Saturday, July 27, 2013

Going Green: Wash that Car with Caution

Ahhh, sunny weather has finally arrived. Looking at the vehicle in your driveway, you realize that you had long ago forgotten its true color, which is now indiscernible beneath the grime accumulated during the Pacific Northwest's famous rainy weather. With the birds chirping and the sun shining, you gleefully unearth the car-washing supplies from the corner of the garage, and head out to the driveway. Sure, everyone likes having a clean vehicle, and the satisfaction one enjoys in seeing a shiny car after an hour’s worth of scrubbing is undeniable. However, how many of us consider the environmental cost of having a clean vehicle? There are several things to consider before taking to the driveway with your car-washing supplies this season.

 Source: Bing "car wash" images

If your car is in need of washing, the most environmentally-conscious choice is taking your car down to the nearest commercial or self-serve car wash—you know, the ones you drive your car into, then sit back and enjoy as the sprayers, scrubbers, and brushes do all the work for you. Hard to believe? Here is why this is the best choice:


Commercial car washes are required by federal law to discharge their wastewater into the sewer system, where the water is routed to a treatment plant (the same ones that treat household wastewater) where the soap, oil, and other pollutants are removed before the water is discharged into waterways such as creeks, rivers, Puget Sound, etc. 

When you wash your car at home in the driveway, that water runs straight down the pavement and into the stormwater system, where it is discharged directly into lakes, rivers, creeks, Puget Sound—whichever is the nearest body of water—without first being treated. As a result, all of the car washing soap, as well as the oil, heavy metals, antifreeze, and other pollutants washed off your car will wash into our waterways, where they poison wildlife and threaten the safety of our own water supply. For example, the surfactants used in soap have been found to kill fish, as they coat the fishes’ gills and cause them to suffocate. Do we really want that to happen to our precious northwest salmon? That is one reason why the non-profit organization Puget Sound Starts Here recommends commercial car washes.


At around 45 gallons per vehicle, commercial car washes actually use less water than washing your car at home. At-home car washing uses between 80-140 gallons of water, depending on water flow and whether or not you leave the hose on between washing and rinsing your car. Conserving water is always important, even in the rainy Pacific Northwest.

If you MUST wash at home…
If, for whatever reason, you have no choice but to wash your car at home, there are a few things you can do to make the process a little more environmentally-friendly:
  • Wash your car on your lawn, or on any other permeable surface (dirt, gravel). This will allow the water to filter down through the ground, removing some of the pollutants before the wash water reaches the nearest body of water.
  •  Use car wash soap with biodegradable surfactants, which are intended to break down in the environment before they can cause problems for wildlife. Examples of these car soaps include Gliptone Wash N Glow, Green Earth Technologies Car Wash, and Simple Green Car Wash.
  • Or, make your own “green” car wash soap.  A quick internet search will provide dozens of recipes, even organic options!

Good luck with your car washing… keep it green!

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