Environmentally Friendly Car Wash – Not in Your Driveway!

Washing The Car

Are you one of those people who think you’ll save energy and water if you wash your car at home?

Sorry. Just the opposite is true.  When you wash your car in your driveway or on the street, the wash and rinse water – loaded with dirt, exhaust fumes, oil and detergent – runs off down the storm drain and eventually into rivers, lakes and streams.  All that dirt can contaminate the water and threaten the fish, birds and other wildlife that live there. Plus, washing a car at home usually uses far more water than at a car wash, since so many people just leave the hose running while they scrub away.

The alternative?

An environmentally-friendly car wash saves water, energy, and chemicals.

Commercial car washes use computer-controlled systems and high-pressure nozzles and pumps to minimize water use.

Many facilities also recycle and re-use the rinse water. As a result, automatic car washes may use 50% less water than someone who washes her car at home: 45 gallons per car at the car wash compared to between 80 and 140 gallons at home.

Plus, by law (in both the U.S. and Canada), commercial car washes must drain their wastewater into sewer systems so it can be treated before being discharged back into waterways.

The downside of many commercial car washes is that they use sprays and cleansers on the inside of the car that may contain phthalates and other chemicals you don’t want to inhale. Either bring your own and give them to the cleaning staff, or do the interior cleaning yourself. Make sure you leave the windows in the car down for a few minutes after the cleaning to get fresh air circulating.

If you must wash your car at home:

* Do so on lawn or gravel to minimize run-off into the street.

* Use a biodegradable liquid soap that contains no phosphates or synthetic fragrances. like Dr. Bronner’s , or brands like Greenworks or Bright Green that are easily available in most grocery and big box stores.

* Turn off the hose while you’re soaping the car up; rinse quickly.

* Skip throwaway paper towels in favor of sponges to scrub and cotton towels, used t-shirts or microfibers towels to dry.

My little trick: I often wipe down my car when it’s raining. The rain loosens the dirt and grime; I wipe off the vehicle with towels  I can launder. When the rain stops, the car is clean. It didn’t cost me anything, and it didn’t pollute, either.

Waterless Car Care? Yup. Try Eco Touch and
Freedom Waterless Car Wash, both of which are phosphate-free and biodegradable.

Want to green clean the inside of your car? Here’s how.

Want more green living tips? Get your own copy of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World.

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21 Responses to Environmentally Friendly Car Wash – Not in Your Driveway!

  1. Nelly July 1, 2009 at 7:41 pm #

    It is an interesting idea of washing car in the rain, but personally I hate rain, and noone can take me out to wash my car while it is raining.

  2. Jen July 8, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    This was very enlightening, and will certainly make me feel less guilty the next time I buy a car wash! 🙂
    However, car finishes are not meant to be cleaned with soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s mentioned above), as this will strip the wax and damage your finish. That’s why they make specialized car cleansers — and I found this out the hard way. My car was never the same after I used soap.
    Someone needs to develop an eco-friendly auto cleanser!

  3. Kerry Coates July 23, 2009 at 1:23 am #

    GNLD’s LDC cleaner is what I use on my vehicle. It is biodegradable and contains no harmful chemicals as well as leaving the vehicle streak free for those “quick” rinses. It rinses clean without residue and does not harm the finish of your vehicle. Even though I use this marvelous cleaner, I still wash my vehicle at home on my flat gravel parking area and use water sparingly. GNLD’s LDC was used in the year 2000 to wash the oil off the penguins when that oil tanker (the Treasure) spill happened off the coast of south Africa. It is gentle enough to wash a penguin — and gentle enough for your car and your hands, yet disolves grease and grime! You can watch the YouTube video about the penguin rescue here:

  4. gerald August 13, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    cool blog!

