Workin’ At The Car Wash

It’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s perfect weather to get out there and wash your car! But think about this before you suds up your lovely vehicle: where does all of the dirt, oil, and soap from your car go after you wash it?

….Are you stumped?

It gets dumped down a storm drain. Why does that matter? Because, unlike the water that you flush down the toilet, water that’s swept into a storm drain isn’t treated before it empties into a local stream or river. Now, all of the things you didn’t want on your car are in a local water body. This often includes metals, nutrients, and hydrocarbons—all things that we shouldn’t be putting in our streams. So what should you do with your dirty car? We aren’t anti-car washing in general, but there are some more stream-friendly ways to do it. Consider doing any of these:

  • Use a commercial car wash.

Commercial car washes either treat their water before discharging it to the sewer system (where it will be further treated) or recycle their water, depending on state and local requirements.

  • Wash your car on grass, gravel, or a permeable surface.

This way, pollutants can be partially filtered out before reaching the water table.

  • If you’re hosting a carwash as a fundraiser, block off the stormdrain or catch runoff with an insert.
  • Use biodegradable soaps.

These small steps can make a big impact. According to studies cited by the US EPA, 73% of people surveyed washed their own cars and allowed their wash-water to drain to pavement. Help us chip away at this 73% by taking the actions above and encouraging your friends and neighbors to do the same.

Rachel Beebe

Stormwater Aide

July 2014

Rachel Beebe