Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Simple Greywater System for the Washing Machine





Let me tell you about my washing machine. 

When we moved into this house two years ago we knew that there was a “slow drain” in the laundry room. We didn’t realize just how slow. We hooked up the washing machine one night during that exhausting first week in the house and I shoved a load in it. Fifteen minutes later gallons and gallons of dirty, soapy laundry water were pumping out the back and all over the floor. After consulting with two different plumbers we learned that the laundry room drainpipe was broken and that it would take at least $2,000 to repair it. Not only was the pipe broken but it was broken underneath the concrete slab right under the kitchen cabinets. To repair it would mean tearing out the kitchen cabinets and jackhammering through the Saltillo tile and the concrete slab. I knew that those crappy kitchen cabinets would not withstand the move.

I used the laundromat for a few weeks while we pondered the situation. The laundromat is a major outing when you wash 10 loads of laundry per week and have two small children in tow. (Not to mention the expense!)  I quickly realized I needed an alternative solution so I decided to rig a greywater system for the washing machine at home.

The dirty water that drains from washing machines, showers, bathtubs, and bathroom sinks is generally considered "greywater" and does not necessarily have to empty into the sewer or septic system. Dirty water from toilets and kitchen sinks is called "blackwater" (aka sewage) and must empty to sewer/septic for obvious reasons. (Washing machine water is considered blackwater, too, if you are washing poopy diapers.) Folks sometimes divert their greywater outside, using it to water trees or other plants outside the house. You can do this by simply running a hose outside or you can make a more complicated setup with holding areas or pools or even an underground filtration systems. Some folks install diverters in their indoor plumbing so they can choose to run greywater to the conventional septic system or, by turning a knob, divert the water outdoors via another series of pipes. Our greywater system is much simpler (and more makeshift) than that.

I found a very helpful, detailed description of the “Laundry to Landscape Grey Water System” here. That site is a great place to start when figuring out your own greywater system because it includes diagrams, photos, installer tips, and videos.

The first thing I did was move the washing machine from the laundry room (in the center of the house) out to the workshop (which is a partially enclosed section of our carport). I chose the workshop location because I needed access to a water hookup (the hose bib on the back of the house) and an outdoor area capable of receiving the waste water (the back yard). I ran a regular 5/8" garden hose from the hose spigot outside to the washing machine's cold water hookup. No adapter is needed for that; the garden hose screws directly into the black rubber hose on the back of the washer. I don't have access to hot water out there so our machine is only capable of cold-water washing. (This is sometimes a hassle since cold water does not remove oily spots on clothes very well.) 


For the waste water hookup I connected the washing machine’s drain tube to a garden hose and ran it outside. (The washing machine’s drain tube is that fat black hose with a crook in it.) I had to go to Home Depot and buy 3 adapters to connect the washer’s drain tube to an industrial sized (3/4”) garden hose. The first adapter has a plastic barb that you shove into the washer's drain tube. The other end is threaded and screws into adapter #2. Adapters #3 and #3 are both threaded on both ends and serve to make the opening the proper size for attaching to the industrial garden hose. Figuring out which adapter doodads I needed kind of made my head spin but there was a guy working at Home Depot that day that helped me find what I needed. I think the industrial garden hose I used is about 75 feet long.  Probably the most important thing I read to do was make sure you hang the washing machine drain hose so that the crooked part is just a few inches higher than the back of the machine. To hold the drain hose at the proper height I suspended it from a screw in the wall with a piece of string. You could also hook it onto a metal elbow screwed into the wall at the proper height.

Black drain tube, gray barb adapter, white adapter, brass adapter, industrial garden hose

Drain hose hanging at proper height behind the washing machine

So that was it. We had a working greywater system for the washing machine. We had a terrible drought in central Texas that first summer and it seemed like every living plant died or was dying. But all the plants within 75 feet of my back door looked great!

