We like to pretend the most responsible car wash is no car wash at all, but that’s because we’re lazy sods. In truth, keeping your car clean of grime and salt can help prolong its life, which keeps you out of the car-consumption game. So what’s the greenest way to wash the car?
The most water-friendly way to wash the car might surprise you. Doing it at home might be cheaper and handier, but it’s nearly always better to go to the commercial car wash. By mixing air and water half and half, car wash businesses use 60 percent less water in the entire process than you use just rinsing off your car!
U.S. commercial car washes are also required to send their used water off for treatment, or to take other measures that lessen the impact of their discharge. Some of them even reuse their water.
Home washes, on the other hand, waste approximately 116 gallons of water, which usually drains directly to storm sewers, eventually emptying into streams, lakes, rivers, or bays, adversely affecting our fish friends and their habitat.
A survey by the International Carwash Association found that a little under half of Americans prefer to suds up in the driveway, though. So if you do decide to keep washing the car at home, here are a few tips.
- Try not to do it very often.
- If you can, park the car on your lawn, which acts as a natural filter for the soaps, dirt, oil, and other gunk that would otherwise run straight into storm drains. (Of course, you might not want that stuff on your lawn, either; see first tip.)
- Use less water by buying a nozzle that controls the flow from your hose or by using a bucketthis will help you keep an eye on how much you’re using.
- Collect rain water or lightly used water (like the soapy stuff in your dishwashing bin) from your house and wash with that.
- Try an eco-friendly soap like Dr. Bronner’s, or no soap at all. The detergents in regular car cleaners hurt fish, and even those labeled biodegradable and low-phosphate can make our fish friends unhappy.
Excerpted from "Wake Up and Smell the Planet" (Skipstone, 2007), by Grist.org.