Can we recycle washing machine water? 

In this short report we will discuss the topic “recycling washing machine water” and will know in detail about the worldwide usage of washing machines and how much water consumption is happening because of its use. We will further discuss the effective ways of recycling water and know if recycling wastewater is healthy and safe for our environment. 

What happens to the water disposed of from the washing machine? 

With modern technology kicking in and enhancing everyone’s life, the demand for automated systems is increasing even more. Washing machines are also making people’s life hassle free by saving time and physical effort which was once a troublesome process. Long back people used to wash clothes near their homes or near rivers and dump waste in waters. 

With modernization and development of apartments, such space is not available and most of the activities were restricted to 2- or 3-bedroom apartments. In such cases, people either depend on laundry services once a week but when the family grows and includes more members, the daily laundry service loses its significance owing to the expenditure. With the evolution of the washing machine, life in such situations has become much easier as the process is so simple that anyone can use it for cleaning your clothes. 

Now you just have to throw clothes in the machine and switch on to start the cycle. All rinsing and cleaning will be done by your washing machine and your physical effort is restricted to loading and unloading the clothes. Reports have shown that currently 590 million people in 38 countries are using washing machines for their regular cleaning purposes. 

This is a huge number compared to any other appliances used by people in their household. With this huge number it will not be surprising to know that the global washing machine market size was $52.80 billion in 2020. Currently more people are dependent on washing machine services even those who live on $40 a day or more. 

The working of the washing machine is simple in which clothes are agitated and spined with soapy water to remove the dirt after which the water is drained of. Different brands of detergents and softeners are available in the market for effective cleaning and improving cloth texture. With this high usage of washing machines comes the demand for a high volume of water. 

Photo Courtesy: iStock. Water in the washing machine.

How much water is used in the washing machine? 

As we are discussing the topic of recycling water from washing machines, let’s know more about the usage of water by washing machines for cleaning clothes. Washing machines comes with different configurations and capacities and hence with different water requirements. The top load washing machine consumes the maximum water of 140 liters with every use followed by semi-automatic washing machine that consumes 120 liters and front load washing machine that consumes nearly half the amount of the other two which is 60 liters. 

Washing machines consume most of the water for agitation of clothes and for the rinsing process. However, with the invention of high efficiency washers (HE) water consumption has reduced to 20% of what the traditional front load washing machines. But still, it accounts for 19 liters of water per cubic feet of capacity which is a lot when water shortage is a prime concern in many states. 

Hence an efficient recycling process will help in dealing with huge amounts of water loss considering the fact that washing machine usage is increasing exponentially worldwide. 

Photo Courtesy: iStock. Eco friendly washing machine

 

Can we recycle washing machine water? 

The volumes of water that is used by the washing machine can be recycled and reused for several other purposes. The main thing to do before that is to extract out any chemicals from the water that may contaminate the soil. AquaFresco, a product developed by MIT students is doing the same. 

The drained water from the washing machine is collected and passed through their filtration system which cleans the water and later fed to the washing machine to process another load. What’s good about this is that the dirty water is very clean, free of chemicals and can stay clean for over three months. Some high efficiency washing machines are also using the same approach where some amount of water from the previous load is reserved for the next load. 

Many residents have another way of reusing their laundry waters just for gardening purposes. The water from the washing machine can be collected through a hose system and sent directly to the plants. However, you should note the contents of the detergents as the ones with bleach, salts, boron, and sulfate are harmful for plants as they change the soil property. 

The washer cycle has several modes available in which if you choose ‘only wash’ mode then the water will not drain off from the washing machine and you can reuse it for other purposes. 

Is recycling washing machine water environmentally friendly? 

Recycling water will help reduce the consumption of freshwater which is currently a limited resource. The household activities itself accounts for 60% of gray water that is dumped into sewage never to be used again. With proper methods and equipment we can utilize this water for other purposes thereby conserving water and producing a sustainable source during drought conditions. 

Hence, recycling water is a great way of nurturing the environment. However, care should be taken to avoid toxic chemicals in detergents that may cause issues with soil property and its pH levels with long and continuous use. This we do not want and can be easily prevented by use of eco-friendly laundry detergents.

Conclusion

In this short report we have discussed the topic “Recycling washing machine water” by first discussing the global market for washing machines and how widely it is used. We have also discussed the water consumption by the different models of washing machines and the environmental benefits by the reuse of these waters. 

Frequently asked question (FAQs): Recycling washing machine water. 

How can I reuse my washing machine water? 

Washing machine waters can be used by connecting a hose to the drainage pipe and collecting it in a big can or directly depositing it in the garden. There are many videos that show step by step instructions on how to connect the hose system to the drainage for its effective use. 

You can also prevent the water from getting out of the washing machine by choosing “wash only” mode which keeps the water inside without draining off. Thus, you can collect the water in a separate bin for later use. Few start-up companies have also developed filtration systems that take in wastewater from washing machines and filter out the dirt and chemicals to be reused again for washing purposes. 

Can I drain my washing machine water into the garden? 

Yes, washing machine water can be drained off into the garden and is a great way to water your plants during drought times. Gray waters are lightly soiled as these are produced from kitchen sinks, hand wash bins, bathroom showers etc, but do not contain toilet water. Thus, they have minimal contamination with microorganisms and can be used in watering the plants. 

Can you put washing machine waste into a soakaway? 

Soakaways are pits or holes in the ground where rainwater gets collected which then percolate through the soil slowly keeping the integrity of the soil. The wastewater from the washing machine should never be drained into soakaway as these may contain chemicals and salts of detergents that may harm the soil. 

Most of the wastewater from sink, bathrooms and laundry washings are sent to foul drains which is also a regulatory rule in many states. 

How much does a GRAY water recycling system cost? 

Gray water recycling is better for conserving water and provide a sustainable source of water for other activities. A simple self-installation will cost around $100 which also depends on the length of pipe being used to connect the gray water source. For connecting a complex set of piping the full installation cost may go even higher and can be in the range of $800 to $4000. 

Is GRAY water bad for the environment? 

Yes, to some extent, the disposal of greywater on land causes harmful effects to plants. Gray water is the wastewater that comes from showers, baths, spas, hand basins and from washing machines. Anything after washing that goes down the sink is considered greywater. However, this does not include water from toilets which falls under the category of blackwater. 

Most greywater contain significant pollutants that come from laundry detergents as these contain high amounts of sodium and phosphorus. Studies have also found increased amounts of toxic metals such as lead, nickel, cadmium, mercury etc that with continuous exposure to soil irrigation changes the characteristics of soil and may become toxic to plants. 

How can we save wastewater from the washing machine? 

There are methods by which you can reduce the consumption of water by washing machines such as always going full load and waiting till you have enough clothes for washing so that you don’t have to use them every day. Cutting back on detergents is also another way where you can reduce the exposure of toxic chemicals to the environment. New technology has also been developed where through the filtration process, we can reuse 95% of the water for washing and laundry purposes. This technology is very useful in hotels and industries that use gallons of water for washing clothes. 

Reference 

Pakula, C., Stamminger, R. Electricity and water consumption for laundry washing by washing machine worldwide. Energy Efficiency 3, 365–382 (2010). 

https://doi.org/10.1007/s12053-009-9072-8
https://applications.emro.who.int/dsaf/dsa1203.pdf
https://www.treehugger.com/filtration-technology-allows-washing-machines-reuse-laundry-wastewater-4858364

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