What are your favorite water-saving tips and tricks?

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My electric kettle and water bottle have a symbiotic water-saving relationship.
My electric kettle and water bottle have a symbiotic water-saving relationship.

There’s a severe drought in my home state of California (again). This concerns me. So I’m doing what I can to conserve water.

Here are my top water-saving methods:

I’m sure there’s more I could be doing that I just haven’t thought of yet. Seriously, that electric kettle to get hot water thing… JUST realized that I could be doing that so recently that it’s embarrassing.

So I ask you, Homies: What are your favorite water-saving tips and tricks?

Comments on What are your favorite water-saving tips and tricks?

  1. First, you can live in a home without a yard/lawn.
    If you do have a yard, switch to native species of plants or grass. Natives species typically don’t need to be watered by humans, because they are naturally adapted to the typical rainfall for your geographic area.

    • And if you are unable to switch to no yard or a native yard due to renting, not having the $ to invest in a new yard, etc you can use your homes gray water to water your lawn. If you have to let the shower run for a minute while it warms up – collect that water in big bowl or bucket to water the garden. Or collect that water you use to rinse your hand washed dishes to water the grass. etc. etc.

    • Some cities even offer rebates for replacing your lawn with drought tolerant plants! Or upgrading the sprinkler control system to be more efficient. Or installing a rain barrel or grey water system. And some areas offer free or reduced cost mulch or compost also. Some of these ideas might seem expensive, so check in your area if you can do it for free or at reduced cost.

    • Admittedly, I don’t water my lawn. If it rains (which it has been doing plenty in New York State this year) and stays green, awesome. If it doesn’t rain and turns brown, less for me to mow. While the neighbors aren’t always keen on this idea, it is still doable. And honestly, I don’t spray my lawn with chemicals so the neighbors aren’t going to be keen on me anyway. 😉

      • Unfortunately, as dumb as it is, there are some municipalities that have laws against letting your lawn go brown, even in a drought, and they will fine you for it. So the city or state will fine you for the water use and then the city will fine you for the results of not using the water. So I’d check in your area before choosing that solution. Idiotic, but there it is. Also, in large parts of the western US, this just means a brown lawn/dirt pit all year.

        • Thanks for the heads up! I just took a look through my town and village codes, didn’t see anything against leaving our lawn un-watered. They have a lot of rules, but apparently that’s not one of them…. yet…

    • Sadly I am an apartment dweller with no land. But my buddy just bought a house with a small grass-covered front lawn. Turns out, Los Angeles has a “cash for grass” program that offers property owners $1 for every square foot of grass replaced with water-efficient landscaping. He’s totally doing that, as would I… one fine day.

    • Having no lawn at all isn’t really better, because then the soil underneath the patio or whatever you have instead can’t breathe and gets all compacted. And rainfall doesn’t really have anywhere to go. And a patio would probably give off more heat than plants. And having something for wildlife to eat is a good thing, because living inside your ecosystem is a good thing. Habitat segmentation and habitat shrinking caused by urban sprawl and constant development isn’t okay.
      So I really like the native plants idea. Especially if the plants are something humans could eat, too.

      • I agree that native plants are nice, but there are quite a few options that aren’t patio. Rocks, even pebbles, have lots of space between them to let rainfall through.

        • If you live in a warmer climate, having rocks/pebbles around your home instead of lawn WILL make your house hotter. My family learned this the hard way when the property management of our Las Vegas apartment ripped out the little patch of lawn in front of our unit and replaced it with that red lava rock.

          Suddenly our living room/my bedroom were WAY hotter in the earlier part of the day (they both had east-facing windows) and we also developed a cockroach problem that we hadn’t had before.

          Rocks are NOT an equal swap. I wish they’d done native plants instead!

          • Right, I wasn’t trying to say that rocks are the be all and end all. I was just trying to point out that patio or other non-water-permeable surface is not the only alternative to plants, which is what Emily implied. (In fact, there are even patios that are at least semi water permeable)

            I live in the desert. It takes quite a bit to get native plants established here and even then they’re more shrubby than the prairie grasses I was used to as native plants in the midwest.

          • Native plants are great, but pretty much any other plantings are more drought tolerant than standard lawn (some exceptions of course). So swapping out for ground cover or other turf options (like some of the wavy meadow grasses) will seriously reduce water usage even if you don’t want to go full on dessert cactus with things.

