Easy homemade washing machine water reuse system

watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)August 19, 2002

I just rigged up a super-easy and cheap way to recapture my laundry water to keep my gardens alive until we get some rain. I got some spa hose from the hardware store - it is a stiff but slightly flexible hose - that was slightly larger inside than the exterior of my washing machine drain hose. I placed the spa hose near the pipe where my washer usually drains. I duct taped the spa hose to a sturdy looking copper pipe. Then I ran the spa hose over to the laundry tub. I put the stopper in the laundry tub and saved the water!

I did discover that our washer (which is very old) uses more water than the tub holds (good thing I was sitting there watching). I had bought a large garbage can to use instead of the laundry tub, but I decided I would rather use something lower, so that the spa hose runs straight downhill and water doesn't get stuck in the middle of the hose. I am planning to buy a metal stock tank from the farm supply store that holds about 60 gallons. That should definitely do it!

I am NOT a handyman at all, so if I can do this, you can too! Just a note about hygiene - do not use this water where it can splash on food crops (strawberries, lettuce, etc) since it may harbor some nasty bacteria (especially if you are washing underwear or diapers!)

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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

I ended up getting a stock tank that holds about 100 gallons. It is enough to hold 2 loads of laundry water. Cost me about $56 for the tank and $10 for the spa hose. Another hygiene reminder - use the water within 24 hours before any bacteria have a chance to multiply much.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2002 at 8:30PM
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Won't the soap residue bother the plants? Wouldn't want to kill any, to much work and money invested.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 4:33AM
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Most states regulate the disposal of graywater and local ordinances or codes may also be on the book. E. g., in AL graywater must be dispersed under ground. MD: "GRAYWATER: Innovative graywater designs are currently allowed on a case-by-case basis under the Innovative and Alternative Program.74". You may want to check out how your state regulates graywater disposal.

Here is a link that might be useful: graywater

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 6:28AM
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TezinGA(z7b GA)

watergal ... since you're re-using your laundry water (well done!), you must be choosy about your detergent. Have you found one that is environmentally friendly and gets clothing clean? I'd be interested to know what you recommend. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 12:50PM
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Jim_Michaels(6b, Chester Co.)

For more on graywater, check this link.


Here is a link that might be useful: graywater

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 12:50PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)


I am researching our state laws. The web sites don't seem to address my particular situation, so I have an email out to the state authorities. I am hoping that a) they have gotten more enlightened since the 1999 regulation and/or b) as a residential gardener, I am not subject to the regulations that are intended for developers and waste management systems. I'll let you know if I get an answer.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 3:46PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Cute screen name! I have no alternative left. We have 3 layers of regulation - state, county, and city. Until this past Saturday, I was able to water with a handheld hose, but now I cannot even do that. We have no rain, so a rain barrel is moot right now. I have a lot of money and effort invested too. I am taking a calculated risk that the soap is less dangerous than no water at all. BTW, do you know where I can find a Hosta "Tenyru"? It has scapes that are 7 to 8 feet tall.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 3:49PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

I am choosy about my detergent. I also have allergies to fragrances, so I must use a fragrance-free variety, which narrows my options considerably. I have been using liquid Tide Free for years. I have no idea how environmentally sound it is, but it does say it has no phosphates.

I did some web research on soap residue and found all kinds of conflicting advice. Phosphates are bad; phosphates will be used by the plants as fertilizer. Soap will act as a pesticide; alternate graywater with fresh water so you don't get buildup of stuff in the soil.

Tide works great at getting clothes clean, BTW, so I'm not planning to switch. If I am poisoning the environment, someone let me know; otherwise, I'll continue as I have been!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 3:53PM
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Tide with no fragrance and no bleach (or alternatives) is fine. Better than some of the so-called enviromental detergents. Make certain you empty the graywater onto the mulch bed, or flower bed that is covered with mulch (etc....) as soon as you can so that the soil fungi can handle the bacteria that will be in any water that is allowed to stand for more than 24 hours. I just followed Jim M.'s suggestion, went to the graywater site, read it and ordered the book. Tree-gators are sold out, but you can use a modified bucket system for big shrubs and trees. Get a 44 or 66 qt. tote, drill a quarter inch hole about an inch from the bottom on one end, insert a new wick (like you would use for a tiki torch) in the hole. Fill the tote with water (gray or otherwise) and put the lid on. The water will trickle out over a matter of hours, a couple of days if the wick is tight enough -- and into the mulch surrounding your trees. This almost completely eliminates run-off and loss by evaporation and since you are using a container which you are filling by hand, it is legal.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2002 at 8:28PM
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No, don't have Tenyru, but want it now! A friend of mine may have bought it. But these people that we buy from do not send mail order. Takes us about an hour to get to their place. Will check with them, see if they have it. About the watering, I don't blame you at all. I have no water restrictions at this time, but would consider using this if I had to. We have a pond, I could carry water from there but it would be all up hill with a full bucket of water. I don't smoke but I know I would be huffing and puffing all the way! Hostalavista Baby!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2002 at 7:00AM
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TezinGA(z7b GA)

