When it comes to the environment, cars may not have earned the best reputation. Driving less often and using fuel efficient vehicles can help minimize some of the environmental impacts, but in reality not all problems stem from driving habits alone. One of the most basic steps we can take to help make our car a little greener is by changing the way we wash it.
When washing your car at home, water that becomes contaminated with cleaning chemicals, car oil and grease, and dirt often gets deposited directly into storm drains. Storm drains lead straight to local lakes, rivers, and streams without any treatment. Runoff from our homes and businesses is a big part of local water pollution problems.
The most environmentally friendly way to wash your car is to take it to a commercial car wash. Commercial car washes not only use significantly less water per wash, they reuse the water multiple times before sending it to a sewage treatment plant. There, the water is treated before being discharged back into waterways, preventing dirt, chemicals, and other wastewater contaminants from entering local waterways.
Should you still decide to wash your car at home, making a few adjustments can significantly minimize the negative environmental impacts. Make sure to:
- Wash your car on gravel, grass, or another permeable surface instead of on concrete. This allows for the water to filter naturally instead of directly entering storm drains as runoff.
- Use as little soap as possible and make an effort to choose detergents that are non-phosphate and non-toxic.
- Invest in a nozzle for your hose that will allow you to adjust the water pressure and volume. When washing, try using a bucket of water instead of a hose for everything but the final rinse.
- If you have a rain barrel, wash with the collected water.
- Empty the leftover soapy water in the sink, not onto the driveway or street
When holding a car wash as a charity event, try to partner with a commercial car wash and sell commercial car wash coupons. If you can’t form this kind of partnership, make sure to keep the excessive amounts of runoff out of the storm drains by covering them with a rubber mat. We can keep our local waterways healthy by keeping pollutants and runoff out of the storm drains.
This blog contributed by Suzanne Dyba, Stormwater Coordinator with James City County General Services Department.