  2. Good ideas!
    I shower with a empty bucket on the shower floor – when I’m done it is at least a bit full of water for the garden that otherwise would have gone to waste 🙂

  3. My friend who lived in CA during the last major drought (80s maybe?) learned to shut the shower off after they wet themselves. They would lather up completely, head to toe, then turn it back on in order to rinse. She still does this to this day. For convenience, you can now buy valves that go at the top of your showerhead to temporarily stop the water, so you don’t lose the settings and have to deal with getting the temp just right. It’s also called an “army shower” by those who were in the military in the 40s and 50s! 🙂

    Other options if you did not already have a low-flow toilet were to add a half-gallon plastic jug full of water to the toilet tank to take up space and decrease water use with each flush.

    If you are super serious, you could also add downspout barrels to catch rainwater for watering (when you get rain), and switch to biodegradable soaps/detergents and work on catching your “grey water” from clothes cleaning/dishwashing to reuse to water plants, etc. I’m not as familiar with brands, etc, unfortunately, as I’m on the East coast and we’ve had a very wet spring/summer!

    • If you live in a western state, check the regs before you start catching rainwater. There are laws on the books restricting or diverting water flow and this includes collecting rainwater. Just make sure you don’t do something that will get you fined.

      • Yes, I have encountered these a few times–they are a pain for washing thick hair, but otherwise, they’re really great for saving water.

        Off and on I try to turn off the shower while I shave, but I confess, sometimes I get way too cold and end up leaving it on, instead. I guess it’s a really good thing I’m on the East Coast! (PS: I would gladly give you Californians a little rain if I could!)

    • That valve thing sounds ideal because at my house growing up we had really old fixtures and my foreign exchange student would turn the water on and off while she was shaving, and our fixtures began to drip a lot more than they had before. A valve would mean less wear on the taps themselves.

    • I turn the water while I’m shaving. It’s a start. You can also get these 5 minute slower timer things from many water districts. Like a rotating sand timer from a board game on a suction cup.

  4. – Take fewer showers. Once every other day is fine for most people.
    – When you wash your car, go to a car wash that recycles its water. Or if you need to do it by hand, use a bucket instead of a hose.
    – Use a spatula to scrape food off your dishes before you wash them, so your dishwater doesn’t get too dirty too soon.
    – Install water-saving appliances, such as a low-flow toilet or weather-controlled irrigation system. Many local water districts or state agencies offer rebates for efficient appliances, and some will even exchange your toilet for free.
    – Rip out your grass lawn and put in drought-tolerant plants. In some cities, the water company will even pay you by the square foot to replace your grass.

    I’d love to hear from some Aussies on this one, too! From what I understand, y’all are pretty good at water conservation.

      • Most newly built carwashes do this for several reasons: 1) many municipal environmental quality regulation agencies require water recycling, 2) the car wash doesn’t have to pay to use as much water, and 3) it allows the car wash to be more compact, so the facility can be placed on smaller lots.

  5. Walking away from the sink while you are brushing your teeth helps reinforce turning off the water.

    In my house, I have two lovely glass bottles that I use for water while waiting for the water to get hot. I also have a beautiful pitcher for the same purpose. (It sits on the counter, in a matching bowl, vintage style.) While my faucet water is heating, I capture the cold and tepid water, then use that water later for pet water, watering plants, rinsing out the sink. In fact, I skipped the middle man with the pitcher and my pets drink from there now as their water is always fresh.

    I always keep my showers short and my baths loooong. Showers are not for luxuriating; if you get in that mindset, you’ll end up in there way too long everyday.

    I never, ever throw away ice, soda, or water in a bottle. Never. That liquid needs to stay in the water cycle, not trapped in a dump. That means I also never throw away a bottle with the lid still on, as the remnants can evaporate. (I also compost my fruit/vegetable matter for much the same reason.)

    I re-wear clothes, so I do laundry less. I also don’t wear clothes all day if I can help it. I grew up without AC, in Florida, and we always changed in to light, comfy ‘house’ clothes when we got home.