Regarding laundry (& more) soaps, I found a similar discussion in the Permaculture Forum under the heading "greywater and soaps." There are some interesting responses there!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2002 at 4:06PM
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I may have to give this recycled "greywater" a try, if things go from bad to worse around here--checking with the NJ state reg.s first, that is.
Years ago, there was a program all about an Island that HAD to use nearly every bit of their "greywater" to water their personal vegatation, or it would all die. Water was very scarce there. At the time, I was a bit horrified, and amazed, at what the woman, in the program, did, including how she recycled all of her dishwashing water--with the moderator saying, all the time, things like, "But won't all that soap kill the plants??!!", as she would pour it all around her lush garden--very humorous! She told everyone that not only did it not kill her plants, but that they actually thrived on all the nutrients in the dirt, that was in the water--at the time I gave it a "10" on the "YUK! factor" scale, but I notice that I never forgot about it, either, and kept it all in the back of my mind:~D

    Bookmark   August 21, 2002 at 7:53PM
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Well kiddies, (she said in her creaky old voice) when I was a child we didn't have a sewer or septic system. The "slop bucket" under the sink had to be emptied each time you washed dishes. When weather was dry you dumped the slop bucket in the garden. Every good housewife knew which plants liked and which didn't like the soapy water. (Since I was just a kid, I don't know which was which.) When the garden didn't need it, you just tossed the slop on the ground outside the back door. There was a weed that always grew thick and lush in this spot that we called "slopweed."

In the summer, my mother always did the laundry outside, and of course just dumped the water on the ground when done with it.

I find none of this the least bit yucky. (Now the outhouse was yucky.) If the water you wash clothes in is a health hazard, how can you take a towel that was washed in that water (and dried so that any contaminants in the water were concentrated in its fibers) and use it to dry dishes?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2002 at 11:23PM
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zucchini(5a ONT)

I have been wanting to set up my laundry hose to run outside, instead of into the septic..I have been told I can't cause its greywater..but..i am really considering it, as no one else will have it near them, just me, and I use a good phosphate free detergent..The trick is to set it up..zucchini

    Bookmark   September 7, 2002 at 6:35PM
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Watergal and Barb9491, I'm happy to see you mention Tide Free, as that's the only laundry detergent I know of that my husband's skin isn't sensitive to. I've been using gray water (with Tide Free!) from the laundry for the past two or three years, and haven't had any problems, although carrying buckets out the back door is a pain. I'm glad I do weight-training.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2002 at 9:41AM
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smittyct6(Z6 CT)

Hello all,
I have been doing this for a few years now and find that if you allow the actual wash water with the soap to drain the rinse water can be used in the garden with no problem.
I use a 44 gallon barrel and a sears submersible pump connected to my garden hose and run out the door to other barrels or directly to the woods where we have been making a native plant and wildlife garden for 4 years now.
Most laundry detergents are now Phosphate free..Read your labels.. Smitty

PS as to laws and regs.. RASPBERRIES!! when your garden is dying around you and all that $$$$ you spent is going up in smoke tell me you won't do something to stop it.
Let the law makers deal with the real law breakers and leave Ma and pa gardener alone.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2002 at 7:40AM
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zucchini(5a ONT)

Is there any problem with the hose freezing in the winter? Do you disconect it when your not using it? I really would like to just run the hose from the sink to outisde..or rig up the washer hose to go into a hose for outside. Is a regular garden hose okay, or do I need a special type? I will have to make a hole in the concrete wall..but that is no big thing..as long as it does not flow back in...m/zuc

