Workin' At The Carwash

By Simone Slykhous

September 4, 2013 5 min read

You name them. You give them fuel so they have the energy to get started in the morning. You yell at others when they cut them off. You leave an imprint in their lives. Or at least an imprint in their seats. Your car is an integral part of your life, and regular washings are an important step in maintaining your baby.

Aside from just keeping your car shiny, washing can protect your paint job, keep the value of your car high and prevent rust. Salt and dirt on the road during winter can eat away at the paint of your car over time, according to Zap Car Wash & Lube's website. And the dry dust of summer can leave potentially damaging residue on your car.

Unfortunately, all this year-round washing can be harmful to the environment. According to the International Carwash Association, washing your car at home can use between 80 and 140 gallons of water. And the dirt, grime and chemicals from your car get rinsed into nearby storm drains, emptying into the nearest body of water. Think about that the next time you head to the beach. However, hope is not lost. There are a number of ways to treat your car without harming the environment more than necessary.

*Commercial Carwashes

As an alternative to washing your car at home, commercial carwashes (sometimes known as "auto spas") only need about 45 gallons of water and are required by federal law to drain the used water into sewers so it can be treated. Just be sure to skip the extra treatments and waxes offered, as they are unlikely to have eco-friendly options.

*Self-Service Carwash

The runoff water from self-service carwashes is also sent to a water treatment plant. And they tend to require even less water than commercial carwashes. As you can bring your own supplies -- including biodegradable soap, homemade window cleaner or other natural alternatives -- this is an even greener way to get your ride sparkling.


If you are keen on washing your car yourself, get off the pavement! According to Organic Gardening magazine, this is the simplest tip for all car care fans. "Park your vehicle on a flat, permeable surface (lawn, gravel, or dirt) rather than on pavement. Natural microbes in grass, soil and dirt work as natural filters, breaking down some of the nasty compounds in your wash water and preventing them from running off into the nearest storm drain." It might be a bit disconcerting for your family or neighbors to see your car parked in the lawn, but the environmental payoff is worth it.

Also, if you must use water, reduce the amount you're tempted to use by preparing two buckets ahead of time -- one for soapy water and the other for rinse water. Measuring your water use by the bucketful, rather than a continuous spray from the hose, will limit your consumption. Buckets also allow easy transport from your lawn to your home, so you can dispose of the dirty water in a sink or toilet rather than on your sidewalk. According to Calie Shackleford, health coach and owner of Studio 3 Fitness, you should be mindful of the amount of Castile soap or other cleaner you use. If you accidentally drop in a cupful rather than a capful, you will have a rough time rinsing all of the soap off your car. This can be especially detrimental when washing out in the hot sun. The heat tends to dry the soap onto your car faster than you are able to rinse it, increasing your water use.


Consider looking into products that require no water at all. Eco Touch manufactures a complete line of waterless washing and detailing supplies. All of the products are nontoxic, biodegradable, phosphate-free and on the CleanGredients database of cleaning product chemical ingredients that are better for the environment. For cars that don't need so much scrubbing, grab your bottle of window or all-purpose cleaner and a couple of soft, absorbent rags or microfiber cleaning cloths. Good old-fashioned elbow grease beats any other cleaner.

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