I love mysteries. I like to sit on my little couch with my little dogs and pretend I’m a little investigator uncovering the origins of the esteemed Triscuit or the feasibility of human breast milk cheese. Like any masochistic Nancy Drew, I spend a fair amount of time in the annals of Reddit looking for answers to my foolish queries. That’s how I found r/ShowerOrange, a community of more than 69,000 people who go nuts for eating oranges in the shower. And deep within the ShowerOrange discourse, I found one urban legend claiming that it’s illegal to eat oranges in the bathtub in the state of California. Was this citrusy statute based in fact? The investigative offices of Stone, Stone & Stone were on the case.
First, some background on the subreddit: r/ShowerOrange has been going strong for about five years, inspired by a popular comment on an Ask Reddit thread about underrated “unconventional activities.” Devotees swear that the Shower Orange falls into the same category as the Shower Beer: snacks or drinks that are good outside of the shower, but even better inside of the shower. It’s partially a mess thing—much easier to clean sticky orange pulp off your hands in the shower, after all—although Men’s Health posits that the “sheer olfactory transport of a shower orange may be enough to momentarily paralyze you.” In other words, a steamy shower cranks the scent of an orange up to 1,000. Luxurious.
Once I understood the appeal of the Shower Orange, I dove a little deeper into the subreddit. Perhaps surprisingly, r/ShowerOrange is a SFW community, with rules explicitly banning photos of naked people eating oranges. The subreddit has just one other rule: no grapefruits. “We have strict rules regarding which fruits are suitable in this subreddit,” the moderators state. “Oranges, Clementines, Tangerines, Tangelos, Blood Oranges as well as Satsumas are all acceptable.”
Now for the ~*mystery*~ of it all. I went through about a year’s worth of the r/ShowerOrange archives until I found this post that stopped me in my pulpy tracks. Redditor jamescolwell33. posted a screenshot of a Google search for “shower orange” that showed that People Were Also Asking if it’s illegal... to eat an orange in the shower. The post resulted in nine comments, all sarcastic—but I found that the question was based in some truth. Well, sort of.
One search for “illegal shower orange” uncovered a bunch of Quora posts, Yahoo Answers queries, and outdated legal blogs. All of the posts referenced the same thing: an apocryphal law allegedly passed in 1920s California. The law is a frontrunner in “America’s strangest laws” roundups, all of which suggest that lawmakers believed the citric acid in the orange would mix with natural bath oils to create a highly explosive concoction in the bathtub pipes.
I wasn’t able to find a single source citing the law itself. I even searched a California legislative database for keywords “bathtub” and “orange” with zero results. Turns out, I’m not the only one hunting for this esoteric legislation. Here’s a snippet I found on an obscure Orange County legal blog:
“Despite the many sources that make claim [of the orange law], none actually cite any relevant statutory authority or case law. Luckily, I was born with a rare genetic condition called ‘curiosity,’ so I decided to devote some valuable time to finding this mysterious and arcane law... Turns out, no such law exists in California. Of course not. Just think for a minute about how absurd a law like that would be. It would obviously be impossible to enforce and it would likely be stricken down as ‘without rational basis.’”
This appears to be another case of a Reddit black hole, a game of Cyber Telephone that involves a gazillion people repeating information without citing a proper source. Is this definitely fake orange news? Not necessarily—after all, these rumors have to start somewhere, and I trust my stalwart commenters to find out if I missed a breadcrumb. But for now, Californians can enjoy some citrusy Me Time without fear of the orange police. For now.