Water Etiquette

by admin on September 14, 2011

We lived in a city where there are serious water shortages for extended periods of time. Our family has an underground water reservoir we keep and maintain. During one such period of water shortage, our neighbor from across the street comes over and asks my mother if he could have some water. She replied with “of course” and went inside the house to get a hose to use to get the water out of our reservoir. She comes out of the house to find that he’s put in his own hose–with a diameter that was five, six times the diameter of a regular hose straight into the reservoir, across the street, and onto his car! The guy didn’t need water for drinking or cooking or washing, he used our reservoir water to wash his car during a drought! My mom yelled at him, told him to get out, and he never came over to request water from us again. 0914-11

Given that parts of the US have been experiencing droughts in the past few years, there should be a more defined and understood etiquette regarding water usage, asking for water, etc.   Governments enact laws to govern the use of municipality-provided water and of course, one should obey the law but when it comes to private water, i.e. wells, cisterns and the like, how does etiquette address the issues of others wanting what you have?

No one should ever presume that they are entitled to something someone else owns.  So, at least the neighbor in this story does ask permission to access the private reservoir.  Problem is,  he doesn’t bother saying why he needs it and poor Mom assumes anyone asking for water must have a dire personal need for it.   Which leads to the second etiquette rule…

If you need water, ask for what you truly need to live on.  Washing a car, watering ornamental plants are far lower on a priority list due to being extravagant uses of a limited commodity.   Water to drink, flush toilets, bathe, cook with…those are legitimate needs.  A long, hot shower is not.

If you are asked for water, give generously to those in need.   People can go without food for a long time but only three days without water.   Ignore those who cannot seem to prioritize their needs in an appropriate manner and expect you to continue maintaining their lifestyle choices.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint September 14, 2011 at 7:57 am

Before anyone accuses ‘Mom’ of being rude, the man put in his own hose without asking her or waiting for her. He therefore violates the agreement anyway. Nice one, Mom, for not taking the cheek!


AS September 14, 2011 at 8:54 am

Good job to OP’s mom for putting her foot down.

Even if the water is community water or this man’s private water supply, I’d consider using gallons of water for something non-essential like washing the car during a drought to be bad etiquette. Unless you have a pipeline from another state where there is a lot of water, you are depleting the much needed and already low water table. If you have to clean your car, use a cloth dipped in a small bucket of water. I come from big city in a monsoon-fed country, and water would be a scarcity during summer months. We hardly used hoses to wash our cars.


alex September 14, 2011 at 8:58 am

Bint I really don’t think anyone would think the mom was rude, I think people would do at least that and most probably more. The fact he asked for water for HIS CAR is absolutely ridiculous. Washing a car is not something you need to do in a drought and to ask for water from your neighbor because you know they have a reservoir is very, very rude.


The Elf September 14, 2011 at 9:25 am

I don’t find the hose to be as bad as the simple fact that he asked for water to wash his car.

Now, we have good looking cars and motorcycles and keep them nice with washing 2-4 times a month. I understand the desire to not have a filthy car. BUT…. there’s water restrictions for a reason. Depending on the restrictions, retail car washes might be open. (They use water more efficiently than home bucket wash). Aside from that, there are waterless “washes” that one can use if the car isn’t filthy. They are perfectly safe for paint – even black paint that shows every swirl and scratch – and will leave a nice protective coating in the same way that wax does. We use Dri Wash N Guard or Harley’s S-100.

So, not only did he ask for water for something not critical, not only did he not really ask first when he stuck his big hose in, but he had other options. This was completely unnecessary AND rude.


Hemi Halliwell September 14, 2011 at 9:40 am

Neighbor was rude for using his own large hose and Mom was completely justified in telling the man to stop using the water. Yes, she did tell him he could have some water but I believe she thought it was for a necessary need (drinking, cooking, bathing) not the luxury of washing his car!


Bint September 14, 2011 at 10:12 am

Alex, wait and see…it’s amazing what some posters find rude!


Xtina September 14, 2011 at 10:13 am

Mom was not rude in any way, shape, or form, considering the circumstances. That guy deserved a good ear-chewing in this case! That man is an idiot not only for washing his car during a drought, but to encroach on a neighbor’s water supply to do so!

