Green Car Wash

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 bucket—this 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.

16 comments

J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

good to know

Marcia Machado
Marcia Machado5 years ago

My boyfriend washes the car at house. He uses a machine that mixes air with the water.
With this machine, he washes tha all car using a few liters of waters.

Bon L.
Bon L.5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Sue H.
Sue H.5 years ago

Interesting. Here I was, all bent out
of shape because my landlord won't
let us wash our cars on the property.
I've been going to a commercial car
wash for over a year now and didn't
know that I was being a good citizen!

Patrick Whyte
Patrick Whyte6 years ago

I hand wash the car

Judy Emerson
Judith Emerson6 years ago

Having collected quite a few car stickers, i've been patiently waiting for school to let out so my grands can help me wash the car & decorate it! Maybe we'll wait for rain ... expected nxt wk!
Thanks! :D

Ellinor S.
Ellinor S.6 years ago

thank you

Andrei Popa
Past Member 6 years ago

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Cristina F.
Cristina F.8 years ago

Those tips are great. But if you're going to wash your car...there are a lot of great products out there for entirely waterless washing. There's Eco Touch, Lucky Earth, Biokleen...the list goes on. Of those, I've only used Eco Touch. But it works really well and one bottle saves 800 gallons of water.

You can check out more about waterless car care at the Green Home Huddle: http://greenhome.huddler.com/products/category/car-care