If you’re short of water for any reason, you must have considered the possibility of using grey water to wash your clothes. Can you use grey water as an alternative to wash clothes?
Before we answer this question, it’s good to understand what grey water is.
Grey water is already used water, but without fecal matter, that comes as a byproduct of washing, bathing and other related indoor activities. You get them from using the washing machine, kitchen sink, dishwasher, baths etc.
For most part, it is waste water, containing soap or detergent, oil, dirts washed from cleaning activities and some other chemicals, eg. leached colors from fabrics.
In this world of global warming, people are finding creative ways to economize water. One such way is to reuse used water.
As part of the brainstorming process you must have considered using it to wash clothes.
In the context of this article, we’re refering to grey water generated from laundry either machine wash or hand wash.
Before I discuss how to go about using grey water, let me tell you my personal experience with using grey water for washing.
How practical is it to use grey water for washing clothes? – My Story
For more than a decade, I and groups of friends travel yearly to rural parts of the country for volunteer work (There’s been a brief pause for the last few years though). In some of these villages, getting clean water is not always easy.
The nearest town is sometimes a long drive away. Water scarcity is normal during dry season. The villagers simply get used to this.
As visitors we have little or no option but to rely on the little source of water in the village for everything we do.
In times like this, we have to prioritize water usage.
First we depend on the little amount of clean water we’re able to get locally or from nearby towns for drinking. This water is more valuable than gold, you don’t misuse it.
Next, we use the local water for cooking. Don’t worry, since we boil it as part of the cooking process, they’re often safe for preparing food.
The next usage of priority is water used for washing plates and other kitchen utensils. We use the cleanest water available locally for this. In rare cases, where there’s no clean water available, we wash with local water and use drinking water for rinsing. (Don’t tell me it’s counterproductive, I’m simply telling you what we do).
Back to reusing grey water. We keep the water used for rinsing to wash and/or rinse plates later. It’s the same method employed for washing clothes.
Fourth in the order of preference is bathing water. We manage the available water for bathing. If you have sensitive skin, this might not be a good option, often though, we’re able to manage.
The least in our pecking order is washing of clothes. Talking about using grey water to wash, this is the only way to survive. Also, it’s not a technique we improvise, usually in these areas, washing clothes with grey water is a norm.
Now that you’ve seen that people do use grey water for washing clothes, let’s answer the question of this article.
Can you use grey water to wash clothes?
A direct answer to this question is: Yes. You can use grey water gotten from previous washing to wash, or rather, to rewash clothes.
Please note that using grey water is not ideal. It is always good and beneficial to use fresh clean water for washing clothes. But in the event of water scarcity, caused by drought or some natural disaster, it is becomes practical to use or reuse water from previous to wash clothes.
This will help you to economize water, and still look clean. Desperate times need desperate measures to survive.
If you live in a first world country with ideal conditions and good infrastructure, this concept might sound strange to you.
But for those in areas with drought, natural disasters, war imposed hardships, this is a daily situation. In fact, if you haven’t experienced any of the above, its good to have the knowledge, because the next crazy hurricane might turn a once ideal environment to a warzone. Knowledge like this might become handy then.
A piece of caution
Using grey water is not ideal. And it is less effective for washing.
The simple reason is because, for dirts to leave clothes during washing, there must be a difference of in dirt concentration between the cloth and the water.
This allows surfactant to remove the dirts from the clothes on to the clean water. If the water is fully saturated with dirt, there will be little space for the dirt particles leaving the water.
Of course some dirts will still leave the clothes, but a vast majority will hang on to the fabrics because of nowhere to go.
Its a simple logic. To fill a container with substance from another container, the second container must be empty or at least have some space. If the second container is already occupied there will be little space in for the new substance to enter.
Now having explained this, let’s discuss how to wash clothes with grey water.
How to wash clothes with grey water
First know that you need initial clean water to start with. You are better off doing this washing by hands rather than with a washer.
Actually this is an emergency option, so there’ll likely be no electricity, or other infrastructure to begin with. In that case you washing machine is useless for now.
Now back to how to go about washing with grey water.
- Split the water in two.