    Drink more water and less soda, coffee, juice, tea, milk, whatever. Water. Just as we’ve become divorced from the sources of our food, we’ve also become divorced from the deep understanding that water is LIFE. If water is ancillary in your life, if it masquerades as other drinks, if it is ‘optional’, it subconsciously reinforces the idea that water is optional. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they don’t like to drink water. What? WUT? They don’t like water. They prefer to drink other things. Water is too plebian, boring, whatever.

    I just can’t even.

    When I was growing up, drinking copious amount of cold water, to cool down your core, and staying out heavy sun, was the only thing that kept you from getting heat stroke. That we take water, WATER, for granted is utterly first world entitlement.

    I am raising my son to respect water, and love it, too. When I meet parents of children who ‘don’t like water’, I judge. I am absolutely judging. Kids need to understand how precious water is, how essential to life it is, how delicious it is, how amazing it is in nature: natural springs, rain, ocean, rivers and creeks and steams, dew droplets on a leaf, the beach, a river rock rolled smooth, the Grand Canyon cut from rock.

    And I see people throw water away…like’s it is nothing.

    The most important thing you can do about conserving water, more important than anything we’ve been talking about here, is to stop drinking Fiji’s natural resources, stop drinking bottled water. Stop sitting silent while fracking destroys our water. To push for conservation by corporations, because BY FAR, agriculture uses more water than anyone else. Look into gray water options for flushing toilets. (The fact that we flush our bodily wastes with potable water is beyond incredible.) Don’t sit silent while states (Texas is a biggie) co-opt water resources for businesses like golf courses.

    Water is life. And, as far as resources are concerned, it is oil.

  6. My boyfriend’s friend started taking baths with a bucket and a bowl to save water cuz he was tight on money. I reckon it saves more water than taking a shower, even with a bucket next to you. And he keeps doing it to this day, even though he has no financial issues now, so chances are it’s not a terrible thing.

  7. When washing produce, submerge it in a big bowl of water rather than rinsing each piece with the tap running. Then toss that water out the door onto your lawn.

    • Just be careful with roof runoff and edibles (or watering pets). It may or may not be safe. It depends on what your roof is made of. We have not done rain barrels as our roof is a composite that is not safe to drink off, and we would only use them for the edibles and chickens (we don’t water anything else). My dad who has a HUGE greenhouse uses his roof runoff for his decorative flowers, which is fine.

  8. Another trick to save water while brushig teeth: Fill a small-medium glass with water, then put your toothbrush in it to soak it. Then you brush you teeth, drink a portion of the water to rinse your mouth (if you want) and use the rest of the water to rinse the toothbrush. Voilà! You used approx. 200ml only to brush your teeth!

      • Why? You’re not swallowing it. However, if you’re truly squicked why not just dampen your brush by pouring a little water over it from the glass. Then use the rest of the water in the glass to rinse and spit. Voila! water that hasn’t had your brush touch it.
        If MlleAri is actually DRINKING the toothbrush soaking water instead of rinsing and spitting, I’m guessing she isn’t using toothpaste – no problem with that as long as you brush long enough.
        As far as the glass getting scuzzy, just dry it with a dish towel between uses!

    • But then you’d have to wash that drinking glass quite often or it will get really scuzzy, which takes up more water. I think probably doing a quick rinse with running water is probably less wasteful.

  9. My parents’ well ran dry in 2003, they are pros at saving water. They installed a tank for water that they get delivered as needed, so there is a bit of running water nowadays, but in the meantime, it all gets recycled. Toilet paper goes in the trash and they abide by the “let it mellow” rule. However! They got two square heavy duty plastic containers that fit in the kitchen sinks – one for washing, one for rinsing – and use the dishwasher only as a “drying rack”. When done, the containers get dumped into a bucket that is used for flushing the toilets. They take “dry” showers when needed – get in, get wet, turn off the water and handle soaping, etc, then rinse off – catching as much water as possible into a bucket that goes to flushing the toilet. In fact, there’s a container in all of the sinks to catch as much water for toilet flushing as possible. My mom also keeps a close eye on her washer when washing clothes (and invested in a front-loading washer), all that goes to flushing toilets. That and tiered gardens and natural plant life. It’s pretty amazing how they’ve adapted.

