Using Recycled Water from your Washing Machine to Water Your Plants--Be Green and Save Green!
Most of us never really understand how much water is actually wasted every day while doing things like brushing our teeth or shaving, and washing dishes. C'mon, you know you let that faucet run while you rinse off a plate then bend over to put it in the dishwasher and grab the next one.
You'll start to notice how much water goes down the drain, barely used, if you plug the drain and let it collect while you do these everyday tasks. The truth is, I think we have a strange disconnect about the whole idea of water that comes out of our own faucets as being free for some crazy reason, even though we get a bill every month for what we use. Would you buy 2 to 5 one-gallon jugs of water at the store and then come home and pour them all right down the sink? Probably not...but it's exactly the same thing as leaving the water running while you spend a few minutes brushing those pearly whites!
Let's do the math--that adds up, quick! ONE person, brushing twice a day, will waste an average of 6 gallons a day, 42 gallons a week, 168 gallons a month, and 2,016 gallons a year. Imagine, if you will, going to the store every Sunday and coming home with 42 gallon jugs of water, and stacking them in your pantry. That's a LOT of water! And that's just for that one simple act, by one single person. How many people live in your household??
Now, Think About How Much Water We Use Doing Laundry!
Many of us already ARE conscientious about conserving water while doing dishes by hand (which uses about 20 gallons of water, by the way) or brushing our teeth. There are plenty of people who diligently take measures to 'go the extra mile' and do what others seem to find so difficult (why is that??)--Turn. The faucet. Off. That's because we can-and do-visualize all that water in terms of our hard-earned money being sucked quite literally right down the drain.
But how about doing laundry? This might be something we don't think about quite as much, because once we close the lid, we don't really give it a second thought. According to the EPA, the average washing machine uses about 35 gallons of water for every small load of laundry. We don't see that water running down the drain, and plus, I imagine, we have a greater sense of the fact that whatever water is in that machine is all being used. Well, that's true. I don't mean to imply that washing clothes in the washing machine is wasting water...but if you think about it in terms of washing a load of laundry and then turning on your sprinklers to water your plants, you might wish there was a way to reuse some of that water to serve both purposes.
Well, there is!
Have You Ever Heard of Greywater?
Greywater (or 'grey water') is the term used for waste water from washing machines, dishwashers, baths or showers, and sinks that usually just goes straight down the drain after we 'use' it. Greywater can be used for irrigation purposes--watering your lawn or garden, or even your foundation--and therefore helps reduce freshwater consumption. However, it is important to consider that this water, specifically from washing machines for this example, is going to be contaminated with chemicals from the detergent and fabric softener that you use. It is NOT a good idea to use greywater for irrigation unless you switch detergents to something that is not going to harm your plants, or add to the pollution in our drainwater.
If you plan to use greywater from your washing machine, please for the love of all that is holy do not use a traditional laundry detergent to wash your clothes, and never use bleach! Normal detergents contain chemicals, salts and phosphates that will damage your plants, first, and will soak into the ground and seep into the water table and add to the already devastating levels of pollution that are harming our delicate ecosystem.
I have some recommendations for types of detergents you can use, if you are interested in recycling your water this way, but first let me tell you how I save the water from my washing machine and use it to water my lawn!
Books on Greywater and Greywater Systems
How I Learned About Greywater
We bought an old 1950s house about a year ago, and one of its 'features' is that the washer and dryer hookups are in the garage. Another 'charming characteristic' of this old house is that it has grumpy-old-man-temperamental plumbing. Soooo, I found this out the hard way at my first attempt to wash the clothes that had been piling up while I searched for a washer and dryer. The drain for the washing machine was clogged. I mean CLOGGED. Luckily I was standing there making sure everything was in working order with my new-to-me machine, and was only slightly slow at recognizing that the sound I was hearing wasn't normal. You know, that sound like when you fill up a bottle and the pitch gets higher and higher as the water gets closer and closer to the top?
Well, several attempts at snaking that drain ourselves didn't work, didn't even make any difference at all. We called a plumber, who also snaked the drain with no luck. Days went by and dirty clothes piles were getting taller and taller, and clean underwear supplies were dwindling to the point of quite a serious situation. I decided to go rogue.
