Using a car wash is a more environmentally friendly way of caring for your vehicle, many experts say. World Environment Day, June 5, is a great opportunity to educate yourself on why that is.
The run-off from washing your car at home contains grease, gasoline, oil, exhaust residue, bits of rubber and road tar. Oil products that flow unfiltered into streams and lakes can harm fish and wildlife that drink the water.
Even the detergent you use might be harmful, especially if it contains phosphates. Phosphates, a chemical that also is used in fertilizer, affects rivers and lakes because it encourages the growth of algae, a process that robs the water of oxygen needed by other wildlife.
Detergents can poison all types of aquatic life if they are present in sufficient quantities, and this includes the biodegradable detergents, according to Lenntech, a Dutch water treatment solutions company. All detergents destroy the external mucus layers that protect fish from bacteria and parasites. Detergents can also damage gills.
In addition to polluting the environment, home car washing is wasteful and uses more clean water than necessary, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Somebody who washes a car at home uses an average of 116 gallons of water to wash a car. Most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water for the entire process than a homeowner uses just to rinse the car.
If you must wash your car at home, the EPA recommends:
- Use biodegradable, phosphate-free, water-based cleaners
- Use a spray gun with flow restriction to minimize water use.
- Wash in an area that absorbs water, such as grass or gravel.
- Always empty wash buckets into sinks or toilets.
“The best way to minimize the effect washing your car has on the environment is to use a commercial car wash. Most (carwash) locations reuse wash water several times before sending it to a treatment plant,” an article on the EPA website says.
The International Carwash Association (ICA) encourages its members to participate in itsWaterSavers program, which requires that a car wash discharge all of its used water to local water treatment or to a permitted leech or septic field. The certification also requires regular maintenance of equipment.
Haji Tehrani, president and CEO of Drive & Shine car care centers, is on the board of directors of the ICA. He said he has been encouraging even higher standards, including the use of biodegradable soaps.
Tehrani would like the use of hydrofluoric acid (HF) banned from car washes. Although the chemical is poisonous, a diluted solution is used in many car washes because it is cheap and effective at removing road grime.
He says that HF destroys rubber seals, damages paint, etches windshields and is terrible for the environment. Tehrani refuses to use it in his car washes.
Instead, Drive & Shine operations have 200-foot tunnels that negate the need for such nasty acids. The longer tunnels allow his car washes to use safe soaps, Tehrani says.
“We use biodegradable soap,” Tehrani said. “Most car washes with short tunnels use hydrofluoric acid for cleaning.”
The longer tunnels provide more time for soap to be effective. The effect is similar to taking extra time to wash your hands. The longer you scrub, the soapier your hands get while the soap becomes more effective.
Even with such long tunnels, Drive & Shine uses just 30 to 50 gallons of fresh water for each car.
Several of the Drive & Shine locations recycle the used water. They also have baffled filtration systems to remove sediment from the water. The sediment removal eases the strain on sewage treatment systems and allows for either disposal or use of the sediment in other products.
Taking care of the environment is part of being a good citizen and neighbor, Tehrani said. “We live in the communities we serve. We’d better be nice to their environment. We need to be good citizens to our current and future generations.”