Eco-Friendly Car Wash

DON'T DO THIS: Washing a car at home is the less-environmental option. Take it to a commercial car wash. Photo: SYA Extreme/Flickr.

No matter how concerned you are about the environment, if you own a vehicle, you've got to wash it. Road salt, tar, dirt and other residue builds up on a car's bodywork, tires, brake pedals and undercarriage, putting looks and performance at risk. There's a considerable environmental impact to building, running and maintaining a vehicle in the first place, so extending its life should be your top priority.

But what's the best way to give your vehicle an eco-friendly car wash? You might think you can save water and energy by sudsing up your vehicle in your own driveway, but the truth is, going to a commercial car wash is usually the greenest choice.

Environmental Benefits of a Commercial Car Wash

Of course, the biggest factor in the environmental impact of washing your car is water usage. When going through a commercial car wash it may seem as if far more water is used than what you would spray on the car with a hose, but most car washes utilize high-pressure water nozzles that use water more efficiently. According to the International Car Wash Association, the average person washing a vehicle at home uses a whopping 80 to 140 gallons of water, as opposed to the 45 typically used at a car wash.

Furthermore, some car washes recycle and reuse the water that is collected in drains. Even the ones that don't are required by federal law to drain their wastewater into sewer systems.

When you wash your car at home, have you ever thought about where all of that water is going, and what might be in it? Rather than entering the sewer or a septic tank for treatment, car wash rinse water is typically funneled into storm drains, eventually emerging into rivers, canals, lakes and other waterways brimming with aquatic life that can be adversely affected by the chemicals it may contain.

And the rinse water from washing a car contains far more than just dirt, dust and potentially toxic soap. It can be contaminated with heavy metals such as copper from brake pads and zinc from tires, not to mention residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline and motor oils.

The Green Way to Do It at Home

If you're still determined to wash your car at home, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to lessen the environmental impact.

  • Choose non-toxic, biodegradable soap that is free of phosphates, fragrance, chlorine and petroleum-based ingredients.
  • Avoid using acid-based wheel cleaners or hose-off engine degreasers.
  • Don't pour your bucket of dirty water onto your driveway, sidewalk or street. Take it inside and dispose of it in a sink or toilet.
  • Ensure that your car is not leaking oil or any other fluids.
  • Wash your car on the lawn or over an unpaved surface if possible, so the rinse water can be filtered through dirt before reaching a storm drain or waterway.
  • Turn off the hose when you're sudsing up the car and rinse quickly.
  • Use reusable cloths rather than disposable products to wash and dry your car.
  • Consider wiping down your car in wet weather to loosen the dirt, but keep in mind that doing this repeatedly may dull the finish.
  • Try an eco-friendly waterless car wash product like Eco Touch for small jobs in between washings.

Looking for a happy medium? Try a self-serve car wash station, where you can bring your own eco-friendly car wash products, control the amount of water that you use with a pressurized water dispenser and drain the rinse water into sewer grates.

Have other tips for an eco-friendly car wash? Leave us a note in the comments below.