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Conventional wisdom says that an automatic car wash is the best thing for the environment.
But I was wondering — is there a way that I can wash my car DIY style and minimize water use and the disposal of soapy residue into the storm drain or the nearby pond?
I’ve been washing my family’s cars since I could hold a rag. I never honestly even gave much thought about the environmental impact of washing cars until I was already 9 years old and my hometown was subject to watering restrictions due to a lingering drought.
I recall in my little 9-year-old mind envisioning the county’s water reservoir system draining a little more every time I turned the hose on. I was also that kid who watched the news just a bit too much.
Suffice it to say, my family still washed our cars in the yard, but I actually thought just a little bit about the what may be happening to the environment when I turn that hose on and wash soap down the gutter outside my home.
DIY Hand Car Wash vs Automatic Car Wash
As I got into my adult years and bought my own car, I started thinking about how much water I was actually using every time I washed my car.
Here’s what I found out:
- A standard hose flows at 10 gallons of water every minute; that means a 10-minute car wash at home consumes 100 gallons of water.
- A self-serve car wash bay might use only 15 gallons of water per washing.
- An in-bay car wash center might consume 60 gallons of water during a washing.
- An old-fashioned conveyor car wash can use 85 gallons of water to clean a car.
OK, so clearly each of the last 3 options beat using a standard garden hose when it comes to how much water is used. Sure, standard hoses are more wasteful. Besides, if you pay for your own water utilities then that’s a big drain on your pocketbook, too.
But there’s much more at stake for the environment than just wasting water when you wash your car at home.
- What about the soap?
- Where does that go once it drains away?
- What about the pollutants you’re washing off the car?
Unless the runoff is going into a sanitary sewer, as is usually the case at automatic car washes or self-serve car wash stations, it probably is going right into a local pond, lake, river, or ocean.
But is there really a way to save water and keep the environment clean when you wash your car at home?
Here are 5 eco-friendly car wash tips I have learned and practice every time I wash my car…
#1 – Rinse With An Automatic Shutoff Valve Or Spray Nozzle
Using an automatic shutoff valve on your garden hose could save more than 70 gallons of water when you wash your car — since water won’t flow continuously the entire time you’re washing.
An automatic shutoff valve will only allow water to flow from the hose when you’re using it.
My personal favorite hose device is a hose spray nozzle that you operate with a trigger to allow the water to flow.
These are really ergonomic and easy to use. Best of all, you can pick up a durable spray nozzle at your local home improvement or hardware store for less than $20.
#2 – Wash Vehicles On The Grass Instead Of On Pavement
When you wash your car on the grass, the water can soak into the ground.
That natural drainage into the ground will filter out soap and other particles from the water. The clean water will eventually return to the aquifer underground and refresh the water supply.
If you wash your car on pavement, it will likely flow directly into a gutter or storm water drain, and that soapy, dirty water will probably feed directly into a retention pond or natural body of water.
The result? That scummy, polluted water could harm the environment.
#3 – Use A Biodegradable, Non-Poisonous Detergent
In addition to conserving water, it’s equally as important to keep in mind what you’re washing into the storm drain or onto the grass.
Many detergents that are commonly used when washing cars are caustic agents that can cause environmental harm, damaging plant life and poisoning animals.
There are some safe detergent alternatives, though. Here are some of the best biodegradable car wash products:
#4 – Wash Your Car Right After A Rain Storm
This may sound counterintuitive, since you’d think the rain washes all the dirt off your car. Unless the rain was super heavy or there wasn’t much grit on your car to begin with, chances are the rain probably didn’t do much to wash your car.
However, it did get the job started by wetting down the entire surface of your car. That can save gallons of water, as you won’t need to use your hose to prep the surface of your car before sudsing it up with detergent!
If you can wash the car while it’s raining, that’s even better. The rain will keep the car wet, making it easier to apply the soap, remove the grit, and rinse away the detergent after you’re done scrubbing.
I’ve washed my car during or after the rain several times and it really works well and drastically cuts down on the hose time.
Of course, be sure there is no lightning around while washing your car. Even if you do decide to wash your car after a lightning storm, wait until at least 30 minutes following the last thunder boom to ensure you’re safe.
#5 – Use A Waterless Car Wash
I tried a waterless car wash for the first time a couple years ago and liked it for a few reasons:
- It saved a ton of water.
- It was a less-messy method of washing my car than breaking out the hose and suds.
- I could wash my car at night after work in my garage (which I did).
The product I used was Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax Anywhere. It was a really easy-to-use formula that I simply sprayed onto the car, rubbed in with a soft rag, and wiped off with a dry rag. The results were great and the car looked showroom ready — no kidding.
I’ve not personally used any other waterless car wash products yet, but here are some that, according to reviews, receive high marks:
- Eco Touch Waterless Car Wash
- Dri Wash ‘n Guard Waterless Car Wash
- Griot’s Garage Waterless Car Wash
- Detailer’s Pro Rinseless Wash & Gloss
More Eco Friendly Car Wash Supplies & Tips
- Dos And Don’ts Of Washing Your Car
- 6 Tips For An Eco-Friendly Car Wash
- Eco-Friendly Car Wash Guide
- Green Car Washing Tips & Stats
- Popular Mechanics Hand Car Wash Guide
As an advocate for good health, I usually try to choose the 'greener' option over other more dangerous and/or wasteful options. Generally speaking, if it's bad for your health or the planet, I try to avoid it. In my effort to live green, I like to find new (healthier) budget-friendly ways to do things — from cleaning to recycling to home decorating. My goal is to help you take the chore out of living green by sharing fun new ecofriendly ideas that you can try today… or <em>any</em> day! My all-time favorite way to live green is to repurpose items and give them a new use — I've written a lot of useful DIY articles.