    Bookmark   September 13, 2002 at 4:34PM
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Hi, Everybody! Gray water is great, especially when "real" water is non-existant, or terribly expensive. Smittyc has the right idea, let the lawmakers concentrate on something that "harms" us, not "helps" us. We have a large hose hooked up to our washer (which uses only 2 1/2 gallons of water) and is fed thru the exterior wall, then underground into what used to be a large cess-pool. We removed all the timbers, etc from the cesspool, placed the hose in the middle, then filled it in with rock. Black plastic covers the whole mess, then dirt on top. We get great underground watering of a garden with this system. If you do not have an empty cesspool, you can run the water directly out onto the ground. Because of the rinse cycle, there is normally no soap residue to contend with. Do be careful with your dishwater, tho. This water contains many small food particles, (which can attract varmints), as well as lots of oils, & can damage your plants. I was amazed at the regulations AGAINST gray water while traveling in New Mexico! Our RV had three holding systems, but we could not allow ANY of the water to drain into newly planted trees. Weird!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2002 at 4:53PM
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smitty, does the grey water do anthing to your pump?


    Bookmark   October 21, 2002 at 4:47PM
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I'm with Sharon_9_FL (and no, despite my screen name I am not a toothless old mountain hag who wouldn't know indoor plumbing if her shack had it--and yes I do have it:)).

E.coli is dangerous, but you are far more likely to contract it in your uncooked beef than greywater (IMHO). The lake you swim in may be more of a hazard than washing your scivvies.

Now I say that and I am assuming no dirty diapers--that's another story...

But if you follow standard hygiene practices and don't use your clothing, well let me say this lady like:

You use toilet paper don't you?

That said, how much bacteria are going in the water?

I've spoken to biologists about the ecoli that occurs naturally in the water system: cows in the creeks and lakes coolin and bathin and poopin. Not to mention the ungodly numbers of geese polluting our local parks on the lakes.

Here's what happens--the bacteria gets diluted by other water dispersed by currents and floating debri and breaks down. Even e.coli needs a good breeding ground. Your washing machine isn't it.

The 2 1/2 (someone must have a front loader) to 11 gallons of water in your machine is diluting the (hopefully!) small amount of e.coli in the water(if there are any). Wash in hot water if it worries you--just don't pour it directly on the garden.

So unless you use your machine as a toilet--I don't see any YUK factor.

It may surprise some folks to know that the farms that grow their food are actually OUTSIDE. And there are cats, dogs, raccoon, foxes etc.etc.. that are pooping on those fields. The reason it's not dangerous is that there aren't 10 million foxes in one square litterbox.

Unlike your average meat processing system (if you really want to worry about something--don't let it be your washing machine).

I wouldn't want to drink washing machine water but then again, I don't drink the water in my creek either.

I shall rest now.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2003 at 3:03PM
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ajourni(z6a PA)

Wow...well said, Mid tn mama!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2003 at 9:50PM
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I just changed the exhaust tube (that aluminum snake thing) from a 4" to a 3" leaving plenty of room to slip a garden hose through the same vent. Then I stuffed steel wool in real tight to keep out the varmints. The hose on my washer was fitted with a tight metal strap and a garden hose adaptor and Voila! I'm watering my yard. I came here to find out if there was a way to remove the soap. Guess not, but I wonder if anyone has ever attached their grey water to a sprinkler hose?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2003 at 7:28PM
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Okanagan(5b BC)

That Oasis Greywater site is the best.

I inquired about greywater laws here in my town. At first, the fellow said he didn't know of any laws and I should just go for it, not try to find out too much! I said that's what I'd do. This was working for the city! But, then he offered to check around for me.

He found that no, there are no greywater laws here (or many places, I'd guess); however, greywater is covered by the provincial plumbing code, and that means that greywater has to go into the sewer. In the states, greywater may by default be covered by the wastewater rules, aka, the plumbing code.

I'm still going to route it to my walnut tree, fruit trees and anything but the veggie garden. I've read numerous people have done this and the trees thrive and become more drought-tolerant for the rich nutrient stew.

I bucket the kitchen sink greasewater into the compost pile. Does it good. It's quite dry here (less than a foot of rain over the season) so the compost does need that help.

