Greywater Made Simple: A Visual Guide

February 9, 2015

A visual guide to recycling shower water.

Despite a stormy weekend, here in California we’re heading into our fourth year of a severe drought. Many of us are looking for simple ways to practice good stewardship by conserving water.

Cutting down on lawns was the first step. Then came reducing the frequency of showers, toilet flushes and laundry loads (is that too much information?). But many of us still have yards full of trees and shrubs we’d like to water, as well as a fondness for our garden beds. What can we do next?

Did you know that the average American shower lasts for about 8 minutes and uses over 17 gallons of water? That’s a lot of water! This is water that would be perfect for watering thirsty trees and shrubs, as long as non-toxic shampoos and soaps are used.

The problem is getting the water from the shower to the garden.

I’ve heard from local friends about their attempts to shower with buckets and then slosh the buckets through the house to the yard. Not only does this process sound awkward, but a bucket captures only a fraction of a shower’s water.

So I started looking for a simple DIY shower graywater system that would be more practical and efficient than buckets, but still easier and less expensive than rerouting plumbing.

I’ve been experimenting with this kind of system for a few weeks now, and so far, so good. I’m hopeful that my trees and shrubs will be as happy with the arrangement as I am.

The system isn’t perfect yet— I plan to add some gadgetry to automate it and make the water easier to transport. I’ll update here with my findings.

In the meantime, scroll down for a visual guide to building your own simple shower greywater system. And if you happen to do your own experimenting, please share your innovations in the comments below. I’d love to learn from you!

What you will need:


1. A shower with a tub and a plug

So, before we go any further, I should note that this system does involve standing in water while taking your shower. Trust me— it’s not as bad as it sounds.


2. A battery-powered bilge pump

The pump should be able to handle hotter water temperatures, like this camp shower pump.


3. A 5-gallon jerry can (or two)

I opted for this “desert sand” can, which makes a nice addition to my bathroom decor. Note: when filled with water, your jerry can will weigh about 40lbs, so be sure you can carry or otherwise transport that amount to your yard.


4. Greywater-safe soaps

Shower products should be plant-safe: biodegradable, non-toxic, and free of salt (sodium) and boron (borax). Dr. Bronner's and Aubrey Organic's are commonly recommended for greywater.

How it works:

1. Plug the tub & take a shower

The water will fill the tub, keeping your toes warm. Try taking a shorter shower of 2-5 minutes.

2. Set up the pump & can

Place the pump’s intake into the tub (shake it to release the bubbles) and the output into the jerry can.

3. Turn on the pump & fill the can

Keep an eye on the can so it doesn’t overflow. Turn off the pump before the can is full.

4. Carry the can outside to cool

Carry the can outside and let the water cool. Don't let the water sit for more than a day to prevent bacteria growth.

5. Water trees & shrubs

Most trees and shrubs will thrive on greywater. Irrigate your garden to suit each plant’s needs.

Learn more:

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  1. Alexandra Dickerman

    This is not something I can do in a high-rise apartment in the city, but it is a great idea and best of all—to me, the animation is so cute! Thanks again Sarah, this blog is awesome! (But where is my free picture?)

    1. sarah

      : ) Thank you!

  2. Chris Hammer

    Hi Sarah, I have a plastic juice bottle in my shower to collect water. It’s not very attractive. You’ve inspired me to make it attractive or at least empty more often so bacteria doesn’t grow!

    1. sarah

      Hi Chris! That’s great! I thought you might enjoy this. I could use some of your shower timers.