How Clean Is Your Gutter Water?

In warm weather, a popular activity for kids and adults alike is playing in a swimming pool. Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point where it is easy to keep pool water clean and free of most irritants and disease-causing germs.

In the U.S. and other developed countries, most people take the cleanliness of a swimming pool for granted. However, some nations are still struggling with this issue. For example, a news report from India earlier this month revealed how one facility is suspected of allowing gutter water to leak into its swimming pool. There have even been reports of swimmers being subjected to skin diseases.

This brings up an interesting question: how clean is the water in your gutters?

Gutter Water

It should be pointed out that in India, “gutters” are what we consider to be “sewers.” Therefore, the water that is allegedly seeping into the Indian pool is likely filled with contaminants like human waste, garbage, and maybe even harmful chemicals. Here, the water that is found in gutters on homes does not contain those filthy pollutants (unless it has been left standing for a long time).

In fact, rain that falls directly into gutters is quite clean. But this makes up only a fraction of the water in most guttering systems, because most of the water comes from roof runoff. As the water travels down a slanted roof, it picks up dirt, grime, animal waste, and other particulates before it reaches the gutter. And once this water pours out of your downspout and onto the ground, it can absorb even more contaminants as it either seeps into soil or flows along concrete or asphalt.

However, many homeowners try to capture the gutter water before it reaches the ground. To do this, they construct rainwater harvesting systems that can be as simple as a rain barrel under a downspout, or as complex as a network of pipes that leads to a large storage tank. Rainwater harvesting enables homeowners to use that water for other purposes, which saves them money on water bills while helping the environment.

So let’s answer the question of cleanliness by listing what you can and cannot do with your gutter water if it is collected before it hits the ground.

Can you water plants, grass, and landscaping with it? Yes. It’s as nourishing as rainwater is for all types of flora.

Can you wash your car with it? Yes. There’s not enough particulates in it to damage your car’s finish, especially if you use soap.

Can you fill a birdbath with it? Yes. Birds and other animals can drink that water without experiencing any harmful effects.

Can you fill toilets with it? Yes. Many homeowners pipe harvested rainwater into a toilet in their basement or first floor, so it fills up the tank after flushing instead of tapping into municipal water sources.

Can you wash clothing with it? Yes. You can either hand wash your clothes or pipe it directly into your washing machine; the detergent or laundry soap you use will negate any effects from dirt or particulates.

Can you let your kids play in it? Yes. Any contamination of gutter water is not enough to harm the skin of children.

Can you drink it? No. Gutter water is not potable because the impurities in it will adversely affect your digestive system. However, if you have a filtering device (like one used for camping), you can run the gutter water through it to make it potable if necessary.