An Introduction to Gray Water

WHAT IS GRAY WATER?

Gray water is household waste water from your bathroom sinks, tub and shower and dishwasher. It is also produced while camping by washing dishes, brushing your teeth, washing clothes and washing your body. In either scenario, careful consideration should be made with regards to the products used and disposing of the gray water responsibly.

GRAY WATER AROUND THE HOME

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that allows gray water, considering installing one in your home would have many benefits. (Gray water laws differ from state to state, and in some areas it is entirely illegal. Be sure to check your local ordinances and laws.)

There are many uses for recycled gray water, from washing your clothes to irrigating your garden. And because you’re decreasing your usage of fresh water, you would save money on your water bill. Not to mention reducing the demand and wasting of the public water supply.

While installing a gray water system does involve a bit of know how and the ability to perform manual labor, it is not necessarily too complex, nor too expensive. The decision to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you will depend largely on your actual water usage and the laws of your area. If you have the ability to live off grid and use a composting toilet, then the laws of your area more than likely allow for a gray water system as long as it meets certain criteria.

Gray water cannot simply be piped to your garden. It does have to go through a collection and filtration process. It cannot be stored either, as the bacteria in it will use up all the oxygen making it anaerobic and turning it septic.

IRRIGATING WITH GRAY WATER

These are just a few guidelines to follow when using gray water for irrigation of grasses, ornamentals, trees, fruits and vegetables.

  • Gray water should only be applied to the soil, never to any above ground portion of a plant.
  • Root crops that will be eaten raw should not be irrigated using gray water.
  • Gray water is alkaline. Do not use it on any plants that thrive in acidic soil.
  • Use only on well established plants, not seedlings or young plants.
  • Only apply it to flat areas where runoff is not an issue.

CREATING GRAY WATER DURING CAMPING

Some people may not think of “camping” as a way to create gray water. But think about it – when camping, you’re washing your hands, brushing your teeth, cleaning dishes and possibly washing your clothes. Camping or living off grid produce much of the same waste. In each case, we are responsible for dealing with said waste in a way that is not harmful to humans, wildlife or the soil itself. Soil is a living being, full of microbial organisms, worms and bugs that all exist in natures balance. Anything we do to the soil, or pour onto the soil, can affect that balance. We must be mindful and careful!

We love camping. Because our style of camping is “primitive” or “roughing it”, we are very mindful of the amount of trash we generate, conservation of our water supply and the cleanliness of our area. This includes the creation and disposal of our gray water.

When cooking, we don’t cook foods that are excessively greasy or require grease for cooking (like frying). Food residue is scraped thoroughly from our dishes, pans and cooking utensils and disposed of by being tossed into the campfire or put in the trash, thereby creating “quality” gray water. We use minimal amounts of soap for dish washing as well as body washing, and the products that we use are safe for the environment. Gray water, whether at your home or campsite, should never be poured directly into any natural body of water, such as a stream, creek, or pond.

PRODUCTS SAFE FOR GRAY WATER

As with food, just because a product states “natural” or “organic” on the label, you still need to look at the list of ingredients. While some products are perfectly safe and eco-friendly for household or bodily cleansing using a septic or sewer system, they could be harmful if used in a gray water system.

For a gray water system, look for cleaning products (both household and body) that are “biodegradable” and “biocompatible” products.

Ingredients to avoid:

• sodium and ingredients with the word “sodium” or “salt” in them
• boron/borax (toxic to plants)
• sodium perborate
• petroleum distillate
• anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners
• ”whiteners” and “softeners”
• chromium oxide
• artificial colors, FD&C colors
• synthetic fragrance
• artificial preservatives
• parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl)
• chlorine bleach / sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) Hydrogen peroxide is a safe alternative

Green Goo offers all natural, plant based products, for first aid and health and beauty free from harmful ingredients. Be sure to still read the label if considering for use with gray water.

Here are a sampling of brands that are safe for gray water systems.

BATH

LAUNDRY

  • Ecos
  • Dropps
  • Oasis

KITCHEN

GENERAL CLEANING

For simplicity, Castille soap can be used to make just about every product needed for cleaning your house, washing your body and hair and even doing dishes.

I hope you find this information informative and helpful. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve researched and practiced gray water usage and disposal for a number of years. The act of having to carefully consider the products that I’m using and being responsible for the disposal of my own waste (trash and water) is all part of living intentionally and purposefully.

~ Blessings ~

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