I rarely wash my car, much to the chagrin of my neighbors (and my wife, who is sitting next to me and told me to type that), but when I do, I have a pretty specific way of going about it.
Step 1: Start late in the day after the sun has gone down. When the sun isn’t blasting away on your car, you can wash larger areas before watering it down, using less water.
Step 2: Drive the car up on your lawn. This has a two-fold effect as it means your water will get re-purposed for the lawn and it will annoy the neighbors (if you are into that sort of thing). Of course, this may not be an option for everyone, so if you live in an apartment building, feel free to improvise.
Step 3: Make sure to use a bio-degradable cleaning product that won’t hurt your lawn.
Step 4: Grab a bucket and a sponge or cloth and get to work (and make sure the windows are up–my wife told me to type that as well, but that only happened once and I really think it’s high time I stopped getting the stink eye for it….ok, just put the windows up).
By following these simple steps, I can usually clean the car with two 1-gallon buckets of water, which all end up going into the lawn. When you compare that to the exponential amount of water you’d use if you were using the hose in the middle of the day, it’s a huge savings. Of course, you’ll save more water by not washing the car at all, and if you don’t, you’ll end up doing even better when you start to take the bus out of embarrassment, so everybody wins.
My guess is that some of you may slam me for writing up a piece about washing your car when last week I was talking about contacting your representatives about the importance of global warming. I recognize it seems a little bit trivial in comparison, but I decided to follow up with car washing for a reason.
Life is not all or nothing, yet, when it comes to the environment, many people act that way. I’m not saying let’s all go out and wash our cars, and in fact, I think we’d all be better off if everyone got rid of their cars and didn’t wash or drive them in the first place. But having said that, washing with less water is better than washing with more. Diverting the water to the grass is better than letting it run down the drain. And using a safe biodegradable cleaner is better than adding more toxic garbage to our front yards.
My point is simply this. We all need to do what we can, and then hopefully do a bit more, perhaps stretching our comfort zone until the uncomfortable becomes comfortable, and then stretching it again. That’s called growth. That’s how change happens. That’s what works. So if you have written your reps, try saving some water while washing your car. And if you already do that, try writing a few letters about global warming, or stop using plastic bags, or stop using plastic water bottles. Whatever works for you, just try and take it to the next level.
There is strength in numbers and while saving a few gallons of water may not seem like much, a million people saving millions of gallons is. We all need to examine our lifestyles and see where we can make improvements, and most importantly, make them soon.
So if you can get away without the car, cool. If not and you’re good with not washing it, go for it. And if you need a car, and want it clean, try some of the ideas above and let me know your thoughts.
Oh and one other idea. If you really want to make a statement, wait until it rains and wash your car then. I did this once, in my bathing suit and goggles and the people down the street are still talking about it!
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”