller load, be sure to adjust the water settings on your washer. By the same token, be sure your dishwasher is completely full before running it. (Photo by Jackson Boyle/Flickr)

Serve food from pots.

This one might be hard for you Martha Stewart-types out there, but by cutting down on the number of dishes you use during cooking, you can make a big impact on how often the dishwasher is needed. (Photo by Wendy Goodfriend/KQED)


Take shorter showers

We can all be more mindful about how long we take in the shower. Setting a kitchen timer or stopwatch is an easy way to keep track. Or try making it a competition with others in your household to see who can wash the quickest. Showers that last less than 5 minutes use less water than one bath, though that varies by shower head.  (Photo by by Dominick Dome/Flickr)


Know of other behavioral solutions that help save water? Leave them in the comments below.

Note: An earlier version of this post was published in January of 2014.

8 Simple Ways to Conserve Water 1 April,2015Olivia Allen-Price

  • Andrew Alden

    If you cook vegetables and pasta in salted water, do not put the water on plants, that’s the quickest way to kill them. You might use it instead to kill weeds in sidewalk cracks.

    • Isaac Kight

      Save that water to use as vegetable stock or to cook rice. That’s what my wife does.

      Small children can bathe together rather than separately.

  • Stellaa

    Check this out, running the dishwasher is more efficient and greener than doing dishes by hand:

  • Kishore Hari

    My family has adopted the “if its yellow, let it mellow”. I bet we’re saving more water that way than with any of these methods.

    • I’ll leave it to you to find a nice picture for that one. 😉 Great tip! – Olivia Hubert-Allen

  • srcarruth

    dangit, i already do these! I grew up during the last big drought and the habits stick with me. I need new tips!

  • Dchperemi

    Put a brick or large rock in the back of your toilet. It fills the area that would otherwise be filled by water when you flush, so less water is needed to fill up the tank.

    • Bright Blue

      I would look up how to do this. I understand that bricks can begin to disintegrate and harm your toilet tank.

    • Debra Doyle

      I use a one liter plastic bottle (filled with water) in my tank. It works great and there is no debris…

    • Goleta gal

      In California, toilets are already supposed to be low-flush. My almost-new toilet, though, was flushing randomly or for too long. I think it’s fixed now – adjusting the chain has finally done the trick.

    • Susieq

      Not a good idea, replace your toilet with a low flow….otherwise your plumbing cost will be greater than a new toilet!

  • KMJ

    Get used to washing your hands in cold water…you won’t need to let the water run (especially in the bathrooms that may be quite a distance from the water heater!) to warm up. Turn off the tap while you soap up and scrub, then back on (but not full-blast!) to rinse. Yes, it’s difficult getting used to this in cold weather, but you’ll be surprised how satisfying it can be! 🙂

  • Ritu

    Do you eat pasta everyday ?? i haven’t had a pasta in the last 3 months.

  • My washing machine runs into a laundry sink. Will try using that water for outside plants, but remember to use a light detergent, no phosphates, perhaps just the rinse water.

    • Anne Lee

      Use Oasis soap. It is the ONLY soap that has NO sodium at all. The water turns into plant food and the plants love it. Oasis has laundry and dish washing liquid.

  • NorCalMiz

    1. If you need hot water, keep your pitcher/watering can/ bucket under the tap (sink or bath) until the hot water comes. 2. If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down. 3. Do not turn on your lawn sprinkler in January, four days after the governor declares a drought and asks you to conserve water. True story, my neighbors in Northern Cali, this afternoon.

  • Suzie Dids

    Tell Mr Chris Roberts of the ‘Examiner’ please. His brief article in Tues ‘Examiner’said that ‘ The City’ could fill it’s bathtubs, water the lawns etc because Hetch Hetchy was %70 full.
    And while we conserve, what’s LA doing?
    Are the golf courses going to stop watering? Is there a moratorium on new buildings?
    Didn’t think so

  • Lourdes Betancourt

    Frankly, we don’t need to shower every day. And if you feel you need a freshener, wet a washcloth. Don’t run the water until it’s warm, just put the washcloth in the microwave for a few seconds. Be sure it’s not too hot to touch, check first. I did this during the last drought when water was rationed. My kids were fine with the “mellow yellow” & the “spit bath” routines.

  • Bright Blue

    I save the water from washing veggies and greens and use it to water plants or at least throw outside.

  • Sharon Beals

    But they are missing the most obvious, keeping a couple of buckets or pitcher around to catch warm up water, use it to flush or water. And to keep a dishpan to capture the rinse water of hand washed dishes. to use for watering outdoor plants. We have a big tub for storing the wash and rinse from the washer and use it (via gravity) to water the garden. I have only turned on the hose twice this year.

  • Jennifer Monahan

    Since so many of these tips are food-related, here’s another one: don’t waste food. When you toss out that round-the-bend broccoli or chicken in your fridge, you’ve just wasted all the water that went into producing it.

  • Emmy_G

    1. Wash and rinse dishes in a basin or sink filled with water rather than under running tap water.
    2. Recycle cans and bottles — making them out of raw materials uses a lot of water.
    3. Adjust sprinkler timers to avoid unnecessary watering..

    4. Get public lawns and golf courses to reduce water usage and recycle water.
    5. Stop fracking, which (among other problems) wastes and pollutes water.

