Science says this is how you probably take a bath: You plug the drain and run the water to get it nice and hot. While the tub is filling up, maybe you put on some music, or a podcast, or even a sporting event. Perhaps you grab a beer or some wine or a book. Maybe you make some suds! That’s always fun. When the tub is near-full, you turn off the water and slip into it and let your troubles dissipate as your muscles unclench and your brain downshifts. It is delightful. You scrub yourself clean. You have never been more relaxed.
You then proceed to sit in a soup of soap scum and your own dirty for the next 20-40 minutes. When your filth broth becomes room temperature but has uniformly coated your skin with a fine film, you unplug the drain and stand up. You are … relaxed? Yes. Clean? You are not.
When I take a bath, I take a shower first. A normal, quick shower—soap, shampoo. It takes two minutes. Then and only then do I plug the drain and throw the diverter to send the (already hot!) water gushing from my faucet. I let the tub fill and I sink into the bliss that only a warm, clean bath can provide. I do not soak in my own dirt, for any length of time, because I washed off that dirt before this became a bath.
There is a reason, at public swimming pools and hotel jacuzzis and hot tubs everywhere that you are strongly advised, even required, to shower before you step in. Why do you think the rules of surfactancy and hydrodynamics do not apply in your own bathroom?
There is a reason, in Japanese culture, you are expected to clean your body before entering a bath. As this explanation puts it, the tub “is used for soaking only.” And you should listen to the Japanese on bathroom stuff; they’re pretty on the ball.
But the only reason you need is peace of mind. The peace that comes with slipping low in the tub and drowning out the sound of the world with water, not with armpit stew. The peace of letting yourself slip completely beneath the surface and knowing that diluted gunk from your groin is not now adhering to your face. The peace of not having to realize, 10 minutes into your bath, that the water is way, way less clear than before you got in.
Perhaps the gain in cleanliness here is minuscule. Three hundred thousand years’ worth of humans would have given their tribe’s sharpest arrowhead for ability to bathe by “turning a knob to make hot, clean water come out of the wall and fill a tub that you can lie in.” They would not even understand the qualm here. They would have a point. But they are almost all dead. Mostly of disease. Coincidence?
Even if the difference between showering and not shower is negligible, cleanliness is not merely a physical measurement. If you feel clean, you are clean.
So there you are. You are enjoying a clean bath. You are thriving! Everything is wonderful. But the real world awaits. You cannot live forever here in the warm, wet womb, no matter how much you’d like to. And so, with regret but also with a replenished reserve of inner strength, you pull out the drainplug. As the water—clean!—swirls down the drain, and your cares with it, you rise to your feet, water sluicing off you like some giant monster rising from the deeps of Tokyo Bay. You are indomitable. You are your best you. There’s one thing left to do before you go out and conquer the world.
Have a quick rinse with the showerhead before you hop out.