Drought and water restrictions occur in my area of the country as well, and several years ago, it was so bad that people (including us) were turning off showers during “soaping up”, and using a bucket while in the shower/bath to collect the used water to flush toilets, etc.–swimming pools were drained and anyone caught watering lawns, washing cars, and things of that nature were at the very least, ticketed with a hefty fine, but at some point, seems like you could be arrested for violating the rules. Still, I’d sometimes see people watering their lawns, washing cars, and generally wasting water–I called the police when I saw them doing it. Sorry, I’m not letting MY plants wither and die and taking minute-long showers, flushing the toilet less, etc., only to see some idiot carrying on as if nothing is amiss.


Serenity S September 14, 2011 at 10:29 am

The man was rude for not waiting for the mom to give him some water and just taking it on his own. It was also inapropriate of him to use it for his car instead of for something important like drinking or bathing. But honestly, I believe the mom could have handled things more politely. OP says that the mom yelled at the man. That was rude. She could have said the same thing in a calm manner.


A September 14, 2011 at 11:08 am

I’m just wondering how this situation could have been avoided from the mom’s position. If someone asks for water, do you then ask what they are going to use it for? That seems a little cold. Then again, if you ask and then say you had the above experience previously a person would see why you’re questioning. Perhaps, people asking to borrow resources like this need to include what they’re using it for in their request. This would have nipped the problem in the bud:

Neighbor: “Could I use some of the water in your resevoir to wash my BMW?”
Mom: “I’m sorry neighbor, but we maintain a water resevoir for emergency use only. We can’t spare any for washing cars, watering gardens…that sort of thing.”


Leslie Holman-Anderson September 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I’ve seen some weird stories on this site but this is one of the weirdest — and possibly THE most blatant example of a gimme-pig!


Calli Arcale September 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Apart from the rank rudeness of using a critical resource for something as meaningless as washing one’s car, he appears to be one of those people who think that “can I have some X” means “can I have an unlimited supply of X out of your personal stash”. If a neighbor asks to borrow some sugar, you usually expect it’s the cliched cup of sugar, not the whole 10-pound sack they’re asking for.


Kitty Lizard September 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm

We live down in the Florida Keys where water restrictions are a way of life. Down here, people can and WILL turn you in for violating restrictions and not think twice about it. What he did was rude, wrong and just plain greedy. There are times when we have gone for as long as 8 MONTHS without rain. The aquifer starts to go dry, and things get desperate. Most of us have built some really ingenious cisterns at our houses. We are all willing to share, but behavior like this down here would be dealt with severely and
not in a pleasant way. We all need to conserve water.


Rattus September 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Not a comment on any rudeness (not really necessary), but a helpful hint for those who live in areas prone to water restrictions. We are fortunate enough to live with a plentiful supply, but are cautious in our usage anyway (if it’s yellow, etc., etc.) and one thing we do is put a bucket under the tap when we are running the water to warm it up for a shower. Those two buckets of water, along with cooled cooking water and water from the dehumidifier, go towards keeping our tomato plants healthy and thriving.


David September 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

The mother was not rude at all. If he has run the hose into the reservoir and then across the street to his car, he is nowhere near the house. In the amount of time it would take for the mother to walk across the yard and street so that she could calmly inquire as to why he was wasting water washing his car, who knows how many gallons of water the foolish neighbor would have wasted.


Brenda September 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I don’t think Mom was rude for yelling at the man. Water is a necessity of life; this was not some leftover cake from a party. His taking of her family’s water for an unnecessary desire could have caused Mom’s family great hardship at a later date.

Back in the 70’s, California was going through a bad drought. My parents had recently moved our family out of California, but we came back for a week to visit friends. All the families in that water district were limited to 140 gallons of water a day, no matter how many people lived in the residence, which may seem like a lot, but gallons of water (especially before water-conserving appliances and such were developed) are used to flush a toilet, gallons run every minute during a shower, gallons to wash dishes (automatic dishwashers are actually very good to use during a water shortage, if they are fully and properly loaded), etc. Between the two families (combined 12 people) that works out to less than 12 gallons per person per day. And it was summer.

However, down in Southern California, which is reliant on water from Central and Northern California, no restrictions were instituted. We were incensed watching people in LA casually washing their cars and overwatering their lawns, while we were struggling not to stink up the place between minimal showers and minimal flushing. We were drinking a lot of soda and juice, which, for the kids, was fun, but not a healthy situation.

So, my opinion is that Mom had every right to yell at the guy. Sometimes a chewing out is necessary, and this selfish jerk deserved much worse than what he got.