  10. There’s a bunch of these tips I use, so I’ll just add some I don’t think I saw yet:
    -I have a pot/collander combo for cooking pasta where the collendar fits inside the pot. This way you can lift the pasta out without dumping the water down the sink. Once it’s cooled down, I mostly use this water to water my garden, but you could also use it to flush your toilet.
    -other mentioned keeping a bucket in the shower to catch water for plants. I’ve done this and used the water to flush the toilet too.
    -rise dishes immediately. If you forget, soak them for a while first. Way less work/water to clean them then. I also think if done properly, hand washing dishes saves more water/energy than a dishwasher. But as I don’t have a dishwasher, I don’t have a choice:)

  11. I learned a lot about saving water from time spent doing Civil War reenacting, honestly, where you have to lug your own water and that is a ton of fucking work. So sponge baths throughout the week and a longer bath (in somewhat shallow water) worked for me, since my hair is long, super ethnic, and stayed up in buns and braids and such. It takes some getting used to, but it worked even in July encampments when the temps were in the 90s. The basin and pitcher method for morning ablutions also gives you a finite amount of clean water to use, and captures the used/grey water, which can go into plants or used for the toilet, etc. I learned to dress my hair with oils (instead of commercial hair spray/gel/mousse) and put it in braids in order to cut down on the amount of contact it has with skin, decreasing how dirty it gets. When my hair’s down, it gets dirty because I touch it. When it’s up in a braid, or snood, it stays cleaner and doesn’t need more than a wash a week. Everyone’s mileage may vary there, but it worked for me. I’m also a history nut, and feel comfortable in 19th century (or medieval) hair styles. If you’ve got a more modern cut, that might not be an option.

    The other thing I found is that when I cut down on shit like body wash/SLS shampoos that do a lot of lather, I use way less time and water when I shower. I use handmade soap and shampoo bars, and because they don’t have additives to make them lather, they rinse clean and quickly. Same thing with laundry soaps. Also, cutting out fabric softener for your towels means that they absorb more water and need to be laundered less. Treat them with vinegar when they get smelly, wash them in cold water, and they’re more absorbent than when treated with waxy fabric softeners. They also feel nice!

    Trying to remember other small things from growing up on well water in the sticks. Turn off automatic ice makers and other shit that draws on your water. Tighten up your spigots and faucets so they don’t drip. Some people put a brick in their toilet tank to keep the volume high but the actual amount of water in the tank lower, but that was in the 80s/90s, and I don’t know if it works with modern low flow toilets. (Other people say a milk jug with rocks in it. YMMV.) Designate water glasses or bottles that you refill throughout the day instead of getting clean ones all the time, it cuts down on how much you have to wash them. We reused dishes a fair bit — if something just had a sandwich on it, we’d wipe it clean and reuse it instead of sending it through the wash. I had a friend who would wash dishes with only a soapy sponge and a tiny amount of water in the stoppered sink, setting the soapy dishes on the counter when they were clean, then rinsing them all swiftly in a batch instead of washing and rinsing one at a time. That was really efficient.

  12. I just finished a PhD estimating the effectiveness of different residential water conservation measures.

    In the western US, two thirds of all residential water consumption is used outdoors. This goes into pools, car washing, and watering plants in your yard. For the apartment dwellers, you win. all you have to do is make sure your car is washed at almost any commercial facility, and you’re all good. In most places, in most cities, commercial car wash’s recycle their water, and if they don’t its the cities problem, not yours.

    Use a pool cover if you have a swimming pool.

    Water less. This could mean under-watering your existing lawn, converting your lawn from thirsty thirsty grass to more desert-style landscaping, or just letting the green stuff die. As said before, many cities have “cash-for-grass” incentive programs to get people to ditch the green lawns.


    The largest consumer of indoor water use is the toilet. So anything you can do to make your toilet use less water will have the largest impact on your water consumption.

    A huge source of water loss is toilets that run (this can waste _thousands_ of gallons per day). If your toilet bowl takes longer than ~10 seconds or so to fill back up after flushing, clean out all the junk and make sure all the seals fit nicely.

    Next easiest is to put a medium sized jug of water in the toilet bowl, to jerry rig a low flow toilet. You can experiment with the size of jug that still gets your toilet flushing, but it’ll save that much water per flush (and the average person flushes their toilet 10 times per day).

    Next easiest is to flush less . . . . using whatever criteria you can live with.

    Next replace your toilet with a low flow toilet, or even better, a dual-flush toilet. Some cities actually have rebate programs to replace old toilets with low-flow ones.