Greywater and sprinkler is not a good idea! Or did you just mean the hose?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2003 at 11:54PM
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kodijack(z5 CO)

You do not want to spray the greywater around, that is why you avoid using a sprinkler. You also do not want to try and force graywater through small holes as you will spend hours unplugging them. Just an openended hose is fine. I made a kind of square out of pvc pipe with large holes that I buried around my tree, then I put a hose adaptor on it. I just run the hose out to that when my wife is doing the laundry and the tree gets a ton of water. For each load of laundry I move it to another tree. There are supposed to be 40 gallons of water used per load, although I have never measured it. Worked great last fall, and because no one sees the water I have never been questioned. I do know that you are not allowed to use graywater in Colorado, period.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2003 at 11:16AM
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harleylady(PNW/USDA 8b/Sunset 6)

I live in Baja and don't have piped in water. Our water is delivered in a tanker truck and very expensive so I recycle it as much as possible. No laws here. I use dishwashing and rinsing water on my plants, I use my washing machine as little as possible but that goes on the plants, too. Hands are washed and teeth brushed over a plastic dishpan and that goes on the plants, too. Unfortunately, I can't get at my shower plumbing (under a concrete slab to the septic) or I'd be collecting that, too.

So far, I haven't seen any negative reaction to the water which will have either laundry soap, dish soap, hand soap, and sometimes chlorox in it. A bonus is some great volunteers from the dishwater and kitchen scraps.
The latest are cucumbers and garlic growing under a cardon.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2003 at 1:52AM
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Canadian_Kimmy(Z4 Leduc,AB CA)

You are the smartest bunch of people I've ever met! Now that you're all flattered, could someone please post some pictures of your systems? I can't even begin to ask my husband to do this for me until he's got a visual! Thanks everybuggy!


    Bookmark   March 10, 2003 at 11:23AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

We have had periodic droughts in the West and I believe I recall reading a Sunset magazine article on using greywater. They concluded that some plants are helped by it, the only plants that have problems are those that are sensitive to salt build-up in the soil. They recommended flushing those plants (whenever possible) with clean water once or twice a year.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2003 at 11:31PM
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KriswithaK(z6 MO)

My DS & I spent a few hours this weekend creating a way to use the wash water outside. Our biggest hurtle was getting the water "up" to the ground. Our washer is in the basement below ground level. Here's what we did:
Bought a 55 gallon drum. Set it next to the washer. We use the existing hole to put the washer hose in. We cut a hole in the top that was big enough to drop a utility pump into (Be sure to cover the hole so nothing falls in!).
We then attached a regular garden type sillcock to the outside of the house. On the inside of this sillcock is a section of garden hose that attaches to the utility pump.
When we want to save the water from the wash, we put the washer hose into the drum. When the load is finished I attach the section of garden hose to the pump, drop it into the drum & plug it in. I then use a garden hose that is attached to the outer side of the sillcock to direct the water to where ever I want it.
Cost of this project: $10 for drum, $3.59 for sillcock, $7.94 for garden hose, $.59 for extra garden hose end, $57.00 for utility pump. Total $79.12. I already owned the utility pump, bought it last year for my rain barrels.

Lessons learned:

  1. If you buy a utility pump spend the extra $10 & get one with a float switch. Mine has no switch at all, it is strictly plug-in & un-plug. That means someone has to stand & watch it, because if the pump runs without water for very long it will burn up.
  2. Keep the washer hose out of the water, other wise it will suck the used water back into the washer machine.
  3. Use some screens to filter out the lint. I use one on the end of the washer hose, one over the end of the pump & another on the outside garden hose. This is so I can use the water in my soaker hoses if I want too.

This was a very easy project that almost anyone can do. We were surprised at how much water is used, about 35-40 gallons for a single load. ThatÂs a lot of water for the gardens!
If a person wanted to, they could set up some drums outside & drain the washer water into them so the water could be used in the future. If my rain barrels run empty during the summer, I can refill them with washer water if I need too.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2003 at 2:58PM
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HarleyLady you can save some of that shower water. Depending on how large your shower is--shower with a five gallon bucket in the tub. To start with you collect the cold water that flushes out at the beginning of the shower for the hot water to follow. It works best if you are in a tub shower and just leave the bucket at the drain end of the shower.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2003 at 4:01PM
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Okanagan(5b BC)

Hey Kris, I like it! I just got 3 x 30 gal drums for free today (for my rainwater collection), and there is another 55gal metal one I can have for free. A bit rusty, but not too bad. Lucky me, my washer hookup is about 2' above garden level, right in the back entry.

You mentioned saving the water for "later". The rule is use before 24 hours, otherwise bacteria may multiply. I'd want to use it within a few hours, just enough to let it cool down (if it was a hot wash.)

    Bookmark   March 26, 2003 at 11:40PM
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