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How to Make a Laundry Water Recycler (Gray Water System)

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For those interested in getting into gray water, this may be one of the easiest ways. I got this idea from Home Use of Graywater from the University of Arizona. The idea is very simple: Save the rinse water from one load of laundry in a tank and use that water to wash the next load, cutting the amount of water you use for laundry by 50%. By the way, this idea has been patented, but I don't think any commercial products using it have been made (a commenter corrected me on this).

I built my Laundry Water Recycler (LWR) over a year ago for a cost of about $60, and since then my household has saved four or five thousands gallons of water. You might be concerned that washing with the rinse water could discolor your clothes, but we have not encountered that problem.

This device is intended to work with older top-loading washing machines, where it saves about 20 gallons per load on average. Newer front loaders already use much less water, and, according to this article, they don't have a distinct rinse cycle anyway. Clearly, front-loading washing machines use less water than even a top-loader with the LWR, and the use less energy too. However, in comparing the two, you also need to factor in the energy it takes to manufacture a new washing machine. If you keep your top-loader for a while, then that manufacturing energy is not consumed yet. Anyway, enough green theory, onto the LWR!

The image below shows the LWR. At the bottom of the image is the top of our washing machine. Just above the left side of the machine is the washer outlet hose, which splits into two branches, each with its own ball valve. In this photo, the left ball valve is open, so the water leaving the washing machine will be pumped into the drain pipe at the top of the photo. The valve on the right leads to the storage tank, a 32 gallon plastic trash can, which is suspended from the ceiling on a hanging platform. An outlet at the bottom of the tank has a hose connected to it and this is used to introduce water into the washing machine at the beginning of a washing cycle.
 
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j76harris6 months ago

This seems like a great way to save water, but it defeats the purpose of owning a modern automatic washer. Unless some way could be found to automate this whole system, it wouldn't be worth it. I have four kids, and there are several loads of laundry done each day in our house. We'd have to install new stairs, because all the running up and down into the basement that this system would require would wear out the ones we have now. LOL

dlginstructables (author)  j76harris7 days ago
I appreciate your comment. It does require extra work to run this system, so it's probably only for energy saver nuts like me. However, since you have four kids, they probably have plenty of energy to run up and down the stairs to change the valves :)

The whole thing could be automated, but it would be a pretty involved project.

How would you go about it?

It is important to make sure that you have the drain valve open or that the holding tank's fill hose does not become submerged during the washer's agitation cycle. Whirlpool/Kenmore topload models have a reversible motor that, during agitate, drives the water pump backwards to draw air through the drain hose in order to generate air bubbles that rise from the bottom of the tub, which increases the efficiency of the machine's wash action. You may also want to lower the height of the holding tank so the fill hose is within the manufacturer's recommendation. They give this specification to minimize the water that returns back from the hose, and into the outer tub beneath the metal wash basket once the drain cycle ends.

In my setup, the fill hose is always above the tank water level. I probably am higher than the manufacturer's recommendation, but that doesn't seem to have caused any harm to the machine.

Thanks for your comments.
RoyalPayne5 years ago
And since we're all being so green, you'll take that lint filled stocking, turn it inside out, removing the acumulated lint, lay it length ways on a large tree limb to dry,and leave it for the birds to use as nest lining materiel. This instruct makes me wish I had a top loader instead of my front. Wonder if a person could convert this to a gray water garden waterer? University of Arizona, you said?
they have done it but uill need a 6 - 8 stage stage water filter to remove all those nasty chems from the out bound water flow
You could probably use this with a front loader by connecting the water output of the tank to the cold-water input of the washer and just cap off the hot water input and just do a cold wash :P
hmmmwasher4 years ago
Well, this idea is with good intentions, but.... first, most washing machine manufacturers advise consumers that the drain hose should not have to drain more than approx. 66" off the floor. That is not even 6'. Failure to adhere to that will cause either premature pump wear or it just won't pump at all. take a look at this pic. No go. The stand pipe is at least 7' off the floor, as is the top of the can. second, Sudsaver washers did not use the RINSE water, they used the wash water because it was most likely warmer and had soap already in it. The process of draining the wash water into a holding tub allowed the heavy particles to settle. When the water was sucked back into the machine, the hose, which had an extension on the bottom to be sure it couldn't suck up crud on the bottom, would get only the 'best' of the water. We had a Whirlpool Suds saver. My aunt had a Lady Kenmore Sudsaver. Back when, everyone had a sudsaver. They haven't really been made for about 25 years. You would occasionally see one model, out of a manufacturers line maybe. That was through the 90s. third- you don't want to reuse rinse water as wash water, especially if you have used fabric softener. Fabric softener has a non-sudsing agent that will neutralize detergents. In other words render the detergent useless. fourth- the installation in this pic is not practical. Wouldn't one hit their head when trying to operate controls or load the machine? fifth- the installation, as pictured, does not seem to have any allowance for cleaning the can or for providing for an overflow, in case it should get too full. sixth- buy a front loader. they use 1/3 the amount of water that these old style toploaders use and 1/2 the electricity. They are so quiet, especially on a cement floor. And they get the clothes CLEANER. They have been coming down in price. I recently bought a brand new Whirlpool Sport (kind of bottom of the line model) for $440 . This was for an elderly relative. I have a Whirlpool 9200 and love it. seventh- if you want to recycle any washing machines water, do as someone already mentioned and send it to your garden, or even just your lawn. If you are on a sewer system, allowing gray water to replenish our dropping aquafur water levels and taking the burden off the sewage treatment plants is significant. Have a good day.
dlginstructables (author)  hmmmwasher3 years ago
Thanks for your critiques. My replies are below. With all due respect, we have been using this system for almost two years and have saved thousands of gallons of fresh water by doing so.