  5. Harry Toye January 18, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    Writing from Ireland to tell you of an American invention that you should be proud of 🙂 It is the solution to the polution of our groundwater from driveway car washing (as Diane points out). There is a product where 100% of the ingredients are derived from bio-based organic sources and it’s v.o.c. compliant! You can Clean, Polish, Wax and Seal/Protect your car without using ANY water whatsoever. (You save energy and reduce co2 emissions as it requires energy to supply water and dispose of wastewater).
    Invented FIFTEEN years ago by an American classic car collector from New Jersey. Visit http://www.nowet.com or if you’re ever over here in the emerald isle visit http://www.nowet.ie
    Best regards and Happy Holiday,

  6. Maynard May 24, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    You can wash it even in your garage so you don’t have to worry about getting wet. This video might help you.

  7. Samantha McKee June 9, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Thanks for your blog. I work for a small chain of car washes in Canada an I am looking to start educating my neighbors and customers to the hazards of drive way washing, and to teach better ways to do it!

  8. Diane MacEachern June 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Glad to hear it, Samantha. I presume your car washes collect and recycle their waste water? That’s the best way to go. Thanks for writing.

  9. Colorful Canary January 10, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    While I agree with some of the tips the car-wash is not at all friendly, they use toxic cleaners and silicone based products that still drain back into the environment….Learning how to clean at home with natural ingredients which won’t hurt the environment is the best way: http://colorfulcanary.blogspot.com/2010/09/auto-spa-day-non-toxic-car-detailing.html

  10. Laurence Modithre January 24, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    Wow, not a lot of people know this. But now that you mentioned it, there is much more sense in having your car washed in commercial establishments. Car washes usually have controlled amounts of water too, as compared to home washing. At least with commercial car washing, scheduling and cost can also help you limit frequency, or at least only have it done when needed.

  11. Laurence Modithre January 24, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Wow, not a lot of people know this. But now that you mentioned it, there is much more sense in having your car washed in commercial establishments. Car washes usually have controlled amounts of water too, as compared to home washing. At least with commercial car washing, scheduling and cost can also help you limit frequency, or at least only have it done when needed.

  12. Diane MacEachern February 2, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Thanks for everyone’s suggestions. If you clean at home, use eco-friendly products and don’t keep the hose running. If you go to a car wash, make sure they recycle the water and also use least-toxic products.

  13. Blue Rain Express Car Wash May 31, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Great info! Many people think car washes tax the environment, but modern car washes use a state-of-the-art Water Recovery system to effectively capture, filter and re-use the wash water in the wash process. Our car wash uses less water than most people use in a shower each day. Thanks for getting the word out! http://www.BlueRainExpress.com Pelham, AL

  14. Car Detailing Anchorage June 12, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    I have always washed my car in my driveway because I thought it was more environmentally friendly. I guess I am going to have to change my way of thinking. Thanks for the great info.

  15. Sharon W. Maddox September 5, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Thanks a lot for this review an car washing) Quite a humorous but helpful post! Hope to find some more informative entries here.

  16. Cecilia October 16, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    You have some interesting ideas! I usually take my car to the car wash, but sometimes I do it at home as well. Especially now since I got an HID kit to brighten up my headlights, I am trying to take better care of them and I worry about what the car wash does to car parts like that. Thanks for posting, I will definitely keep these ideas in mind!

  17. EmmaCay January 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Sounds like a commercial auto detailing in Mesa, AZ is the way to go. I have always washed my car at home, but not anymore. You have changed my mind. Thank you for sharing your insights. http://www.deluxedetailandtint.com/detailing.html

  18. Auto Parts Accessories March 7, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this post. I found it very informative and interesting. Getting your car washed at a professional car wash is definitely a better idea. The car gets cleaned better and it is better for the environment.

  19. Kosal Da March 15, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Thank you for this great information. Do you happen to know of a good hood exhaust cleaning company in seattle?

  20. William Walker August 16, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    I didn’t know that another term for auto wreckers is auto recycling. Thank you for giving me such great info.
    William | http://www.cookstownauto.com

  21. Slick August 16, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I agree with this. I stopped washing my car once I discovered a touchless wash up the street from my house. They do a better job than me in a fraction of the time and it only cost $12.

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