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Monday, August 22, 2022

Update on Our Kitchen Water Reclamation

Earlier in the summer, I discussed how we planned on saving most of our kitchen waste water for watering the garden. We have 2 rain barrels that fill in spring from roof run-off. We use this water exclusively for watering food-producing plants. By mid-July, both rain barrels have been emptied, and in past years we've mostly used municipal water for the garden. (We've saved some water from the kitchen, but not a big effort before this year.)

This year I came up with a workable plan for using the kitchen waste water. I put a 5-gallon bucket just outside the kitchen door and started using a plastic dish pan for rinsing produce, to catch hand-washing water, and for rinsing basically clean kitchen tools (like measuring cups) that I plan on reusing shortly. My plan was to dump the plastic dishpan into the bucket on the deck, which I would later empty into the nearest rain barrel for watering at a later time. Early in the implementation of the plan, I did all of the above. As time progressed, I often found it just easier to water parts of the garden directly from the dish pan or large bucket. However, we still poured this water into the rain barrel when I didn't have a need to water any of the garden.

Anyway, I seem to have gotten the whole family on board with this plan to salvage waste water, and we've all done our share to wash hands or rinse vegetables over or in the dish pan. We've also used the not-as-clean water from washing a pot or pan or cooled bean-cooking water directly on a couple of fruit trees just outside the kitchen instead of using municipal water for shrubbery and trees. (We normally have to set a hose on our trees once or twice per summer as our summers here are quite dry.) In addition, I've urged everyone in the house to take much, much shorter showers. A couple of us have been taking navy showers. Your standard 10-minute shower can use as much as 60 gallons of water, whereas a navy shower done right can use as little as 3 gallons. (Unfamiliar with a navy shower? Basically, you get your body wet as soon as you turn the water on, then turn the water off while you soap up. Finally, you turn the water on just long enough to rinse the soap off. It's easier to do in the heat of summer when I don't mind a cold shower.

Even with saving as much water as we could, I did still need to use municipal water for the garden on many days.

So here's what I've been waiting for, some sort of confirmation that our efforts have been making a difference. I received the bi-monthly water bill that covered mid-June through mid-August on Monday. And . . . we did save water! Our usage was greater than the previous 2-month period (mid-April through mid-May), but that was to be expected as we never need to water the garden in that earlier time period. But, in comparing this same time period between this year and last year, we shaved about 20% off of our water usage this year. We still have another couple of weeks where our garden will need regular watering. But the days are getting shorter and slightly cooler, meaning the garden will need less watering as we move closer to September. We will continue with water-saving methods, with hopes of receiving a water bill for the next cycle that doesn't make me feel sick to my stomach.


  1. 20% is a significant drop. I'm sure it helped that you got the whole family on board. I don't think that I could take a Navy shower, but I could take shorter ones. Summer or winter, I love a hot shower and I have been known to linger. However, I have a timer in the shower with me now, and they are shorter than they used to be.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I was pretty pleased that we were able to save as much water as we did, comparing one year to another. Of course, we have a completely brown lawn (good side of that is no mowing) and we've had to make the adjustments to our routines to skimp on water usage, like the super short showers and semi-regular sponge baths. A timer is a great reminder for getting out of the shower. We used a small kitchen timer for all of my kids when they were growing up, so they would be aware of what's an acceptable amount of time in the shower for our budget. I will say that I'll be glad when winter arrives and I don't need to water anything, so I can take longer, hot showers.

  2. We do some other rather weird things with our kitchen sink water. It might be gross to some but it is our way of using less water even though we have a well.

    Twice per day I fill a wash basin about 1 to 1 1/2 gallons of piping hot water to wash dishes. I wash my dishes in that hot water and then leave it there to wipe down a counter with a cloth and then as it cools and is ready to drain I wash pet bowls. Finally, it gets cool enough to drain. There is no grease or anything in that water to worry about clogging the drain. Toward dinner time I do the same thing but this time the water gets drained right away so there is no chance of a clog. Another thing I do is wash dishes, put them in the drying rack in the sink then when everything is washed I rinse them all using the sprayer by the sink. Often I let them air dry or sometimes hubby dries as I wash and rinse. Even though I have a dishwasher I only use it about once per month to make sure it stays in good condition. I feel like we use less water, have time together and get the job done until the next day. Sadly, my youngest child thinks this is gross and unsanitary and that I should use my dishwasher. I have earned the name "old fashioned" and feel like it's not a nice thing. Dishwashers are a luxury and my parents didn't have one so we always had no choice but to hand wash.

    I also take short showers but the same child and her husband take long showers sometimes up to 3 per day. I often wear clothing several times before they need to be washed including bath towels. I insist several uses per towel but again, to them that is gross and unsanitary. On that matter, I don't even wash bed sheets once per week.

    Maybe I am "old fashioned" and "gross" but I feel like we're very neat and clean people just frugal in our ways and careful with how we spend our money.


    1. Hi Alice,
      I don't think your procedure for washing dishes is gross or unsanitary at all. Neither of my grandmothers ever had a dishwasher. And one grandmother, who lived in her own home until 1993, didn't even want one. She thought it would be a nuisance to have to take care of it (repairs, buying special detergent and de-spotters --she had hard water). Whereas her hands would always be in "working condition".

      We wash bath towels once per week, each of us gets 1 towel for the week. That's what I grew up with, so it seems normal to me. I know families that wash towels a couple of times per week. I always hang the towels so that they are single layer (not folded over) spread across the bars. They dry out quickly and don't get mildewy smelling that way. Of course, you need a whole towel bar per towel doing that and can't cram bunch of wet towels onto a rack, especially in a damp climate like what I have. And I always wear pants, jeans, skirts, shorts multiple times before washing. In winter (when I sweat less) I wear tops a couple of days in a row before washing. In summer, I'm working pretty hard physically, so I wear a top one day before washing. It's gentler on clothes to wash them a little less frequently than is common in our culture today.

      I think your approach is sensible, Alice.

    2. Oh Lili, your mention of "navy showers" reminded me of my dear, sweet, departed father. He WAS Navy, having enlisted at 17 to join his other five (!) brothers in WWII. I think he always did navy showers. I wasn't always compliant and still like longer showers. But I do still remember his example and practice occasional navy showers while trying to limit the length of regular showers as well. Incidentally, he also built an outdoor solar shower back in the 70s where he had his navy showers and captured gray water from the washing machine to water trees. He was ahead of his time. But he taught ecology, so lived what he taught.

      Alice, I remember my grandmother filling a basin of water for washing dishes and one for rinsing. I'm sure the dirty water was used for plants afterward and the rinse water became the wash water for the next meal. We do use our dishwasher, but with just 2 of us, we only run it every 3-4 days as I'm an expert at dishwasher Tetris!

      Like Lili, we hang our towels single folded and use one towel a whole week as well. I'm sure we don't wash our sheets as often as others, but we're good with our washing and hygiene habits. I do think that sometimes we Americans can go a bit overboard with our cleanliness, like using a towel on a clean, freshly washed person and then washing said towel after one use.

      Thanks for the sweet memory, Lili. Lynn

    3. Hi Lynn,
      Thank you for sharing about your father. He was ahead of his time.
      I love hearing about your grandmother's dishwashing process. She sounds like she was a common sense person.
      You've had some great role models, Lynn!


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