    Most bathroom and kitchen sink taps spit out between 1 and 3 gallons of water per minute at full volume. You can install cheapo low-flow faucet aerators (ranging from ($1 to $10) on your bathroom and kitchen sinks for a quick way to systematically reduce water consumption while doing all the normal household things like cooking, cleaning, and brushing your teeth.

    If you’ve got any leaky taps, fixing those can save tens to hundreds of gallons of water per day.

    Installing a low flow shower head can also save tens of gallons of water per shower. Shorter showers also obviously help, but reducing your water consumption in the shower from 5 gallons per minute to 1.5 has a bigger impact than shortening your shower from 15 to 10 minutes. Do both, and you get even more extra credit.

    Turning the tap off while you brush your teeth does save a few gallons, as does all of the good dishwashing practices that people have mentioned before.

    Washing machines are also big water users (~40 gallons per load for old machines). If you can afford it, switching to a front loading machine (~10 gallons per load) can have a big impact on your household water consumption, but that’s an expensive proposition.

    Dishwashers are, on average, huge water savers. So if you’ve got one, you can feel smug about saving lots of water every time you run the dishwasher. But, fancier and newer dishwashers use less water and energy than older ones, so you could use a drought as an excuse to get a new dishwasher if you’re looking for excuses.

    • Thank you for these tips! Speaking of using a drought as an excuse for replacing appliances…

      – Dual-flush toilets are AMAZING. We’re saving for one right now. I would love to see them become more popular in the US.

      – Programmable water heaters are also AMAZING. I recently traveled to Slovakia, and the family we visited had a water heater that only refilled and heated at specific times (theirs ran at 5am and 5pm). It had a controller so you could set when and how often it ran. It saved energy, and it also saved water because you knew that when you showered…once the water ran out, it was gone. There was no more hot water until 5pm! I have never washed my hair so quickly.

    • Dr. Christa! Yea! ! You are awesome! The world needs more ppl like you! Great stuff here!
      I didn’t study water resources but I did work for a water conservation nonprofit (in California, big surprise) for 3 years. I think I remember that the water jug thing is better than a brick because brick sediment can mess up your plumbing – but maybe I just heard that from vendors who wanted to sell their water jugs.
      Another significant water waster is leaks. Many of them are undetected, and wouldn’t be something the typical resident would notice. If your toilet runs, you have a leak. Many kettle have silent water leaks, but you can test this by putting a dye tablet in your toilet tank, and if the water in the bowl changes color, you’ve got a leak. Often it’s often a very easy fix, like adjusting the arm that connects to the floating device in the toilet tank so the floating device status up properly and doesn’t trigger the water to fill. If you have one of those kind of toilets, or something slightly more complicated but doable, like needing a new toilet flapper (they little rubber flange that seals the hole in the bottom of your toilet tank). Your local water agency can usually come do an assessment on your home.
      This website is an excellent resource for home owners and residential water users: http://www.h2ouse.org

  13. There’s a festival I go to every year that has rather cobbled together showers, but there is a feature of those showers I’ve been intending to incorporate into my own. Rather than having an on/off knob, theres an on/off lever attached to the shower-heads, with a rope hanging from it. On the other end of a rope, theres a flat, fairly lightweight length of wood about two feet long, that is tied to the rope at one end so that it rests with one end on the floor, and the rest of it sloping up at about 20 degrees. The result is s afoot pedal. You step on it, the water flows, you step off, it stops. It makes it natural, and easy, to turn the water on and off depending on your needs. No hassle, stress, or even thinking involved. You’re shampooing? raise your foot. rinsing? lower it.

  14. I am from South Australia, we have water restrictions on and off due to droughts where I live and I think the biggest thing is the garden. My first idea would be a rain water tank (or 5) following that, wash your car/s on the lawn, then you don’t need to water the grass. And really think about when/how much you water your garden you can probably get away with watering less (less longer watering sessions are better than many short watering sessions btw) Oh and only water at night, less evaporation.

  15. This probably won’t help in California, but if you have a dehumidifier: use the water that collects in there to flush toilets and water plants. Hell, you might be able to wash dishes with it too — I’m not above that. It would be cold, though.

  16. We use five gallon buckets to catch the A/C evaporator coil condensation runoff, which comes out of pipies on the side of the house. Depending on where you live (like here in the Lowcountry), that can be a lot of water collected.