1. The previous owner of my house created a basement and arranged the washing machine as it is, with the 7 foot vertical distance for pumping. While I agree that this is not ideal, the washing machine has always worked just fine under these conditions. Perhaps the pump is forced to work harder and uses more energy, but it does work and was in place before I added the gray water system. More importantly, as I state in the instructable, most houses don't have their washers in this configuration and would therefore not face this issue. In fact, I think most houses with the washer above garden level could create this system with no auxiliary pump.

2. Thanks for the clarification on how the Sudsaver machine worked.

3. We don't use fabric softener in my household (I don't think you would want to feed that to plants), but I will add a warning in the instructable to not use it in this system (same goes for chlorine bleach, powdered detergents etc.). There are other web pages that get into what laundry products you can and can't water plants with. All that said, I think the rinse water is a lot cleaner. The wash water has all of the dirt from the previous load suspended in it (good for plants, however). Bottom line - we are satisfied with the way our laundry comes out.

4. As a clearly state in the instructable, we have been using this system for a long time. That complaint has never come up.

5. The can can easily be cleaned - just take it down when it's empty. There is an accumulation of lint inside the can and I really should add a lint filter, but I haven't done so yet. I also state in the instructable that I should put in an overflow system and I recommend that anyone who makes this project do so as well. I just haven't gotten around to it. In over a year of operation I think we've had two or three overflows, and none very recently.

6. Read my introduction. Not everyone is ready to (or should) immediately buy a front loader, but eventually we should all get them.

7. Agreed - see my other instructable (http://www.instructables.com/id/Water-Your-Garden-with-Gray-Laundry-Water). We now only use the tank during the rainy season, when watering the garden is unnecessary.
use arm &hammer baking soda on alredy cleaned clothing itill keep it clean. if it stained however uill have to use those nasty stain fighters then. even then most of them dont crud to the stain.
topcat55 years ago
Very nice project. Sadly they used to sell washing machines here that did this very thing, but I have not seen one in a long time.
dlginstructables (author)  topcat55 years ago
Where and when was that?
I have a Sud-Saver top loader as well (came with my house). It has two drain tubes, each going to separate sinks in the stationary tub. If you flip the switch to "drain", it drains like a normal washer into the right side. If you flip it to "save", it drains into the left side of the tub, where the drain tube stretches to the bottom of the tub. You have to remember to put the plug in the tub drain, obviously. Then when you start your next load, you turn the main washer knob to "sud saver", pull the knob out, and it starts sucking in the gray water. Once that's done, you turn the knob to whatever cycle you want, and start it like normal.
dlginstructables (author)  nollidge5 years ago
Would you post a photo of this washing machine? I'm very curious about how it looks.
sorry it took so long, life intervenes. not sure if you can see: there's the "suds return" option on the dial, and the "drain" and "save" buttons on the left.
snapshot1.jpgsnapshot2.jpgsnapshot3.jpgsnapshot4.jpgsnapshot5.jpg
Some washers have that option. One of my Grandparent's old 1970s
Sears Kenmore had that option called Suds in the PreSoak Cycle.
dlginstructables (author)  nollidge5 years ago
Thank you for posting these! So, the utility sink acts as the storage tank. Makes a lot of sense, and such sinks were more common back in the old days.
I picked up one made by Sears "Kenmore". I got it free from Craigslist when my 29year old Lady Kenmore died. The owner said it had a water saving feature. It has two drain hoses (looks like hot & cold, or something like that). Nothing else to see other than two hoses.. Thank you to nollidge, I now know how to use it.
My mom had a Maytag w/"Sudsaver". It looked just like a regular top-loader, only with the 2 drain hoses. This was in the late 50's. I had forgotten about until nollidge mentioned it.
My grandmother bought a Kenmore washer in the 1960s that had their Suds Saver feature. It wouild pump the rinse water into a tank inside the washer then use it for the next wash. It would also add a little new water at that time. They claimed it saved 2500 gallons/water and 25 boxes of detergent/year.
dlginstructables (author)  topcat55 years ago
Very cool! Too bad that desire for conservation disappeared for a long time. But, it's back with the new front loaders.
MomLes topcat55 years ago
Yes, we always used to buy one when they were available. Haven't had one for several years now.
Isn't funny how people leave comments saying what your doing can't be done.

