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Laundry products for greywater systems

 
pollinator
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Hi, everyone! We've been putting off really figuring out our laundry situation at the homestead because every time I've tried something the clothes ended up more dirty than when I started (mostly because there wasn't a clean environment to do it all in). But now, with the coronavirus pandemic, it doesn't seem worth the risk to go to the public laundromat, so we have extra motivation. We don't have a washer or dryer or well. We have a rainwater catchment system, an extra bathtub and buckets outside, and a scavenged mop-wringer that we put on top of a bucket to help both with washing and wringing dry. We have a greywater drip irrigation system that just connects the bathroom tub and sink to one of the gardens, with a long sock filter. Sometimes we'll pour water from other sources down the greywater standpipe that's just past the filter (we put a basic drain screen on top of the standpipe mouth), and that's what we'd do with the wash and rinse water.

I have Biokleen and Ecos laundry detergents, and my first instinct is to use the latter based on research I've done and posts here. But my partner is still leery of putting anything we don't know all the ins and outs of into the garden we get most of our food from, even very diluted, and that's understandable. Instead he proposes we use either a weak and diluted hardwood ash lye we've made with our collected rainwater or a more Pompeii fuller-inspired product created by dripping urine rather than water through the hardwood ash. The latter would both add the cleaning and whitening powers of urine and also turn the greywater into a good fertilizer, right? But at the moment, I feel more comfortable with the former than the latter because he did a load of his laundry using the latter a few weeks ago and reeked of piss afterwards. He says that's because he got a little over-excited and added extra piss during the soaking... Still, I'd like him to do another test of that system using his own clothes or rags or something before I wash my clothes (selfish, I know) or our sheets and towels in it. If I use the former, I'd put a little vinegar in the rinse water (just like I usually do at the laundromat) to help get all the lye out and re-neutralize everything before putting it in the garden. (Our soil here is quite alkaline. Our rainwater is slightly acidic.)

What do folks think? Which washing product -- a) Ecos laundry detergent, b) weak and diluted hardwood ash lye, or c) urine and hardwood ash lye -- would 1) get the clothes clean, 2) leave them smelling least/best, and 3) be best to irrigate (and fertilize?) the food garden? Thank you!
 
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We run our grey water into mulch pits and dig them out a couple of times a year and add them to the compost. You should see the amount of worms! My question is, how much of the advice above would pertain to my situation since the water is not going directly onto plants? I use Ecos brand laundry detergent from Costco. It says grey water safe. But, I also use an “oxygenated stain remover” to soak dish cloths, socks and other stained or stinky things. I do this in a bucket but I just dump the bucket in the washer. I put peroxide bleach in with whites and sometimes borax in smelly loads, vinegar in the fabric softener cup. So, any ideas? I have been doing this for years. Maybe 10? And not problems, that I’ve noticed anyway, with my compost hurting my plants. Do you think the presence of the worms indicates that the system is a healthy one? Or should I stop the borax and peroxide? If so, and product substitutes would be helpful. I’m in Canada.
 
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Oasis Products have been around for decades.  I suspect they are the real thing as I remember the person who developed the line in Santa Barbara California was well received at the time.
I highly doubt any "gimmick" is going on here.
 
pollinator
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Looking at the site for the Bio-Clean product, they are endorsed by great Environmental and Social Justice outfits. My grey water ends up in the drain field and hubby is opposed to anything costly, so he would not help pay for it. We share those costs 50/50.
Personally, the most interesting and usable part is that you could bring your own reusable container to be refilled, eliminating tons of plastics from the environment. I wish more companies would do this [allowing you to bring your own reusable containers]. If they were close enough to me, I would even sneak a few loads [hubby does the laundry usually].
Let's face it: The biggest amount of garbage comes from having retail-size containers that get used only once. If at the retail store, they would *really * retail from larger containers [like the old general food stores where you had bins of grain, bins of candy, bins of ... we could considerably reduce the garbage.
The main difficulty is having customers adopt reusable containers themselves. I'm there. If you have the room, buying bulk may be a solution [but only for a few products.
 
pollinator
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Beth Wilder wrote:...What do folks think? Which washing product -- a) Ecos laundry detergent, b) weak and diluted hardwood ash lye, or c) urine and hardwood ash lye -- would 1) get the clothes clean, 2) leave them smelling least/best, and 3) be best to irrigate (and fertilize?) the food garden? Thank you!



@Beth - I can't give a full answer to your question, except by advising you to run more experiments.  Use each method several times, refrain from deviating from the recipe - no more "Oh, well, the spirit moved me to piss into the rinse water even though that wasn't part of the plan" - and observe the results.

I've never attempted a DIY wood ash washing powder myself, with or without urine.  But it would surely be safe for your veggies.  And I imagine that you could get it to work with the urine if you gave it plenty of clean rinse water.  After all, urine is eminently water soluble.

However, I have used Ecos brand and have been very pleased with it.  Even in a cold water wash, it will get your clothes clean.  While I've not yet actually used my wash water in the garden - future plans for this are in the works! - I have little trouble believing the manufacturer's claims regarding "grey water safe."  And most anything that is grey water safe should be garden safe given adequate dilution.

But you don't have to wonder about how safe Ecos might be.  Figure it out for yourself.  What I love best about companies like Ecos is that they are fairly transparent, allowing their consumers to make their own informed choices.  Their website is a treasure of info!  We live in a consumer economy, after all, and being a responsible and informed consumer is the first part in moving that economy in the direction you want it to change.

