I've recently discovered that my mother in-law has a planter outside her kitchen window which is catching run off from her sink. There is a pool of water and a smell that can now be detected from the other side of the house. Not sure if its seeping into/under the foundation or if its just the smell.

Aside from worrying about the stagnant water; what else do she need to be concerned with and what is she looking at in terms of cost and fines from the HOAA etc. From what I know its been like that for over 2 years! Is this ok? I personally dont even want my kids playing in her back yard. What can I do to help make this... more pleasant to be around?

The planter is a concrete barrier that extends about 2 feet from the house and is maybe 8 feet long. Its like a trough and the sink/garbage disposal basically drains into it. Do I add bark? A chemical? Powder? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Talking her into a plumber but... yea. I gotta go post some where else for help with that. Thank you for your time.


  • 5
    Sounds like a gray water system.
    – BMitch
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 14:45
  • It's basically a compost bin and needs to be treated as such (i.e. seal it up if you don't want to smell it). Not much else you can do for decomposing food.
    – Jeff Meden
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 15:36
  • 3
    A properly maintained compost heap has no more smell than a piLe of leaves does. The problem with composting sink runoff is that it will get stuff that doesn't belong in a compost bin -- specifically oils and meats -- and those will smell bad. If you're going to have a greywater system, it needs to drain somewhere that these can break down without your having to smell them. It may be possible to make the planter filter things enough, but that may require actively ,aontaining the planter chemistry specifically for the purpose.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 16:28

3 Answers 3


In California where I live, gray water systems are allowed by some localities, but generally only for showers, laundry, and lavatory sinks. Kitchen sinks tend to have grease that is too hard to break down.


Thank you for the responses. I've discovered that water from that bin is being drained into the street. There IS a pipe that comes from the backyard to the street so the gray water system is making more sense.

I thought she was about to be swallowed up by a sinkhole. Gotta figure out what to do about the smell.


Rather than see the grey water as a problem think of it as helping the planet. What your mother-in-law is doing is similar to composting. As long as the water entering the planter is not from the toilet and doesn't contain animal fat there shouldn't be any cause for alarms. The water and vegetable scraps are readily consumed and absorbed by microbes and plants in the planter bed.

If the water isn't being diffused into the planter soil it is because either the ground is so saturated it can't absorb any more liquid or there is a non-permeable layer under the top soul preventing fluid from percolating deeper.

It may be wise to install a by-pass valve or a three-way valve so that drain water can be diverted back to the house drain when the planter soil is flooded. This is a simple plumbing set-up that has a ball valve at the beginning of the grey water plumbing line.

To get rid of the standing odor simply shovel a layer of dirt on top of the planters' soil. This will add more microbes that will consume the food particles causing the smell.

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