What is Greywater Recycling?

shower head

There has been a big buzz in recent times as to the subject of greywater, and how it is beneficial for use outdoors in certain circumstances. So many people are now becoming aware of the immense benefits of reusing greywater, and of how the term “wastewater” isn’t actually entirely factually correct anymore.

Here, we take a look at what greywater recycling actually is, how to use greywater, and how its use can help the environment.

What is Greywater?

When you use water in your home, for example, in the washing machine, tub, sink, shower, or bathroom in general, so long as it hasn’t come into contact with feces, this is known as greywater. The biggest difference between greywater and sewage – also known as blackwater – is that sewage is much more organically loaded than greywater.

What is Greywater Used For?

As a rule, greywater can contain traces of certain cleaning products, hair, grease, food or dirt, and although it may seem dirty to you, it can be utilized as a source of irrigation water in your outdoor spaces, for toilet flushing, and for laundry.

With the correct treatment, greywater can be put to very good use, as it can also be used to water both nonfood- and food-producing plants due to the fact that its nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, provide food to help them flourish.

Benefits of Reusing Greywater

The U.S. Department of Energy states that installing a greywater system allows you to reuse as much as 60 percent of all household water.

As touched on previously, already-used water is far better for your plants than using the clean variety, due to its nutrients. This is only one of the reasons why it’s hugely wasteful to irrigate exclusively using drinking water.

There are also many other benefits of reusing water, including –

  • The amount of wastewater entering on-site treatment systems is reduced, thus minimizing pollution to local bodies of water.
  • The need for new, and fresh water is reduced, providing savings on household water bills, as well as reducing the strain on public water supplies.
  • Greywater recycling uses less energy when you do it yourself at home.
  • The process encourages you to use less chemicals in your home, in order not to pollute your greywater.
  • Using greywater isn’t wasteful.
  • In areas that experience drought, greywater use is the perfect way to help combat that.

How to Use Greywater

There are various ways greywater can be used, however, it’s important to follow certain rules –

  • By far the easiest way of using greywater is to simply pipe it directly into your outdoor spaces to water your plants. No special care needs to be taken when using it on ornamental plants, or even on fruit trees, as you will be watering from the roots.
  • Greywater can be used to water vegetable plants, however, it’s important not to let it touch any edible parts.
  • It’s imperative to always use only plant-friendly products in your greywater system – ones without chlorine bleach, boron, or salts, as these can build up in the soil, and damage your plants.

Greywater Heat Recovery Systems

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, all hot water that goes down our drains takes a huge 80 – 90 percent of heat energy with it. This means that we’re actively wasting a huge amount of energy each and every time we use hot water in our homes.

To remedy this issue, it’s possible to install a greywater heat recovery system to harness that energy to use it for heating cold water that comes into your home. This enables your water heater to heat more water, and allows you to lower the temperature of the heater.

These systems cost in the region of between $300 and $500 on average, and will pay you back within two-and-a-half to seven years.

Greywater Guidelines

Although it’s still a water source, greywater is actually very different from fresh water, so it’s important to know the guidelines for reuse.

  • Never store greywater for more than 24 hours. When greywater is stored for longer than this, it’s nutrients can begin to break down and cause unpleasant odors.
  • Don’t touch greywater too much. Greywater has the potential to be infected by pathogens if feces get into it, therefore you should have a system that is designed for the water to soak directly into the earth, rather than coming into contact with people or animals.
  • Allow greywater to soak into the ground, rather than pooling up. Ensure you understand how well your soil drains so you can design your system with this in mind. When greywater pools, humans and animals can come into contact with it, as well as it providing the perfect conditions for mosquitoes to breed.
  • Install a 2-way valve. This will make switching between the septic/sewer system, and the greywater one easy.
  • Ensure your system is as simple as it can possibly be. Simplicity is key when designing your greywater system. Try to avoid filters and pumps that require a lot of upkeep. Remember that simple systems are longer lasting, need less maintenance, cost less, and require less energy to power

Simple Systems

There are various simple ways to capture and reuse greywater in your home. These include:

Washing machine

Arguably the simplest source of greywater to reuse, you can divert the used water from your washing machine without having to do anything to your existing plumbing. This is because every washing machine automatically pumps out water via an internal pump, and this can be harnessed to send the greywater right out to your plants.

Laundry drum

A cheap way to divert your washer water to your yard, a laundry drum system allows the wash water to be pumped into a drum with a hose attached to the bottom. Then, all you need to do is to hose around your yard to water your plants.


This system is easy to maintain, as well as being flexible, and doesn’t even require you to change anything relating to the plumbing system of your home. What you need to do is to attach your washer drain hose to a diverter valve that enables you to control the greywater flow between the septic/sewer, and the greywater system. From there, the greywater system allows water to flow in directed ways through tubing with outlets that open at specific plants.

Kitchen sinks

Due to the fact that the kitchen sink is generally high in organic matter, only certain states, like Montana and Oregon, allow the use of greywater from these under their greywater code. It’s also true that this category of greywater can clog your system, therefore if you’re using this type of greywater, it’s important to use branched drain systems that incorporate mulch basins for the organic residue to collect, and decompose.

Bathroom sinks

It is possible to combine the greywater from these with the shower water flow. Or alternatively, it can be drained and directed to just a few plants as bathroom sinks don’t tend to generate much water in general.


We all enjoy taking a shower, therefore, it stands to reason that these are a wonderful source of greywater. To harness the water from here, a gravity based no-pump system is ideal; however, if your yard is on a higher level than your home, you’ll need a pump.

Constructed wetlands

Greywater isn’t only ideal to be used within your yard, it can also be used to create wetlands, and to nurture plants already in these types of area. Wetlands actively filter particles, and absorb nutrients from greywater, so if you live near a wetland, and have a lot of leftover greywater, you can direct some there.

Some Tips to Begin Greywater Recycling Today

We’ve looked at various different ways of capturing and using your greywater, however there are other ways in which you can begin today, without needing to set up any equipment at all.

  • When you’re warming up your shower, rather than letting the water flow down the drain, simply capture it in a bucket. The added benefit to doing this, is that you’re actually collecting clean water, rather than greywater, so you can use this in whatever way you would like to!
  • Get into the habit of washing your dishes in a bowl rather than directly in the sink. Ensure you use only all-natural soap and your wash water can go into your composter, and your rinse water can go into your plants.
  • Use a bowl to capture the water leftover from running the faucet to brush your teeth or wash your hands.
  • Don’t throw away those half-filled water bottles that are always lying around in the car, instead, pour it directly onto your plants instead.
  • Use your bathwater for flushing the toilet.

With a little imagination, and pre-planning, it’s possible to effectively save, and reuse lots of the water from your home. As a nation, we are depleting the planet of so many of its natural resources each and every day. This is why it’s so important to use every single resource we have to its fullest, while saving as much money as possible.

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