In fact, all of their ingredients are disclosed right on the bottle, which I'm pretty sure they aren't legally required to do, since its not a food product.  Google each of their ingredients and determine your own comfort level putting them on your garden:



ecos.png
[Thumbnail for ecos.png]
 
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There is one way to answer to the questions about vinegar, soap, etc and their effects on the soil, and on your soil's particular chemistry and ecosystem: get a soil test. For example, my soil test shows that my soil is deficient in sodium, so that would be less of a worry to me. A test in a couple of years might show that the soil had gained enough sodium that I'd want to change my system.  The cumulative effect of the diluted acid from vinegar might be good and it might not in your conditions. It might vaporize before even getting into the soil. I don't know; you probably don't either.  Get a soil test. Test before, do a test plot for a year, test after. (I don't count those kits at the garden center as a soil test; send it to a real testing lab.)

One reason why detergents were invented is that many people have hard water and often real soap Like Dr Bronners, etc. doesn't work, just makes a greasy scum. Nor are all detergents bad. For example, those soap nuts are probably not actual soap. Soap root (amole), soapwort (Bouncing Bet), and the rinse water from washing quinoa are all examples of plant saponins, all usable for laundry, and all break down pretty fast. What may take longer to break down is the greases and oils you are washing out of clothes, bedding, etc. Those kinds of slower-decaying items are the reason you might want the water to go onto wood chips rather than straight onto plants. And finding plant sources of saponin is not hard, but finding a source for enough saponin to keep up with your laundry needs might be something else again.

One item that does work on laundry in hard water is borax, which is natural, cheap--and potentially toxic to your plants....... so it is not necessarily simple.
 
Matthew Nistico
pollinator
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Jamie Chevalier wrote:...One item that does work on laundry in hard water is borax, which is natural, cheap--and potentially toxic to your plants....... so it is not necessarily simple.


Excellent point!  I think someone else above had mentioned using borax in their DIY laundry mix.  One must be extremely cautious using borax in a garden-integrated greywater system, and in fact I would not recommend it.  While it may be septic safe, it is not necessarily garden safe!

My understanding is this...

Borax contains the element boron, which is an essential micronutrient for plants.  It naturally exists in the soil.  However, the threshold of toxicity for boron is very low, around 1 part per million.  Which is to say that it naturally exists in very small quantities, and at only slightly greater concentrations in the soil it becomes toxic to your plants.  I believe there are commercial herbicides that list boron as an active ingredient.

Therefore, I would refrain from using borax in my laundry so long as the wash water is being directed to my veggies.  If one suspected a boron deficiency in one's soil, best to rely on commercial fertilizer products for which the concentration of boron, dilution rates, and uniformity of application have all been carefully considered.
 
Jamie Chevalier
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Yes exactly. In fact, I have soil that is slightly boron-deficient and well water that is full of boron.  The first year we were here, watering with the well water, tomatoes thrived (high tolerance for boron) and my beans turned up their toes and died, or were so stunted they might as well have. Was it the soil? the water? the seeds? the weather?

I figured it out by starting some seeds in potting mix and watering with well water, and some seeds in potting mix with water from town. The beans with well water looked just as bad as the beans in my soil. Sure enough, the water test showed levels toxic to sensitive plants, but not to tomatoes.  Note that the beans died from overexposure to boron even though the soil tested low in boron. Micronutrients like boron need to be dosed accurately!

The relevance to the discussion at hand is that it doesn't take much of a change in mineral levels, pH, or other chemical changes to create a big problem in the garden. I know one guy who has 2 wells, at 25 and 40 feet. Midsummer, his vegetable patch would take a turn for he worse. Turns out that's when he switched to the deeper well. The mineral content of water can be very different at different levels. And anything you add to the water, whether it is safe for humans or not, can have a big effect.

That's why I would want to monitor the soil if you use vinegar or other acids. I use an extremely safe spray against mites and thrips. It is the same enzyme earthworms use to dissolve the carapace of their prey in the soil. It is human food-grade, totally safe. However, the summer the mites first showed up, (when there were no predator populations for that bug,) we had to spray a lot. Citric acid (just like in lemonade) was one of the ingredients. And before long, we had multiple nutrient deficiencies--due to nutrient lock-out from the suddenly too-acid soil pH.

That's why I suggest lab testing the soil, and the water. And keeping one part of the garden with a different water source as a control.
 
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When I was a child, Mother had a wringer washer, too. Of course, that was the state of the art at that time but even later, she always used a "sud saver" machine that could be set to divert the water into a laundry tub and suck it back to use again to wash the next load.

Always sort clothes, etc by dirtiness and colourfastness, start washing the least dirty pile, eg, whites or linens,  put the wrung out clothes into a bucket or laundry tub to wait. Do not empty the used wash water; just add the next load of laundry, wring it dry when done and set it aside.

When the wash water is so dirty that it won't clean the next pile, dump it out and refill the washer  with clear water to rinse the first load. Proceed as for washing (wash, wring, reserve) until the rinse water  is too cloudy- DON'T Dump it! Keep the used rinse water, add laundry soap and clean the next round of dirty laundry.

If you feel the laundry needs another rinse, put it through a fresh round of water. When you are satisfied that your laundry is clean, hang it indoors or out to dry.

Basically reuse wash and rinse water as many times as possible. This way you use every bit of cleaning power from a batch of soapy water and use less water in total, which is important in dry locales like mine.
 
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