From Laundry to Landscape: Tap Into Greywater

Recycling your household water is smart and often surprisingly simple. Find out how you can embrace this “new” source of water.

| August/September 2011

Greywater Plumbing

A few simple components connect your washing machine to the outdoors. 


In the United States, the average person uses about 40 gallons of water per day to bathe, wash dishes and clean clothes. Unfortunately, this water almost always goes straight down the drain. But this “greywater” could be put to good use to irrigate fruit trees and other plants. Greywater refers to all used household water except water from toilets, which is called “blackwater.” Historically, state laws have dealt with water from your sink, shower or washing machine in exactly the same way as water from the toilet — it’s all considered sewage that requires treatment. Consequently, home systems that use greywater for irrigation are sometimes illegal.

However, in recent years, greywater activists have been working to change this attitude and the state codes that enforce it. Now, with more than half of U.S. states facing water shortages and the momentum shifting as some states change their codes, we think greywater reuse is coming into the mainstream. Many policymakers are beginning to see greywater as a valuable resource that — with a few simple precautions — can be safely reused in home landscapes.

For decades, greywater has been a boon to gardeners in dry climates, but using greywater has many other benefits in all regions. Greywater use lowers your water bill, and diverting greywater from overloaded or failing septic systems can extend their life. Reusing water saves energy: Greywater irrigation replaces water that would otherwise be treated to drinking water quality, and it also isn’t treated at the sewage treatment plant, saving more energy. And perhaps most importantly, more efficient water use reduces pressure on scarce water resources — especially in the drier parts of the country, where farmers, individual households and wildlife all face the problem of limited water supplies.

A Simple Laundry-to-Landscape System

The simplest type of greywater use is to collect water in a dishpan as you handwash dishes, and then toss it over your flowerbeds or fruit trees. This is a wonderfully simple, inexpensive way to tap into greywater, but with just a little more effort and expense, you can capture much more water.

One of the easiest and most popular greywater systems is a landscape-direct system that diverts greywater from your washing machine and routes it to mulch basins around trees or bushes. This “laundry-to-landscape” system captures greywater from the drain hose of the washing machine and sends it out to your plants through 1-inch tubing, without the need to alter existing plumbing. You can expect to harvest 10 to 25 gallons of water per load for a horizontal-axis machine, or about 40 gallons per load for a vertical axis machine.

According to Art Ludwig, author of Create an Oasis With Greywater, the laundry-to-landscape system is the “simplest, least expensive, lowest effort way to get the most greywater out onto the landscape.” The washing machine’s internal pump pushes the water outside through the tubing, so these systems can work without any additional pumps on flat or downward-sloping sites.

9/1/2017 5:21:00 PM

Hi :) We have an older top load washer- not he. The grey water out pipe right now is 2 inch... but I want to change it so we can move the water around- would it mess things up if we graduated down to 1 1/2" to accomodate the black poy pipe that we have lying around- ?

10/23/2015 1:58:59 PM

You can purchase complete washing machine gray water drain systems at

9/16/2015 8:52:20 AM

How should we treat harvested rain water from gutters in roof before drinking.

3/3/2012 12:40:08 AM

Nancy, how much HP do you use for a normal load of wash? I would like to start doing this, but have no idea of quantity. Thanks.

nancy ruggeri
3/3/2012 12:20:53 AM

I have been using hydrogen peroxide as a way to disinfect and clean things, the oxygen in the HP is actually good for plants and can be used to as a water purifier. I use it in my laundry instead of bleach. Not alot is needed and it does the job. You can find HP food grade but for laundry I use the stuff off the shelf at the pharmacy which contains preservatives to promote shelf life.

8/10/2011 5:05:13 AM

When I lived in the trailer court, we had a restriction on how often and for how long we could water our gardens and lawns, etc. so the well wouldn't run dry. I wrapped a bunch of ductape around the outflow pipe from my washing machine and ductaped on a long garden hose, which I just ran out the back door to my raised beds. The plants loved it. Since I have moved to an acre, getting an acre watered like that is a little difficult and my family sure is not willing to help me in any way to haul buckets of dirty water out to the gardens. I think I bullied them into doing it. Once. So I have abandoned the washer, since it broke anyway, and I do laundry by hand in plastic half barrels outside and I run a house out to the garden that way for the drainoff. I do more clothes with the same amount of water this way and I don't get my clothes eaten by the machine. The draining... I'm still working the bugs out. It has to be elevated higher, for one. And for two, I need to put in another drain in one of my tubs. This will work for summer, but like the other post up there, I share the same concerns for winter. I can't have garden hoses running from the faucet outside the house to my washtub, and then running out to my garden because they will freeze and crack. I'm probably not going to be digging ditches and putting in PVC pipe any time soon, either because I'm not made of money. So I'm not sure what will happen in the winter time. Suggestions would be wonderful.

Hayley Griffen
7/30/2011 7:21:46 PM

My questions regarding greywater is: How do you use it in the winter? My laundry room was apparently an addition to the house, and a lazy one at that, because there is no sewer connection for the laundry -- just a pipe that goes into the ground. We use bio-degradable detergents and it drains fine during the summers, but in the winter the ground freezes and I have to unhook the pipe and allow the water to drain above ground -- that is, as long as the pipe hasn't frozen. Any tips on how to make greywater work more effectively in the winter? I live in Colorado where the winters can get mighty chilly (we were below 0 quite a bit this past winter).

7/29/2011 8:08:33 AM

In using a graywater irrigation system, how worried should I be about the 140 degree water from the hot cycle scalding the plants? What measures would you recommend for a simple solution that will not cause a risk of boiling the veggies in ground? Yes, warm wash is not risky, but neither does it completely cleanse all the linens. Currently my laundry drains to a leach field, which doesn't much benefit either the garden or the orchard.

7/26/2011 2:18:54 PM

Greywater is a great way to recycle water on gardens and plants/trees. We personally do use this in Maryland, but in a very limited capacity. The water is plumbed so that the source is dead center in the house feeding off to the washer, bathroom, and appliances that use water. The drain goes through the slab foundation directly to the sewer, making the bulk of the grey water inaccessible. However, we do recycle as much water as possible.This article has me thinking about creative ways to capture even more of this discarded product.

7/22/2011 12:29:34 PM

good idea on the use of grey water but, i wish the article wnet on to tell more about how to use the system as in how it actually works. Filters? or ways to keep toxic chems out of your bleach? Ammonia? soaps and detergents?

Terry Butcher
7/22/2011 9:26:15 AM

I loved the article on grey water. I didn't know my practice of capturing waste water and using it for flushing and for watering plants had a name. My husband and I have for years collected the water that normally goes down the drain when we're waiting for the hot water to reach the shower--it's almost always about enough for one flush. I also collect rinse water when I'm washing dishes. I had never heard of a system that could collect and reuse grey water so much more easily. I will definitely look into it.

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