Could you have and overflow the same height as the hose tip as in my rudimentary and crappy drawing. Then just pull hose down to start. No valve needed
tank.JPG
sjurrens033 years ago
Try searching for "Wye" fittings online if you don't want to have to make your own. You also might look at larger hardware stores or places that sell spas/hot tubs for these fittings. I think you want a 120° Wye, by the sounds of it.
Klappstuhl5 years ago
Would it be feasable to connect the water bucket (with the gray water) with the water reservoir in the toilet? Or would the chemicals of toilet cleaners cause a ruckus with it?
dlginstructables (author)  Klappstuhl5 years ago
You could certainly flush your toilet with used laundry water, but in my household the water we use for flushing the toilet is a tiny fraction of what's used for laundry.
so true. At only about 1.4 gallons per new tolilets.
HollyHarken5 years ago
Way back in 1976 Europe was dealing with a drought. We used the local pool as our bathtub until our skin got too dry from the chemicals. When we took a shower we plugged up the tub and then used the shower water to water the gardens. Yes it is back breaking work to use a pail to drain a tub, but we were renters and didn't have the ability to mess with the plumbing system. The drought broke as we were on a camping trip. Of course the tent leaked... I am thankful that I live on the east coast where water isn't a problem, in fact we had too much this summer.
dlginstructables (author)  HollyHarken5 years ago
We also had a big drought in California in 1977-78, when I was in jr. high, and we saved the wash water in our utility sink and then siphoned it into the garden. And we used a bucket to transfer water from the bathtub to flush the toilet. Obviously, that's where I got my attitudes about conservation.
RoyalPayne5 years ago
Not to mention all the exercise you are getting running up and down the basement stairs.
static5 years ago
he old conventional washers made this so easy, and simply to do didn't they? Reuse both the wash and rinse water as long as they done the job well. Perhaps the wringer left the cloths drier than the spin cycle, I'm not really sure. Then again in today's harried world has time to futz with a conventional washer? My sense is that only the really dedicated or those forced by neccesity to conserve water, and can't afford a front loader will employ this method. A good instructable detailing how you employed this idea.
dlginstructables (author)  static5 years ago
Thanks for the comment and your feedback. I'm hoping that some people who visit this web site will be interested in building it. It's not all that much work to put together, once you have all of the components purchased.
arlen5 years ago
How does the rinse water in a normal system flow? Is it triggered by relays and solenoids? I'd think that you could some how tap into or scab onto the washing machine's existing electronics to make this automagic. Will try and remember to take a look at my washing machine when I get home in a few months.
dlginstructables (author)  arlen5 years ago
I think it could be done, but you'd have to add some logic that would have one valve position for the wash and another for the rinse.
STEELBREEZE5 years ago
What I mean is, how do you disable the washer from filling itself with it's own water supply. I understand how to fill with the reservoir.
dlginstructables (author)  STEELBREEZE5 years ago
Oh, now I understand your question. When the water level reaches a certain height (depending on if the washer is set to small, medium etc.) a sensor in the washer stops adding water and starts the wash cycle. I use the measuring tool in Step 8 to know when I have introduced enough water into the basin for my laundry load. Thanks for the question. I will clarify this in the instructions.
STEELBREEZE5 years ago
How do you keep the washer from filling itself when using the reservoir ??
dlginstructables (author)  STEELBREEZE5 years ago
If you look at the intro photo, the outlet hose is hung up so that it's opening is higher than the water level in the tank. The water only comes out when you unhook the hose and lower it (see step 7 on how to use the device).
deeberb5 years ago
Loved this DYI. I live in Tucson, was remodeling my laundry was forced to handle water due to no drain. Thought about it and decided to gray water the wash water. Knew the laundry soap was not good for the plants. Found Soap Nuts on Internet. We love them, we make our own laundry soap now and use 100% of the water on the plants and trees around the yard. Plants love the slick water. Will be incorporating a collection method similar to this article in my redesigned laundry. THX
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