Does using greywater on your fruit and vegetable garden affect your health in a negative way?

Greywater is the run-off or cast off water that lolls about when you do normal washing around the home. The sink water when you're doing the dishes, the ejected liquid that comes from the laundry, etc. Most of it involves the suds and afterwash of soapy conditions.

Will eating the fruits of plants fed greywater do anything to a human that normal watering from the heavens above (rain) or from the tap (without rinsing through soap beforehand) won't?

  • 8
    I think kitchen sink waste is not considered good greywater for anything - given the food/fat/meat/etc in the waste water.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 3:21
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    I'm of the theory that all those detergents and soap in the gray water surely cannot be good for the bacteria the plants need in the soil. The bacteria help break things down to release the nutrients for the plants.
    – Bulrush
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 19:17
  • I share Bulrush's concerns. The chemicals in the detergents, crap thrown down the drain for gray water IS NOT great for bacteria. Bacteria are crucial in our soils for our plants. Another reason NOT to mix gray water in one's septic! The septic tank and drainage RELIES on bacteria. Otherwise, the septic system is NOT working well!! We live in the boonies and use a bucket under our one and only sink. The gray water JUST from that bucket gets dumped in this one spot outside and the spot is SLIMY GRAY with NO LIFE invading the perimeter, no wasps (even with grease), no plants.
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 20:13

10 Answers 10


It is not recommended to use greywater on vegetables that you will eat directly. E.g. salads or roots. They say greywater from bathing and laundry can contain bacteria like E. coli that can get on the food and make you sick.

Greywater designs that I've seen in books and on the web typically send the water through some kind of natural filtration system (e.g. a pond / marsh) that cleans up the water before you send it to the rest of your landscape.

It sounds like you don't have this. I'd play it safe and use the greywater for ornamental plants -- and then as Doug T. mentions in his answer, test it on something you aren't in love with first.

There is a wide variety in recommendations for greywater use -- including a failure to standardize on the definition of greywater. (Some classify dish washing water as greywater, others classify it as blackwater.) See, for example, these sheets from U Mass and New Mexico State U.


Adding soap to water allows the water to dissolve oils. However pure water, as we all know, doesn't mix with oils. Since plants contain many vital oils and lipids crucial to their life, and rely on how these oils interact with plain water they absorb, soapy water would alter the fundamental chemistry at work and could only be toxic the plant.

So it really depends how gray your gray water is. Pure water is always best, but you might be able to get away with some very unsoapy gray water. I recommended testing on a plant you don't really care for.

  • 3
    If grey water detergents were such a problem for lipids and vegetable cells, then the much more concentrated household detergents (ie. soap and dish-washing liquids) would be a serious health problem. Also, as Cape Water Solutions notes, household detergents are actually known as fertilizers due to their phosphate content. In fact this is their main problem in waste water - detergent-phosphates can cause algal blooms in water courses and lakes.
    – winwaed
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 19:10
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    Also, mild soap sprays are sometimes recommended for insect control.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 1:21

Greywater is safe to use on fruit and vegetables as long as the fruit and vet are rinsed before they consumption. Exactly as you do with store bought goods.

The definition of greywater is not universal. Typically greywater is defined as water from baths, showers, hand basins, and laundry machines, however, on occasion dish-washing water is incorrectly grouped as greywater too.

The soapy content of greywater is known to serve as a fertilizer to any plants that are watered with it. It is typically advised that a phosphate free laundry detergent be used as laundry detergents can be high in Phosphates. Cleaning detergents that contain bleaches or other strong chemicals should also be avoided.

Greywater does contain bacteria but so to does cow's milk, (Many of us still drink milk) and let us not even start the mention the millions of bacteria that are found in healthy soil/dirt. Bacteria in greywater is very light sensitive and what this means is that when greywater is exposed to sunlight the bacteria die off, leaving behind nutrition for the plant.

  • Cow's milk should not contain pathogenic E Coli, and is generalised pasteurised to remove harmful bacteriae. You need references to support your claims on such an important matter. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 23:37

I have some experience watering with grey-water collected directly from our household kitchen sink that I'd like to share. First, I'd like to comment that the bacteria from the grey-water should not be any more of an issue than worm, bird, insect or other feces that are a natural part of the soil content, so long at the fruits/veggies are adequately rinsed prior to consumption and no human feces, or otherwise toxic substances find their way into your grey water. In fact, we were pouring the soapy grey water directly onto out strawberry plants, and eating them without washing first, and never got sick from this, although I would not recommend it.

