My goal for the last phase of my research was to look around and see what greywater safe products my local stores carry. All in all, I'm not totally dissatisfied with the most of the products I already use, but I wanted to see what else was available. Maybe I could do better.
Why did I want products I could buy locally? Why not simply order off the internet? For several reasons. One is because shipping has become exorbitant. It often nearly doubles the cost of a heavy item (which I don't understand since fuel prices are currently down). In addition, my state charges either a sales or use tax on shipping. Even with free shipping, however, I don't like juggling the time factor between when to order more and will I get it in time, I don't want to deal with all that packaging, and I don't want to deal with "out of stock."
Unfortunately many of these products are more expensive than conventional products, so affordability is important too. To me, part of being self-sufficient means being less dependent on money and the consumer system. Most of us agree there is no such thing as total self-sufficiency, so as Dan and I approach retirement age (but not necessarily retirement) we are looking at living with lower income and less money. Low price then becomes important.
What about the old "it's worth paying more to save the environment" argument? I don't buy it. It's a manipulative statement because it implies 1) that I can really afford the product but am too stingy to pay for it, and 2) since I'm not willing to pay more to save the environment, then I'm a crumb. I say, if manufacturers are really concerned about the environment, then they should make the products affordable enough so everyone can use them; not just the affluent.
I listed a lot of categories in my last post, but for this exercise I focused mostly on laundry, dishwashing, and shampoo. While the selection of so-called natural products has increased, I've also learned how the term "natural" has different meanings. Plant-based surfactants, for example. Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate is avoided by many health purists and a no-no on greywater product lists. But what is it? It's an anionic plant-based surfactant, derived from coconut or palm, so some manufacturers include it in their "natural" products. The process of making it, however, is anything but natural and there are numerous health concerns regarding its use. (See Dr. Mercola's article here.) Unfortunately it's a ubiquitous product found in almost all liquid soaps and detergents, toothpaste, shaving creams, mouth washes, and in a number of cosmetics. So if a label used descriptive terms instead of actual ingredients, I dug a little deeper.
Locally sourced alternatives: I found Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent on at Walmart, far cheaper than on Amazon or other online sources. Ecos makes the cut on almost every greywater recommendation list I've seen, and the only one who puts "greywater and septic tank safe" on the label. What does it contain? "Thoughtfully sourced ingredients."
- cocamidoproply betaine (coconut-derived surfactant)
- sodium coco sulfate (coconut-derived surfactant)
- cocamidoproplylamine ixide (coconut-derived surfactant)
- phenoxyethanol (preservative)
- methlisothiazolinone (preservative)
- equisetum hiemale (horsetail plant)
- From Walmart (rollback price), $0.07 per load.
- From Amazon (assuming free shipping) $0.18 per load.
I mentioned in my last post that I don't use bleach, but I've learned that hydrogen peroxide based bleaches (oxy types) are considered fairly safe. The homemade version is easy and inexpensive:
- 2 parts water
- 1 part hydrogen peroxide
- 1 part baking soda
Most greywater sites agree that liquid castile soap is greywater safe, with Dr. Bronner's as the most recommended (probably because it's the most well known). I'm still looking for a store around here that sells it.
It was interesting to learn that shampoo has only been around since the 1930s. Also that at their most basic ingredient level, shampoo and dishwashing liquid are about identical. Finding a greywater safe shampoo is a tough one, because there must be a zillion choices in almost every store, many of them claiming to be "natural." I haven't seen many brands recommended as greywater safe. This site recommends Aubrey Organics and Avalon, also some Burt's Bees products. Other sites recommend Dr. Bronner's as shampoo as well as body soap. I've found none of them at local stores and online they are expensive.
Some of you have had good success with No Poo. Others claim it ruined their hair. This site lists a dozen different No Poo methods plus has links to DIY shampoos. You'll also find a link there which discusses different types of hair and why there is not a universal No Poo method. My hair is so dry that it never gets oily (seriously!), so I'm finding that the "Scritch and Preen" and "Water Only" methods work well for me. Can't get more greywater friendly and economical than that!
Realistically, there are no perfect products. Which ones to choose will depend primarily on one's goals, so the choices will be different for everyone. Dan and I want to use our greywater in combination with rainwater for food growing. In looking at products I would like to decrease the amount of sodium we put down the drain, because much of our soil is already too high in sodium. It seems I can't avoid sodium altogether, but if I can choose lower sodium products, they will be further diluted before they reach any plants.
Here are a few more things to think about:
1) Many of us practice what we consider to be organic gardening. Unfortunately there are different definitions of "organic" and these are changing all the time. The legal definition of organic food was designed for commercial growers, and there is quite some rigmarole to obtain certification to sell one's food products with an organic label. Small sellers will often say "grown with organic methods" to be safe from raising governmental ire. In regards to utilizing greywater for organic food growing, I doubt any cleaning products would pass muster under any definition of organic gardening. Those of us who want to use greywater to grow food for home consumption, may want to consider how our cleaning products fall under our personal organic growing guidelines.
2) If you have a septic system, then no matter what products are used, they are still being leached into the soil.
3) I used cloth diapers when my kids were babies. This presents a different challenge to laundry greywater because diaper wash water usually contains feces, which would make it blackwater. The possible presence of feces in greywater is why it's forbidden in some places. For a situation like this a diverter valve on the washing machine is necessary, so that dirty diaper water can go where the rest of one's blackwater goes.
This concludes my rather lengthy and overly-analytical series on greywater. In the end, what goes into our greywater and what we choose to do with it will be a matter of what we're personally comfortable with.
Some links I want to hang on to:
- Guide to Greywater-Compatible Cleaning Products at Ecology Center
- What are the best and cheapest grey water safe shampoos and conditioners? at Quora
- Greywater Soaps at H2OME
- Soap & Detergent Info at Rainwater Harvesting
- graywater with dish soap (an interesting forum thread) at permaculture forums (an interesting forum thread)