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 ~

Moving Forward And Looking Back

This coming Spring, my husband and I will step into the next phase and chapter of our lives. We will be moving from our tiny apartment in the suburbs to our rural homestead, downsizing even further and simplifying our lives even more.

Several years ago we partnered with some dear friends to embark on this journey with. We share the same ideas, dreams and goals of living a simpler life. A sustainable, more self sufficient and purposeful life. A slower life.

We’ve used weekends and vacations to clear land and build a few structures. It’s been tough trying to cram as much productivity as possible into such short intervals. They’re truly is only so much that can be accomplished by two people in a limited amount of time. Unexpected health issues caused us to have to stop work completely for about a year to allow for recovery. We had to overcome some financial set backs as well, and adjust to our “new normal”. But in spite of this, we’ve continued to move forward, never losing sight of the end goal. We’ve had to accept that even slow progress is still progress.

Our friends are quite a bit farther along than we are. They completed construction of their house and moved to the property last year. We’re all looking forward to being together full time so some real progress can be made on the development of systems and structures. We all still have a few more years to work before we can retire, but it will certainly be easier to accomplish things once we’re settled.

Three years ago, after both our boys officially moved out, we did some major decluttering and downsizing into a 700 square foot apartment. We simply did not need a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2,000 square foot house. We decided we could go ahead and start the great purge, further preparing for moving to our retirement homestead. With less expenses, we’ve been able to put more money aside, allowing us to cash flow several homestead projects. I will tell you though – we had a LOT of stuff. More than we ever realized. It was painful and overwhelming at times. We honestly spent the better part of a year donating, dumping, giving and sorting before we moved.

It had been 30 years since we’d lived in an apartment and we weren’t too sure we would be able to adapt to it, but reminding ourselves it was only temporary. Surprisingly, we’ve actually enjoyed it. We live in a great community and have a rather private unit. It was the most sensible thing to to do at the time we did it. Still, it was bittersweet.

We’d lived in our house for 10 years. That’s a lot of birthdays, graduations, holidays and memories. And as excited as hubby and I were to begin the “next phase” of our lives, there was also a sadness for the closure of the first chapter. We were officially empty nesters.

In that driveway and garage, my boys had learned everything from how to change a bicycle tire to swapping out a car motor and rebuilding a transmission. There’d been countless motorcycles and autos parked there with visiting friends and family.

We only locked our doors if we left, and it was not uncommon for one of our “borrowed” children to stick their head in yelling “Hey mom! Dad! You home?” I was always cooking and baking, making sure anyone who passed through left with a full belly. I still haven’t mastered cooking for two. I think I’m down to cooking for about four, so it’s a good thing we don’t mind leftovers.

We hosted all night computer game parties, the living room covered up with pre-teens and teenagers all engrossed in the latest quest while fueling up with pizza, cookies and soft drinks. Anyone who needed a place to crash was always welcome. It was never difficult to get help with house projects or yard work – there was always an extra set of hands that could come help out willingly.

There were countless neighborhood cats that passed through our home as well. Some only stopping to catch a quick bite of the food I left out for them. Others, happily lounging on my bench swing waiting for me to come out and give a chin scratch. A couple considered themselves members of our family. There were pets that passed away during those 10 years, so their memories are with us all still too.

That yard was where I had my first flock of chickens. There was always some kind of gardening experiment going on in various parts of the yard. A worm bin, a compost pile. Raised beds and container gardens. Twelve foot high sunflowers and eight foot high okra plants. Our wonderful neighbor and I solving all the worlds problems in discussions over the fence. I shared the bounty of my vegetable garden with her each summer; she shared the bounty of her flower bulbs in fall when she thinned out her plants. Her beautiful daylilies are growing at my homestead right now!

Our oldest son learned to drive stick shift in that neighborhood. Our youngest followed a couple years later. There was always some sort of automobile tinkering project going on in the driveway and garage.

I guess one of the things you don’t realize is just how quiet things get once the kids move out. That beautiful background noise of laughter and chatter. It just becomes such a part of your daily life that once it’s gone, you feel incredibly lonely without it. I was quite depressed those first few months after the boys were gone.

There is joy in knowing that we did our job as parents as best we could with what we had. I like to say my boys are amazing in spite of us. And we were – are – very close. We’re usually all together each Sunday – our two sons, daughter in law and granddaughter. We can sit and talk with these now adult children the same way we could when they were kids. They always knew they could come to us with anything. We were consistent, we were stable, we were safe and they knew they were loved.

So, we enter another bittersweet phase of our lives. Our homestead is about 2 hours in one direction, our youngest and his family are moving about 2 hours in another direction and our oldest is moving out of the state about 5 hours in yet another direction! Guess we’re all finally leaving the nest. So while getting together every Sunday is probably not going to be manageable, we’ll get together as often as possible. We’ll be the grandparents with the farm for the grandkids to come visit!

Even though I love our little apartment and it makes all the financial and practical sense in the world, I am so ready to get moved onto our homestead!

I miss my clothesline and the smell of laundry dried by the sun and a gentle summer breeze. 

I miss my hands being in the dirt and being surrounded by grass and flowers. Gardening is extremely therapeutic for me. The smell of dirt. The wonder at the miracle of a plant growing from seed. Seeing what flourishes and what was a complete waste of time. The birds singing, the bugs buzzing, the sun and fresh air all work together and help me sort out my thoughts. I’ve solved many problems while on my knees pulling weeds, picking beans or digging with a shovel.

New ideas ignite.

Solutions are found.

Clarity, focus and peace attained.

I’m at peace with where our lives are and where we are headed. On to the third quarter!

~Blessings!~