Drought gets hairy: Salons reflect on water saving

The small unit sitting on a shampoo sink at downtown salon Reflections doesn't look like much a few pieces of PVC pipe and some tubes. But according to local wastewater engineer Ron Grayson, this equipment could be an invaluable tool in fighting the drought.

Grayson runs Crozet-based Custom Environmental Technology Inc. with his wife Claire, and if the couple have their way, local salons, restaurants, and even homeowners may be installing this mini-water recycling unit before too long.

Based on the huge water purifiers Grayson sells to industries, the smaller creation, originally used as a model to demonstrate the system for his industrial customers, now has a patent pending, Grayson says.

Salons such as Reflections are considering installing the unit, which will cost approximately $3,000, not including the price of plumbing hook-ups.

One-time Senate candidate Jane Maddux, who co-owns Reflections with Edgar Martin, says that though salons don't use nearly as much water as one might think Reflections averages about 1,000 gallons per month she believes every little bit helps.

Since the unit can handle 50 to 60 gallons per day more than the salon uses and has an efficiency rate of 80 to 90 percent (some water is lost to evaporation and to the purifying process), Claire Grayson says Reflections could expect to see its water use drop to as little as 200 gallons a month. Though a savings of 800 gallons is just a drop in the bucket, if every business used such a system, the drain on our reservoirs could be lessened significantly, Claire points out.

The unit works by reverse osmosis, in which pressure forces a solution with a higher concentration the polluted water– through a filter into a solution with a lower concentration the purified water.

The process is quick, as is demonstrated at Reflections, where a jar of cloudy water polluted with shampoo, conditioner, and even a lye-based relaxer– is pumped through the unit. Almost immediately, clear water emerges from the machine into an adjacent container. The water is odorless, has no sticky feel, and Ron Grayson says it's ready to be reused on the next client's hair.

Grayson says his system can be adjusted so that water is purified for a variety of uses it can even be returned to potable status.

The water goes through three filtration processes: particle filtration, which removes sand, hair, dirt, skin particles, etc.; ultra-violet filtration, which kills bacteria; and carbon filtration, which removes organic matter as well as some heavy metals (Brita water systems use carbon filters).

Following the filtration, the water is collected in a 50-60 gallon tank, which Ron says would be stored in a closet or other out-of-sight area. For businesses that would need to reheat the filtered water (such as hair salons), Claire says instant heating units can be installed (at an additional cost).

Whether these recycling units will become as ubiquitous in salons as paper plates now are in restaurants remains to be seen. But if the drought situation gets any hairier, reusing water may become a do or dye situation.


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