Sunshine September 14, 2011 at 11:28 pm

That’s just disgusting! Water is essential to life, and he’s wasting a restricted supply on washing his car!

On the rare occasion we get water restrictions in our neck of the woods, most people take them seriously, and do their best to be good stewards. Most, but not all. I remember once, when I was in high school, we were on a no-laundry, flush-when-necessary, order, among other restrictions, and the guy who lived down the street not only washed his car, he used his pressure hose to SPRAY DOWN HIS DRIVEWAY! The rest of us were wearing dirty clothes, and he was washing his driveway! My neighbour went over and asked him if he didn’t know about the restrictions, and he began ranting about civil rights and people trying to infringe upon his rights.
I guess what goes around comes around, though, because one of the neighbours reported him, and he had to pay a hefty fine. And some of the neighbourhood kids (not me) egged his sparkling clean car. The cop made him wash it down with a single bucket of water, and stood there to make sure that was all he used. I don’t condone vandalism, but I do admit to a small sense of satisfaction at watching him scrub down that car without his pressure hose.


Enna September 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm

It depends what she said – if she kept it clean e.g “Excuse me what are you doing?” but if some nasty four letter words sneak in that would be rude. To me, at face value she shouted so she could be heard in order to stop him wasting water. Hardly surprsing that he never asked for water again! Personally I wouldn’t write him off as a person, he was a first class idiot, but there are worse neighbours, spouse beaters, drug addicts etc etc.


Leah September 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

You mean people actually use a hose to squirt clean drinking water over dusty cars?

I have heard that washing a vehicle ‘saves’ the paint, but we have had cars/trucks/even our RV for decades without washing more than the windows or the tire area that gets muddy. You rub them down with an old towel, or a little soapy water in a bucket if the area is muddy.
The paint on all of them is just fine.

I should imagine there might have been a four-letter word or a few in there – and well deserved it was, too.
One does NOT waste food or water. Ever.


Vicki September 16, 2011 at 7:15 pm

One polite way for Mom to deal with future requests from other people would be to smile and say “How much do you need?” And if it’s a reasonable request, say sure, and maybe even ask if they need a bucket; if it’s a lot, it’s reasonable to say you can’t spare it, or say “That’s a lot right now, what are you going to use it for?”

That’s not limited to water, of course. If a friend asks if they can borrow some money, and I have some to spare and might be willing, I’m more likely to ask how much they were thinking of than just “Yes.” (Of course, if it’s “Can I have a couple of gallons of water?” or “Can you lend me ten dollars?” I have the information I need right there, but not everyone is that straightforward even if their intentions are reasonable.


Cat September 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm

When in water restricted times, I clean the windows of my car with glass cleaner and let the rest go. So long as I can see, I figure that’s clean enough.

Mom yelled because she was incensed at his willingness to use up her limited supply of water to wash a car. I would understand if she called him everything except a child of God.

My neighbor reported me for watering my horses. Not washing, watering so they could drink. I thought that was a bit much. I can drink soft drinks or bottled tea for my water intake, but horses need water. I told the investigator that I would rather deal with him than try to explain to the ASPCA why my horses were dead from dehydration. He could fine me, but they would put me behind bars where water usage would not be my major concern.


The Elf September 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Cleaning a car with dry towels or wet towels is not adequate and can cause swirls or scratches in the paint. It is especially obvious with glossy black paint. I wouldn’t do it. I pay too much for cars to mess it up that way! I’d rather just not wash it if that much of an issue.

However, there is a world of difference between hosing down your car during normal conditions and hosing down your car during drought conditions. There are also tricks you can do to reduce the amount of water used during a regular wash, especially if you wash it frequently enough that it doesn’t get filthy. Commerical car washes frequently capture and reuse water, so that is also a more water-efficient option. Then there are specific products intended for a waterless car wash. So there are lots of ways to reduce water usuage even during normal conditions and still keep a clean car and protect your paint job.


Mrelia September 19, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Regarding drought and car-washing. Due to the soil structure in our area, we have to maintain a certain level of moisture in the ground to prevent soil from shifting and causing foundation problems. To that end, we water our lawn deeply, but not excessively, on our watering day. My husband uses ‘plant safe’ soap on his car, so pulls his car onto the lawn and does a bucket-based handwash and a spray rinse, moves his car and finishes watering the lawn. We found that it saves so much water that he follows the routine even when the lake levels are high!


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