Industrial garden hose carrying waste water out into the yard
After one year of using the greywater system outlined above I burned out the pump on my washing machine. I suspect that this happened because my drain pipe (the 3/4" garden hose) was too narrow and too long, which made the washing machine pump have to work too hard to get the water out. I knew that that was a possibility from the start but I took the risk anyway. I had read that a 1" diameter tube was much better and would reduce wear on the washing machine pump. I bought another used washing machine for $150 and tried to reconfigure the drain hose on my system. (The previous machine was a $200 Craigslist deal.) I took the industrial sized garden hose off and replaced it with 2” and 1.5" flexible PVC tubing that I scavenged out of the trash. That did not work well for me just because I didn't have the appropriate connectors for attaching the different sections of PVC hose, which meant I was getting lots of water leaking into our workshop. So, for the time being, I am back to using the industrial garden hose, even though I am running the risk of burning out another pump. I am going to give the PVC tubing another try when I locate the appropriate connectors for it. Another thing I may try is simply cutting the industrial garden hose to a much shorter length. Seventy-five feet is an awfully long run and I think I could cut it down to about 20 feet and still be able to get the waste water far enough from the house.

It has been interesting working out the specifics of our greywater system. It is definitely one of the more makeshift systems at our house. It cost me very little to set up and the greywater has been put to good use outside. I also like having the washing machine outside instead of inside the house because it is closer to the clothesline than the clothes dryer. That makes it easier for me to hang clothes outside to dry (and more likely that I do so).

See my next post on greywater systems: Simple Greywater Systems: Detergent, Bleach, & Fabric Softener

14 comments:

  1. You could use a shorter hose on the washing machine and put the end of it in a long pvc pipe to send the water where you want. Once the machine pumps the water down the hoes, gravity would take the water down the pvc pipe to plants farther from the house. If there isn't much slope for the water to drain from the pvc pipe, try putting a brick or rock under it where the water hose is.

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  2. Thanks! I may try that. I have a little slope to work with even.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, buying washing machine is cheapest than repair the spare parts like Drain Hose and other parts of that machine.

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  4. I repair my watching if there is any small issue. But when it comes to spare parts and it's not expensive, I prefer to get spare parts but if goes opposite having new one is best option.

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  5. I have the simplest fix to use your drain water. Buy a PVC threaded slip connecter at your home depot or such. Glue it with the proper adhesive to the end of the drain hose. Let dry and attach your hose and that's it. Works great.

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  6. This is nice information blog. Thanks for Sharing.

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  7. is it possible to drain the washing machine into a drum with a hose bib attached to the bottom of the drum then use a garden hose to water as needed? Will I run into pressure issues? (Not enough pressure)

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    1. You can do that but greywater goes sour and disgusting pretty quick. I wouldn't save any water that I wasn't going to use that same day. I would use the setup you describe for catching rainwater off of the roof but I wouldn't use it for greywater.

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    2. If you want to stop greywater from souring, just go to walmart, get a cheapie aquarium air pump, package of tubing, and one of those little air stone bubbler things. Problem solved. I would think that if you send your wash water into a plastic trash can, and have a hose coming out the bottom, gravity would drain the water and save your pump as well. The air stone would eliminate foul smelling water, and it uses about 10 cents worth of electric a month if left on full time.

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  8. Great stuff Karen! I'm actually considering the same set up at my apartment. I just have one question: how do you manage the water coming in from the faucet? Do you keep it on during the entire wash? If so, do you have it on low or high? Thanks!

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    1. The incoming water stays on all of the time. The washer cuts off the flow of water when the machine is full and the water stays off until it is time to fill again. I leave the incoming hose turned on full blast. (Make sure you have a good hose that doesn't leak!)

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  9. I am going to be doing this too by using a utility sink to drain water into (20 gals I think), then connecting the black pipe 1.5 inch under the sink to something out to the yard area about 20 feet away. I found this article looking for a way to slow down the drainage after it gets out of the sink so it's not just gushing out in the yard but more of a controlled thing. I was thinking of reducing to a 3/4 inch line but I need to find the adapter pieces to do it. Also, I've read that elephant plant and canna lily work well as a filter plant. Then I plan to trench irrigate out from there.

    My point is using the laundry tub/utility sink will gather the water temporarily to save on your pump and then it can take it's time draining out. Also I was thiking of using a french drain so you might try that too which will let the water out but not all in one place.

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  10. Hi. I have done a laundry-gray water system a couple of ways in previous homes. The laundry tub (about $50) method is by far the easiest solution for you. You can continue to use your garden hose set up, moving the water where you want.

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