Bucket Flushing

SurviveLA is researching greywater systems and today we’ve got our first tip on recycling your water. First a definition. Greywater is the waste water that comes out of your shower, sinks, and washing machine. Blackwater is the icky stuff that comes out of your toilet and because of the risk of contamination it should not be reused. For now we’ll lump the kitchen sink in with the toilet since food scraps, particularly for meat eaters can quickly turn your greywater into rancid blackwater.

Greywater systems range from the simple to the complex and we’ll start with the cheap and easy — bucket flushing. Simply keep a bucket next to the shower and collect the water that you run before the shower gets hot. Since you haven’t even stepped into the shower this water is pure water, and not even technically greywater. You can use this water on plants or to flush the toilet manually by pouring it directly in the bowl.

It’s also possible to disconnect the bathroom sink from the sewer system and send the water into a bucket that you keep under the sink. This water is greywater since it’s contaminated with soap and toothpaste, so don’t let it sit around for long or it will get stinky. If you disconnect your bathroom sink, make sure that you keep water in the trap (that u-shaped pipe), otherwise unpleasant sewer odors will fill your bathroom. Alternately, you can cap the sewer pipe or install a diverter valve.

One last warning. Apparently around twenty-five kids drown in buckets every year in the US, so don’t leave buckets unattended if you have little ones, though the danger is mostly from larger five gallon buckets.

So flush the SurviveLA way — bucket flush!

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  1. I was confused about this in the book too. By “bucket flushing” do you mean diverting the sink water into a bucket? Or are you talking about something that you do with a bucket to actually flush the toilet? Several times in the book it sounds like you mean the latter, but never explain it. What does that mean?

  2. Maren:

    Bucket flushing means flushing with a bucket full of water, regardless of how the water gets into the bucket.

    Here, and in the book, we’re saying that it’s easy to collect water from your shower and bathtub (ie catch that cold water that is usually wasted while you wait for the hot water to come up through the pipes). That bucket full of water can then be used to flush the toilet.

    This is a super-easy method of water conservation, especially if combined with less frequent flushing.

    However, some more radical folks do cut their undersink pipes and put a bucket beneath the sink to collect the waste water. They’ll collect all their sink water and use that to flush.

  3. I still don’t get it. In your book, you bucket flush before cleaning the toilet I’m ready to try, but the toile has water in it already. If I dump a bucket of water into it, I think it will overflow. Right?

  4. @Ms. Minkin: Ah, I see the confusion. The term bucket flushing is used in two slightly different ways. One is the act of saving water by collecting shower water or whatever and using that to flush your toilet. That’s what this post is about. The other “bucket flush” is to rapidly pour a bucket (or half a bucket) of water into your toilet to lower the water level so you can clean it.

    The terms overlap because its the same act–flushing with external water. The intent is just slightly different.

    To answer your question–I’d say, try it! It won’t overflow. The water level will drop. You could probably get the water level to rise by slowly drizzling in a whole bucket of water into the bowl, but if you dump it fast the water level will drop. That’s how toilets are made.

    You can also lower the water level in the bowl by using your toilet brush and repeatedly plunging it into the bottom of the toilet. Pretend you’re trying to shove the water down the hole.

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