How To Use Graywater

Reusing household graywater to irrigate plants, flush toilets, and wash clothes is a smart way to avoid rising water costs and preserve valuable resources.

| May/June 2001

  • Resembling a tropical jungle, this greenhouse-enclosed system manages all of the graywater for a three-bedroom home as part of a zero-discharge wastewater system.
    Photo By Carol Steinfeld
  • The indoor graywater-irrigated planter bed in Wellfleet Audobon Sanctuary, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, manages all of the graywater from the building’s sinks. Treated water also flows to the exterior gardens to irrigate and fertilize the plants.

When you wash your hands and then watch the water slip down the drain, do you ever wonder if there’s a less wasteful way to make use of it? Take heart! Increasing numbers of home­owners are using the water that drains from showers, tubs, and washing machines—known as “graywater”— to irrigate plants, flush toilets, and even wash clothes.

A wide variety of systems and components are available to filter, treat, and use household graywater—from ponds and aerobic planter beds to peat filters, sand filters, aerobic aquatic systems, and reverse osmosis membranes. “It’s all a matter of context,” explains Art Ludwig, author of Branched Drain Graywater Systems (Oasis Design, 2000). Because of climate, environmental conditions, costs, and laws, what works for Southern California might not work for the Northeast, Ludwig says.

Although it’s difficult to generalize, here are the basic components and guidelines for creating your own graywater system.

Choosing a system

When choosing a graywater-use system, consider these questions.

How will you use the water? Using it for growing nonedible plants requires little filtration and no disinfection. To recycle it for flushing toilets and washing clothes requires potentially costly advanced filtration and disinfection. Weigh the costs, the avoided costs, and the benefits.

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