  • Ronda M Kelso

    do not let the water run while brushing teeth (supposed to brush for 2 mins. lots of waste), turn water off while lathering hands, use left over pet water to water plants. bucket in shower to save cold water while waiting for hot water

  • Carl Martin

    These aren’t bad but these changes are too small scale to make a difference. Reusing ice cubes is cute, but isn’t enough. A single water cycle for a 1/2 acre can use 300 gallons. Changing from traditional grass lawns to less water intense yards will make a much greater impact.
    A few others would be toliets with high and low flush options. More efficient agriculture. Replace old washing machines with newer efficient versions.

  • saidzhofioni


    • Jill Bohn

      Use the car wash. They recycle their water.

  • GmaGardner

    I put a bucket in the shower to catch the water while it’s warming up. I use that to water plants.
    We also abide by the slogan, ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’.
    When cooking pasta, dip the stirring spoon into the sauce and stir it into pasta. The oil in the sauce keeps it from boiling over and prevents sticking, this means it doesn’t have to be rinsed!
    Make sure faucets don’t drip. Replace washers if they do. Check them after the kids use water, sometimes they can’t turn the faucets off tight enough.

  • Ninafel

    From what I heard yesterday, even a 15 minute shower uses less water than a full bath.

  • Ninafel

    I also recommend hanging clothes outside to air out rather than washing everything all the time. People use enormous amounts of water in washing machines on clothes that aren’t even really dirty; you’ll be surprised at how fresh they get just hanging in the air for a day or night.

  • VickyC

    I’d like to encourage all to contact their local water agency and get a water wise survey appointment made. We just did and got free low flow shower heads to replace our current shower heads and the inspector replaced the screens in the bathroom taps with low flow ones. We also are applying for a rebate to replace our lawns with drought resistant plants and a new watering system.

  • Bri.

    If these are helpful, you’re already kind of a water hog. Here are some other ones:
    1. Only flush with #2, ladies put your TP in the wastebasket when you pee.
    2. Ice cubes are often not enough, you can empty undrunk water glasses into plants too.
    3. Or put a pitcher/big jar next to the sink and dump ice/water into that and use it for dishes before the dishwasher– better yet, forget the dishwasher and hand wash for a bit.
    4. Stop watering your lawn and washing your car. This is a vanity thing If you need to, just wash the car windows, but please stop putting this luxury before our necessities such as crops, livestock, and drinking.

  • Nora

    I stop up my tub while showering and use the water to flush my toilet and to water plants

  • Nora

    Since 80% of water used in California is for agriculture, try to buy organic…I believe it uses less water, yes?

  • Brens Sigmon

    Use a bucket in the tub/shower to catch the water you run while waiting for the water to get hot. Use it for watering plants or cooking or whatever.

  • Susieq

    We have put in low flow Toto toilets, low flow faucets, checked all our yard sprinklers and replaced several that leaked, called the water company and have done what they recommended and our water bill was still $300.00 in December!

  • phoenix

    Put a $3 low-flow faucet aerator with flow-control lever on each faucet and you can easily flip the water on and off for brushing teeth or washing a dish instead of letting it run.

  • Haze

    Learned this shower tip during my training with the Japanese military: only use the water to wet your skin (and warm up) at the beginning and rinse at the end. Turn it off while you lather and scrub and you’ll end up saving a lot more water!

  • Clean Water Sonoma-Marin

    I keep a bucket in the kitchen sink for saving the water I use to wash veggies, heat the teapot, rinse dishes. I’m using the water to water my VERY thirsty trees, 10-20 gallons a day. Another bucket is in the tub to catch the water while I wait for the shower to warm up. More for the trees, or to flush the toilet.

  • Clean Water Sonoma-Marin

    Stop water fluoridation, so people can avoid buying or stop using water-wasting reverse-osmosis filters.

  • Suhas Urkude

    In most of older homes, it takes a while to get the hot water running through the faucets and showers. So, we all end up waiting that long before actually using that water. I would recommend filling that water in a bucket or jug while waiting for the water with right temperature. One could use this water to water plants/lawn or rinsing dishes.

  • Clay Schott

    Olivia, other commenters have noted that your tips here are written mostly to amuse, rather than to seriously inform readers of practical and significant ways to save water.

    Those others have gone on to give good advice, including that of installing low-flow shower heads, low-flow toilets, significantly changing how you use water during a shower or bath, and doing less toilet flushing and less dish washing.

    But as you will know if you’ve been following this topic at all over the past number of years, residential water usage in the state is a fraction of agricultural water usage.

    Agricultural usage is 80% of all water usage. Residential and commercial usage is 20%.

    The key to conserving water use in California is almost entirely held in the hands of agricultural customers.

    Any story that fails to note this huge disproportion in usage is doing their readers a disservice and frankly talking past the problem.

    • Jessica Cejnar

      In other words try to buy your produce as locally and in-season as possible (I’m guessing).

      • Clay Schott

        As good as that advice would be in general, Jessica, in this context, it’s ineffectual—or even worse, counterproductive.

        Consumer behaviour with respect to local produce purchases isn’t going to have much of an effect on how the agricultural industry uses water.

        In fact, one direct implication of reducing water use by in-state agriculture is that out-of-state purchases of produce are going to become more common, not less.

        Ordinarily, we don’t want that. We all want to buy locally-grown food. But this exceptional drought, like all other global climate change impacts, changes our calculations of the cost of everything.



Olivia Allen-Price

Olivia Allen-Price is producer and host of the Bay Curious series. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Olivia worked at The Baltimore Sun and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. She holds degrees in journalism and political science from Elon University. She loves to talk about running, ice cream and curly hair.

Follow: @oallenprice

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor