Stop-start showers, dry shampoo and plenty of hand sanitizer: How Cape Town is weaning itself off water

Cape Town is running out of water, and its four million residents have been urged to reduce their consumption to less than 50 litres a day. We take a look at some of the ways Capetonians are cutting back on water in their daily lives.
Newlands Spring in Cape Town has become crowded as the city's residents try to stock up on water so they can conserve at home. (Lily Martin/CBC)

This story is part of our series Water at Risk, which looks at Cape Town's drought and some potential risks to the water supply facing parts of Canada and the Middle East. Read more stories in the series.

Three years of unprecedented drought have left Cape Town's rain-fed reservoirs below 25 per cent capacity. All residents, whether they live in a suburb or a shantytown, have been told to limit their consumption to less than 50 litres per person per day or risk hastening the arrival of Day Zero, when levels become so low authorities opt to shut down the system and ration water to the South African city's four million residents.

We take a look at some of the ways Capetonians are trying to stay under that 50 litre limit.


Showers on the beach in Camps Bay, one of the most popular tourist areas in Cape Town have been shut off. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Showers use an average of 10 litres of water per minute, so a five minute shower will use up all of the recommended daily amount for personal water use. Many Capetonians preach "stop-start" showers while standing in a basin to capture the runoff water or "grey water."

Local pop stars have remixed their hits into two-minute shower songs to help keep Capetonians on track. 


A woman gets her hair braided at a salon in Gugulethu township. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Hair salons are offering discounts to customers arriving with already washed hair or those opting for a dry haircut instead. Gym-goers are scheduling their workouts to land on hair-wash days or investing in dry shampoo.

Swimming pools

A pool in a boutique hotel in Cape Town filled with grey water. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Many hotels, sports clubs, gyms and homes have had to close down their swimming pools as they can no longer use municipal water to fill them. The city's recreation and parks department has closed more than half of the municipal pools. Some hotels are using salt water instead. 


Sanitizer has replaced water when it comes to handwashing. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Hand sanitizer is everywhere and in some restrooms, is your only option. While most places post signs asking you to choose hand sanitizer over handwashing, some business owners have gone as far as turning off the taps completely and making the choice for you.


For families with kids, sticking to the city's recommended one load a week limit for laundry can be challenging. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Laundry uses around 70 litres per load so the city suggests trying to cut down to one load per week. To meet this, some residents are drying off with hand towels instead of bath towels, which cuts down on laundry bulk.

Grey water

A bucket of grey water ready for reuse. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Water in Cape Town is reused and then reused again. Water collected from showers and laundry machines can fill toilet cisterns. If dishes are washed with a special probiotic soap, that dirty dishwater can then be used to water plants. Even floors can be washed with grey water.


Cape Town cafés tr​​y to adjust to water crisis

4 years ago
Duration 0:32
While these café goers in Cape Town's Camps Bay district can be seen still sipping water and chilling their wine in ice buckets, some restaurants are replacing china with paper plates and taking other measures to conserve water.

Some restaurants are asking people to keep their cutlery between courses to save on washing, and one pop-up restaurant is even using paper plates. People are asked to use ice-cubes in their wine glasses instead of filling whole ice buckets to keep it cool. 

What you can do with 50 litres of water:

A pamphlet put out by the City of Cape Town informing people of roughly how much water should be used for daily tasks to stay within the 50 litre per person per day recommended limit. (City of Cape Town)

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