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Can You Recycle Soapy Water in the Garden?

Updated on October 28, 2011

Americans use thousands of gallons of water every year for laundry and washing dishes. You can lessen your carbon footprint by recycling this water for other uses. The composition of your water, along with the species of plant, determines whether it is beneficial or harmful to your garden.

Read the label on the detergent bottle and avoid toxic products. It is not necessary to poison our environment just to wash dishes and clothes.
Read the label on the detergent bottle and avoid toxic products. It is not necessary to poison our environment just to wash dishes and clothes.

Types of Soap

Buy organic, environmentally friendly dish detergents if you hand wash the dishes. Regular detergents may have dyes, harsh cleansers and artificial, chemical fragrance. Environmentally friendly detergents, if they have fragrance, use natural plant oils. Cleansers should be non-toxic and biodegrade.

Water Softeners

Water softeners have a very high level of sodium that will compact the soil and may kill some delicate plants. Compacted soil does not allow water to penetrate, similar to a clogged drain. Some plants do just fine with this water, as long as you treat the compacted soil as soon as you notice it.

Do not use this type of water around food plants, such as dwarf fruit trees, bushes (blueberries, etc.), vine strawberries or other vine fruits, vegetables and herbs. Additionally, plant edible flowers, the ones you use in salads or for tea, in a separate garden bed so they will not absorb this water.

Many shade trees and flowers do not have a problem with water softeners. Research your species or ask your local garden center if you are not sure.


Liquid chlorine dissipates within 24 hours. Simply let your chlorinated water sit in a bucket overnight and then water the plants.

If you added a dry chlorine to the wash cycle, it may have additives that need to be diluted before using. If you use two rinse cycles when washing clothes, the first rinse cycle will have chlorine. Mix the water from this cycle with the second rinse water to dilute it. Then it should be fine in your flower garden or to feed a thirsty tree.

WARNING: Do not use bleach water in the spring when new foliage is forming and growing on your plants. The leaves will continue to grow but they will have white or bleached color or white spots - not attractive.


Chemists make boron by mixing borax and carbon. It kills plants and should never be recycled to your lawn or garden. If you add water softener to the final rinse water in the washing machine, then read the label to see if it contains boron. If it does, then let this water go down the drain.

These critters enjoy munching on your garden plants.
These critters enjoy munching on your garden plants.

Clean Soapy Water

Regular soapy water, from the tap without water softeners or harsh detergents, has beneficial uses in the garden. You can use it to kill the critters that munch on many of your lovely plants --- beetles, spider mites and aphids. Some plants are too delicate for even this procedure so check the hardiness of whatever you are growing.

Check the hardiness by washing one or two leaves and then leave the plant alone for two days. If the leaf looks fine two days later, then it should be safe to use. One exception is azalea bushes --- even clean soapy water poisons them.

Remember to check the soil for compaction once a week when you water the garden.


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      gopher65 3 years ago

      Ummm... Boron is an *element*. It isn't made, it's a type of atom. You know, those things that makes up molecules. I find it hard to take chemistry advice from someone who's so stupid they don't even know that.