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Greywater 101: Learn How to Easily Recycle Water at Home

Water is a precious, yet limited resource here on our planet. Did you know that as a homeowner, you’re in a powerful position to protect and help conserve the water we have?

At home, you use more water than you realize. You wash your hands. You take a shower. You cook. You may do a load of laundry. All day long, you’re drinking water. You also probably use a lot of water on your landscaping, too. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to recycle household water to give it more use?

Utilizing the potential of “greywater” is a smart and surprisingly simple way to recycle household water.

Day Zero

Frequent and severe droughts are on the rise in the United States and around the world. Earlier this year, Cape Town, South Africa, was mere weeks away from its “Day Zero.” If it’s sounds apocalyptic—it kind of is! As the dam ran dry, Day Zero was the day when the taps would officially be shut off.

No water.

Through severe rationing, citizens minimized taking baths, flushing the toilet, and washing clothes. Thankfully, Day Zero never arrived. A situation like this, in present day, is a reminder to not take water for granted.

Water Usage at Home

At home, showers, toilets, and laundry machines use the most water. For a single shower, the average American uses 17.2 gallons. Imagine buying 17 gallons of milk at the store—they would overflow a shopping cart.

Washing machines consume even more! For a single load of laundry, front loading washing machines go through 15-20 gallons of water. Top loading machines use 30-50 gallons of water.

What if all of this water could be diverted to a yard, garden, or a community prone to drought?

What is Greywater?

Greywater is water that has been used once within your house already. Think about the water you use when you take a shower, draw a bath, do a load of laundry, or wash your hands at the bathroom sink. In this conventional (yet inefficient) system, this perfectly good water diverts to the sewers and filters through the wastewater treatment facility, even though it never touched sewage.

This water that might otherwise swirl down the drain is known as greywater and greywater is a valuable resource that can be put to good use, like irrigating fruit trees and hydrating plants, flowers, and the landscaping surrounding your home. Greywater is a strategy almost any homeowner can take advantage of.

Note: Greywater is not any water from toilets or any water that comes into contact with fecal matter, including diapers. This water is no longer classified as recyclable greywater. Instead, this water is known as “blackwater.”

Water Saving Ideas: Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater System

There’s no fancy system that has to be put in place for a greywater system to work. If you’re curious, start by placing a large bowl or container under the faucet of your bathroom sink. When it fills as you wash your hands (make sure you use a biodegradable soap!), walk the bucket outside and water your flowers and garden. Keep in mind this greywater should not touch the edible parts of the plant.

Easy-to-install laundry-to-landscape greywater systems offer homeowners a chance to repurpose the water that already cleaned their clothes. Simple greywater systems divert this greywater from passing through the pipes to wastewater treatment facilities and funnel it out to the yard instead.

Consider the Products You’re Using

Many common household soaps and laundry detergents contain ingredients that aren’t plant and soil friendly. In beginning stages of using a greywater system at home, consider your products. The Ecology Center encourages homeowners to avoid:

  • Sodium and ingredients with the word “sodium” or “salt” in them
  • Boron/borax (toxic to plants)
  • Anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners
  • “Whiteners” and “softeners”
  • Artificial colors, FD&C colors
  • Synthetic fragrance
  • Artificial preservatives
  • Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl)
  • Chlorine bleach

For a list of safe soaps and detergents for greywater systems click here.

The Value of Greywater

Using greywater has tremendous value—not only for life and the water consumption at large but also for your property. Your landscaping and garden will stay hydrated, even in the driest of climates. You’ll cut down on your water bill. You’ll save energy by diverting greywater from unnecessarily passing through your local wastewater treatment facility. And, you’ll be conserving water, our planet’s greatest resource.

Check this local and state reference guide from Greywater Action to see how your state thinks about greywater.