What Is Greywater, and How Does It Apply to You? - The Public Goods Blog What Is Greywater, and How Does It Apply to You? - The Public Goods Blog

What Is Greywater, and How Does It Apply to You?

When we turn on water-guzzling appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers, not all of those gallons need to go down the drain and into the sewers.

laundromat washing machines feature image

There is some excess runoff that can be saved as greywater, water that is too dirty to drink or bathe with but can still be used to hydrate plants, among other purposes.

Relying on greywater will lower the cost of your utilities and contribute to water conservation efforts. If you love being sustainable and hate the thought of your grandchildren growing up in an arid wasteland where humanity is constantly fighting over a limited supply of water, it’s time to learn more about greywater and how it applies to you.

Do You Have Greywater-Friendly Products?

Before using greywater to nurture your plants or yard, make sure you have products that are “greywater-friendly.” This label means the products don’t have harsh, unnecessary ingredients such as chlorine bleach and sulfates. These chemicals can kill your plants and poison the soil in your yard.

To make all of your greywater immediately useable, buy bathroom and cleaning products such as the following:

If there isn’t a greywater-friendly claim on the product, check the list of ingredients on the back and look for the following chemicals:

  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates
  • ethanolamines (MEA/DEA/TEA)
  • chlorine bleach
  • parabens
  • phosphates
  • phthalates

If you don’t see any of these, the product is most likely safe for greywater use.

The DON’TS of Using Greywater

To avoid creating problems for yourself and your home, follow these greywater guidelines:

  • Do not store greywater for more than 24 hours. It might start to smell bad.
  • Do not touch greywater. It is usually safe, but it can develop harmful pathogens.
  • Do not allow your greywater to pool on the ground or run off. These outcomes can create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Always consult local water authorities before beginning your use of greywater.

What Greywater Can Be Used For

Irrigating Plants and Yards

Most greywater enthusiasts primarily rely on the substance to water plants and yards. Some dump all of their greywater in a bucket and distribute it among plants and lawns at the end of the day. It’s ideal for ornamental plants but is not recommended for food crops.

People who are more serious about water conservation have installed irrigation systems that streamline the process of distributing the water. These networks of pipes and valves can be expensive and difficult to implement, so think about whether you would be able to handle the commitment.

It’s best to consult local government water authorities and ask for help with the installation. You can visit the Water Wise Group website to find nearby greywater system dealers and installers, although there is no guarantee there will be listings in your state or zip code.

Extra Water for Your Toilet

Instead of wasting gallons of water every year, why not put some of it in your toilet so it can be used for flushing? This method of utilizing greywater is the easiest because you don’t need to worry about the quality of the water. Unlike the plants in your yard, your toilet has handled much worse than greywater.

If Your Home Has a Hot Water Heater

If you have a hot water heater, deposit your greywater in the tank when it needs to be filled. This conservation strategy will save you money on your water and heating bills.

How and Where to Gather Greywater

Washing Machines

Some washing machines are able to divert excess water into a storage container or irrigation system. Your machine might be a valuable source of greywater, so consider contacting a water authority or plumber for help with the water conservation setup.


Your dryer might have a compartment where it stores all the water it extracts from wet clothes. This compartment is usually easy to remove and dump. Sometimes you might need to empty it to prevent overflowing, so why not make the most of that chore?


Again, this utility depends on the machine. Our recommendation is to always seek assistance.

When You’re Running Water and Waiting for It to Heat Up

When you heat up water in the sink, tub or shower, it usually needs to run for a bit before it reaches the temperature you want. This waiting period is the perfect opportunity to gather some water that can then be used for plants and such. Next time you run your shower, for example, try saving that initial cold water in a bucket.

This type of water is technically not greywater. You probably don’t want to drink it, though, so make it useful in other ways.

Drinking and Cooking Water You Didn’t Finish

Your family finishes dinner, and there are a bunch of water glasses scattered around the table. The water has been sitting still for too long to drink safely, but it seems like a shame to dump it in the sink.

These ounces add up, so toss them in your toilet or yard instead. There might be other sources, too, such as canteens, extra ice, tea kettles and pots that boiled water but did not contain greasy food.

Condensation and Drops from Air Conditioning Units

Have you ever seen a big puddle or damp spot beneath one of those air conditioning units people shove in their windows? If you have one and live on the ground floor, you can gather water by placing a container under it to collect condensation drops and water leaks. It all adds up.

Making a Big Difference from the Comfort of Your Home

Water consumption affects all of us. Perhaps it is one of those rare, relatively apolitical issues we can unite around.

“If each American saves just one gallon of water today, that would be enough to supply a city like Detroit for almost a week,” said green designer and artist Pablo Solomon, whose home won an award for natural preservation and restoration.

Green business expert Shel Horowitz argued that it would be easy for most U.S. households to reduce their water use without much effort or expense. Horowitz also highlighted evidence of entire communities — such as Earthship Biotecture — adopting greywater systems.

By collecting and distributing greywater around your home, you can save money and be part of the effort to conserve water. Take a moment to consider the issue next time you do laundry, take a shower or leave a glass of water lying out a little too long.

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