After enlisting the help of my boyfriend, an always eager partner-in-crime, I put a couple of 5-gallon buckets to use collecting water as it drained from the washing machine hose. He would take the full bucket and empty it in various places in the front yard and run it back just in time to grab the next one and repeat. To my surprise, we filled and emptied almost 11 times these 5-gallon buckets. I was shocked to see all that water from a single large load of laundry, but I was also pleased because, not having sprinklers, and no hose bib in the front of the house, we needed to water the lawn and trees anyway.
Since not each bucket was entirely full to the top for ease of carrying, I estimated that it was approximately 10 full buckets, which would be 50 gallons. I had at least 3 more loads of laundry waiting. All that running back and forth wore somebody out a little, so we decided to wait to do the rest, but my wheels started turning...I wondered if I could find a better way to start using water from the washer on the lawn.
I did a little research, where I discovered the term 'greywater' which is a good name for it because it is cloudy and grey--probably from all that dirt on my socks from wearing them both in and out of the house (oops). Anyway, there are 'greywater harvesting systems' for sale at a range of prices, that mostly consist of a tank, a pump, a filter, and a hose connector. The tank is for holding the water as it collects, the pump is for giving you good water pressure to run through a soaker hose or sprinklers that attach to a hose (attached to the hose connector) and the filter traps lint, hair, and large particles that could clog your sprinkler. It also acts as a grease trap which is especially important if you are reusing water from the kitchen sink or dishwasher. Costs vary from about $250 up to $1,250, depending on how many sources you want connected to it, the size of the tank, and the strength of the pump.
I also learned the importance of using environmentally friendly detergent and immediately regretted that I wasn't already using it. For many reasons I vowed to never use traditional chemical detergents again even if I wasn't planning to reuse the water.
I Didn't Buy a Greywater Harvesting System
I decided to buy a rainbarrel instead, because I had been wanting one anyway. I thought, if my idea doesn't work, I'll put the rainbarrel outside to collect rainwater, instead of using it the garage next to my washing machine, and then I might spend the money on an official greywater system. It cost me a about $125 for a 60-gallon size rainbarrel, and it came with a lid and a spout and hose connector, as well as gutter connectors for the top.
Complex greywater systems can be used to recycle water from many different places in your house. You can have it connected to the dishwater, reroute your sinks to drain into it, etc. There are grease traps and filters which are necessary if you plan to collect water from your dishwasher or kitchen sink. That was all a bit much for me at the time, so like I said, I thought I'd start small and see how it went.
I first tried to connect a soaker hose to my rainbarrel to water my foundation, but quickly realized there wasn't enough water pressure for that. Now I simply connect a regular hose, open the spout, and hand water my cracked, drought-thirsty Texas soil that way instead. It works great and I'm saving money and doing that much extra to help the environment and save a resource that's becoming more and more precious by the day. It feels good, I tell ya!
Even if you don't plan to set up a permanent system, or if your washing machine is inside, you can still use this method every once in a while as needed (--as long as you promise to use the safe detergent and no bleach.) If you can reach the drain hose at the back of the washing machine, pull it out of the drain, when the machine is off of course. You can hold the hose in a large bucket (at least 5 gallons--they fill up quickly) and when the bucket is almost full, shut off your washing machine to prevent any more water coming out, by either opening the lid or pressing the 'start' button (or 'stop' button, if your machine has one). You can safely switch buckets or empty and reuse the first one. Simply restart the machine by closing the lid or pressing 'start' again. Please note, however, that excessive starting and stopping of your machine over time could possibly stress the mechanism and shorten the life of your washer. Doing this a few times probably won't make much difference.
If you try a method like mine, be sure to clamp the washing machine drain hose to the side of the rain barrel to hold it securely in place pointing down into the barrel. Sometimes the sudden water pressure can jerk that hose right out of there, even if it seems pretty secure.
If you need to use bleach for a load of laundry, simply unclamp the drain hose and place it back into its normal drain. You don't want to put any bleach on plants or even on plain soil. Chemicals will soak in and stay there, then the next time you get heavy rain it all washes out and can still harm plants on its way to the culverts, where it goes on to streams and rivers. Think about the fishies!
You'll want to use any collected water completely within a couple of days. Standing water gets smelly and stagnant quite fast, and can attract mosquitoes to lay there eggs there. No thanks!
Thanks for reading! I hope you found this informative, inspirational, and perhaps slightly amusing. You may also be interested in some of my other articles, especially my recently published hub, Would You Think I Was Crazy if I Told You I'm in LOVE with my New Dual-Flush Toilet??
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Recommended Detergents and Other Products
Seventh Generation is my favorite natural detergent. This Free and Clear version is unscented.