To note: we are using Dr. Bronner's Castile Liquid Soap Concentrates. At first we were hand washing all of our dishes, and we were capturing 100% of the soil rinsed/washed from the dishes as well as the soap, and pouring directly onto our plants. After about 10 days, 15% of our plants, including Great Basin Rye, Columbine and a several other varieties of plants began to succumb to the grey water/Dr. Bronner's Soap mixture. We also found a dead bumblebee in our grass for the first time. I'm not positive, but quite sure that it was due to the over-abundance of Dr. Bronner's soap in the grey-water, and the bee probably died due to its application to a blooming flower.

Since discovering this, we now only collect grey-water by rinsing (no soap) dishes prior to placing in an efficient dish-washer. Then, we use this water (which contains plenty of food waste) to apply directly to our plants, and it's been working great.

You will also want to be careful when rinsing oily pans into your grey-water bucket, as an over-abundance of these oils can also harm many plants. If you are beginning to use grey-water to water your plants, please do so cautiously, while paying close attention to any changes in plant health, and if you notice any, immediately discontinue using grey-water and gently flush the plants in question with abundant fresh water (without drowning them) to help dilute the potentially plant-toxic mixture.

Grey water is a great way to offset water usage, and full grey-water systems with built in bio-remediators/filters that help break down the grey-water prior to being taken up by plants are wonderful, effective way to irrigate lawn-scapes and permaculture gardens, however hand-watering with grey-water, due to its direct nature, can be another story.

To keep it safe, avoid the use of soap and oil in your grey water collecting bucket, and avoid pouring on to blooming flowers, and you should be just fine.


I always wash my vegetables before I prepare them. However, many years ago a neighbor gave me tomates watered with washing machine water. I washed it and ate it and got sick as a dog! Seriously, just thinking about it makes me gag still after many years. My very good neighbors just gave me beautiful yellow onions..but they have been watered with grey water. I don't even know if I made onion soup that would help me. Intellectually I know they would me fine, but the old memory is still there. Just be very careful!


I live in drought-stricken southern California. For years I have been eating avocados from a tree that is only watered by my washing machine, with no problem. Only 1 or 2 of my ornamental plants do not like my other grey water. I try to collect all of my grey water and rarely waste any fresh water on plants except when first establishing them.


We have watered our tomatoes and runner beans with water from our dishwasher and washing machine, for the last 5 years. The results have been fantastic and no ill effects!

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    Welcome to the Stack and thank you for your input. Can you elaborate on "results have been fantastic?" Also it would be very interesting to know what kinds of soaps you are using for laundry and dishes.
    – That Idiot
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 12:58

This the first time I used greywater to water my plants. I have a vegetable garden. My father used greywater in the past for his garden and we ate the vegetables from it all summer and we did not get sick. As for the greywater harming the plants, I've never seen plants that look so healthy. Our garden is thriving. The water includes shower, laundry and dish water. We use Aussie as shampoo, dial glycerin soap, and dawn dishwashing liquid. We have no filtration system. The radishes are fantastic. I have not gotten sick in the past and I have not gotten sick now either. We use extra laundry detergent also


Hi all thanks to all of you and your input. My story is I live in Cape Town South Africa and were kind of put in a situation to use Grey water, Iwas very dubiouse about doing it in my Herb Garden ( Letuce Tomato Roket Raddishes and a coupl more it is a small garden so I was cocerned. Buy to my surprise we have had a wonderfull crop and we regrew what we ate.I must however say that we only used Shower water collected in buckes in the shower Or basin water after washing only the hrbs and vedge. No meat products. We are still alive and still doing it. Good luck to all who share this with me. A very happy water saver Don!!!!!

  • Sorry for bad spelling and Coprehension I am not realy computer literate. I thank you for your quick responce.Gardening is a forced hobby so I am very much a beginner so please do not quote me 0n all my advisce I speak only from my recent experiances.I will definatly share all mySucceses and failiures with you. A happy water saver Don
    – Donald
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 10:22

This the first time I used greywater to water my plants. I have a vegetable garden. My father used greywater in the past for his garden and we ate the vegetables from it all summer and we did not get sick. As for the greywater harming the plants, I've never seen plants that look so healthy. Our garden is thriving. The water includes shower, laundry and dish water. We use Aussie as shampoo, dial glycerin soap, and dawn dishwashing liquid. We have no filtration system. The radishes are fantastic. I have not gotten sick in the past and I have not gotten sick now either. The water has human scent to it so the rabbits have not eaten my garden. I have had most of my vegetable garden grow from seeds to small plants within 5-7 days. All of my plants are healthy an well watered. The radishes were fresh and tasty.

  • Caroline, did you try to edit your older post?
    – Stephie
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 21:49

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