    If you have to hand wash your dishes, don’t leave the water running during the process. Wet/rinse everything, turn off the water while cleaning, and then back on to rinse.

  17. Instead of a hot water bottle fill an old sock with 2 cups or so of rice and knot it at the top. Microwave it for 1-2 minutes. It’s great heat therapy. Small amount of water saved from not using a hot water bottle, but still.

    • The cut off leg of an old pair of jeans works wonderfully too. We live in a house with only a wood burning stove for heat, and tend to let the house stay pretty chilly. We use blue jean rice bags as bed warmers in the winter. A nice hot (3 minuet) rice bag will give off toe thawing warmth for up to 7 hours. I do tend to get mine so hot that you can’t put your feet directly on it for the first half-hour, but it makes sleeping in a cold house pretty comfortable. They are also great for cuddling to your chest if you take a chill.

  18. I’ve just recently moved to CA from Scotland, so I’m super conscious of the drought. One thing I’ve done that isn’t mentioned yet is to change the way I cook. Washing raw foods is a huge water hog, so I use my salad spinner like crazy, and use the bowl of it to catch the running water from things I absolutely have to rinse. That goes to flushing toilets.

    I’ve learned to cut boiling from my repertoire. There are several good recipes on the internet for skillet pasta, which use just enough water to cook the pasta, and don’t require draining. Sweet corn can be cooked in the microwave in its husk (I do 2 ears for 4 minutes). Ramen noodles make their own soup!

    I’ve also become conscious of how many pots and pans I use, since those are all going to have to be washed. And I keep a tea towel for wiping my hands when they’re not really dirty (you know, just carroty), instead of running them under the tap.

  19. 10th grade. A boy who sat in front of me turned around and out of nowhere, said, “Did you know that if you leave the water on while brushing your teeth, that it wastes 2 gallons of water per minute?”

    No joke, I am now 38 years old and I still hear his words and see his face EVERY.TIME. I brush my teeth. I always turn the water off, because the 15 year-old boy told me to.

  20. Not sure if someone already said this…honestly, after awhile I just scroll to the bottom. But most top loading washers use approximately 40-50 gallons per load. And most bathtubs will easily hold 50 gallons. So stop up your bathtub while showering and use your “dirty” tub water for a better purpose (because how dirty do we REALLY get?):

    The initial rinse/wash cycle of your machine just agitates the water that has become soiled by your clothes. By loading your dirty clothes into the machine, then using a bucket to transfer water from the bathtub to the machine, you can save water AND electricity (your water heater won’t have to heat the wash cycle as the water will still be warm from your shower).

    Pro-tip: shave your miscellaneous body parts first, then stop up the shower. A bit of shampoo and conditioner will be fine on your laundry, tiny little pubic hairs will suuuuuuck.

    I practiced this technique in my old apartment, where the washing machine was convieniently located ten feet from the bathtub. Now the machine is across the entire house, so we bought a front loader that uses 14 gallons per cycle.

  21. If you drink water, don’t throw away the water left in your jug at the end of the meal. Just let it stand and top it up at the next meal.

    Use a glass of water to rinse your teeth, and apply the advice above as well.

    It might not be enforceable in a sweltering heat where you sweat a lot, but if you can, wear the same clothes twice in order to decrease the washing.

    Shower only once a day, and if you feel sweaty when coming home from work, take a sponge bath instead of a second shower (and turn that tap off while you do so).

    If you have a bathtub, close the drain while you shower, and use that water to flush your toilet, water your plants/lawn. Plants don’t mind a little soap. Also, closing the drain allows you to physically vizualize the amount of water you actually use when you shower. This could lead to a competition with yourself: “I’ll end this shower before the water level reaches my ankle/calf” (depending on your tub size). Turn the water off when you soap.

    Avoid food that uses up a lot of water for boiling (pasta, for instance). If you can’t, collect that water in a bowl and use it to water your plants.

    Always close your sink’s drain or invest in a water-collecting tub that fits your sink: this way, whenever you use tap water (to rinse vegetables, wash your hands…), you can collect it.

    If your neighborhood council wants you to have a green lawn, water it at night, when it’s a bit cooler, so that the water doesn’t evaporate straight away.

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