- If you have a fixed amount of water, like 15 to 20 liters of water total, split the water in a ratio of 70:30
- If there is more water, but it’s also for other use, still measure a finite amount out of it, as the total amount you will use.
- Fix a maximum amount to use so you can economize it better.
- Now pour detergent, soap or any available washing solution in the smaller volume
- The bigger volume should be retained for rinsing.
- Soak your clothes in the soap water for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on the level on dirt on the clothes.
- When washing try to minimize the amount of spillage. Naturally the clothes will soak-up a good amount of the water so your washing water will be drastically reduced at the end of the washing.
- After washing, squeeze out as much soap water out of the washed clothes as possible.
- If possible you can employ the help of a second person.
- Both of you should hold the washed garment in either end of the cloth. And twist the either end in opposite direction. This will squeeze out water from the fabrics more effectively.
- Ensure the squeezed out water is collected back in the washing container, bucket or sink.
- Now retain the used wash water to wash more set of clothes.
- It is ideal to wash lightly soiled clothes first, and reuse the left over water to wash those with more dirt. Continue doing this until the water is fully utilized or the water level has been reduced beyond usage.
- As long as there is suds on the water, you can still use it for further washing. When the dirt level becomes too much, there’ll be no foam or suds left, this is your signal to throw away the water.
- If you keep the water for later wash, ensure you do not leave it for long. After some 8 – 12 hours, wash water begins to smell. Therefore grey water should be used as quickly as possible.
After washing each set of clothes, it’s time for rinsing. Repeat the same process used for washing. Ensure you scrub the clothes carefully without spilling water out of the rinsing container.
After each rinse, squeeze out as much water as possible from the cloth. Employ the assistance of a second person to increase the amount of water removed during squeezing.
Collect the water back in the rinsing container.
Repeat this process until you have rinsed all washed clothes.
At the end of the rinsing, if the water has become sudsy, or the too grey for rinsing, transfer the water to an empty container.
This used rinse water should be reserved for washing the next batch of clothes. At this point, you will need fresh water for the next set of rinsing.
As mentioned earlier, reserved grey water should not be kept for long before reusing to wash more clothes. If it is left for long, it begins to smell.
Even at this point, as long as it still produce foams or suds, it can still be used to wash highly soiled clothes before discarding it. In poor parts of the world, water like that are used to wash house rags which are usually very dirty.
They do not clean the rags completely, but are still effective at reducing the dirts from those rags.
Can you use grey water generated from washing machine to hand-wash clothes?
This one is trickery!
But yes you can. However you will need to separate the grey water drained during the washing phase from that generated during rinsing.
Also is best not to use grey water on your washing, instead grey water generated can be rather used to wash clothes by hands.
While not proven, there is no professional or manufacturer’s instruction supporting the use of grey water on washing machines. Doing so will be at owner’s risk. And in the even of damages incurred, you will probably not be covered by warranty if it is revealed that grey water was used during operation.
Also in the context of this article, grey water usage is more of an emergency measure and should not be used in an ideal situation. This will completely rule out the use of washing machines.
Can you use grey water generated from other activities to wash clothes?
When do correctly, you can use grey water generated from the laundry process to wash clothes. However, do not usegrey water generated from other activities such as dish washing and bathing to wash clothes.
These will only leave oil, dirt and other difficult stains on your clothes. Also clothes are likely to come out with bad smell when washed with these grey water.
While it is possible, in theory, to purify this water through distillation, doing so will be far more expensive than getting a clean water, and the amount of water you can generate from distillation is very limited and will probably not be sufficient for clothes washing.
Grey water generated from washing clothes can be used to wash other clothes. To do this, you will need to separate the water generated from washing from that gotten while rinsing.
They should not be used long after they’ve been generated as they could have be smelling by then.
They should only be used in the effect of a severe water scarsity or some natural disaster induced emergency.
Lastly your best tool is some common sense. If it seem right to you to use grey water to wash and it is the only available option, do it. If not, don’t.
Remember, even with the best technique, using grey water will not clean your clothes as clean water would. So if you choose to reuse your generated laundry water, remember to drop your expectations to avoid disappointment of any sort.