How to Wash Your Car the Eco-Friendly Way

This time of year, my car gets absolutely filthy. I live at the end of a long dirt road and after months without rain, even driving five miles an hour kicks up a huge plume of dust that settles all over my bright red Toyota. Every once in a while I’ll use the squeegee at the gas station to get rid of the worst of the buildup on my windows, but I’ve long left the body of my car dirty because I assumed it wasn’t possible to wash my car in a way that would be ecologically friendly.

Living in frequent drought conditions like I do, the thought of wasting gallons of water on an aesthetic exercise just seems silly, even though I know buildups of grime aren’t great for my paint job. After enough friends mocked me about the state of my car, though, I decided that maybe it was time to do some research and see if it was possible to have my cake (clean car) and eat it too (clean AND green car).

Here’s what I found out:

For one thing, my first instinct was right: the hose job at my place is not the way to go — and that’s even with a hose that I can turn on and off at the sprayer. Garden hoses pump out around seven gallons of water a minute, and that’s a heck of a lot of water, most of which turn into runoff when you’re washing a car on, say, that Minneapolis concrete driveway. That runoff can end up in the water table, or take the path of least resistance right into a creek or river, where it can cause problems for fish, plants, and other critters.

I could reduce the amount of runoff by tightly controlling the water I use and washing my car on grass or gravel for natural filtration, says Ask Umbra at Grist, but I’d still need to think about the soaps I’m using. Harsh industrial cleaners are not the way to go; environmentally-friendly biodegradable soaps are strongly recommended so they can break down quickly in the environment. As for window cleaners, vinegar and old newspapers works a treat — and doesn’t leave unpleasant chemical traces behind.

Better yet, and this one surprised me, I could go to a car wash. Car washes use water more efficiently with their high pressure hoses and timers. Furthermore, they collect and either recycle or treat their water before releasing it, because they’re required to do so and have had plumbers install greywater recycling systems. Instead of just running off into the wild blue wonder, that filthy water is safely managed when I go to the carwash … plus, they have those awesome giant vacuum cleaners.

There’s another option, though, and that’s waterless car washes.



Round up some soft, absorbent rags to wipe down your car, with a little touch of your favorite eco-friendly homemade cleaner. Choose an all-purpose cleaner without abrasives, and while you’ll need to use a little elbow grease, you will be able to lift that dirt away. There are also some commercial water-free carwash products available.

For stubborn stains and caked-on dirt, you may have to use some advanced cleaning tricks. Try applying cleaning spray and letting it sit for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing it away, and our old friend peanut butter can be great for really stubborn buildups of sap, gum, and mystery substances. While you’re at it, you can refresh the inside of your car with a mixture of lemon and olive oil where you’d normally use Armor All — and if you have mysterious odors trapped in the upholstery, try vacuuming, sprinkling with baking soda, letting it sit for half an hour, and then vacuuming again.

Whether you hit the car wash or go waterless, apparently you can clean your car and still feel good about yourself in the morning!

Katie Marks writes for This article originally appeared here.

Photo credit: Patrick/Flickr.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O2 years ago

A bucket, two-thirds full of warmed water, a rag and some washing up liquid. Then a bucket of clean water to rinse. Start on top, do all the glass first, then paintwork, then do the lower half of the vehicle starting at the cleanest parts and working to the dirtiest (usually the back) followed by wheels. Rinse in the same order. Two buckets. I recommend re-usable rubber gloves to stop the cold and wet wrecking the skin on your hands. The water can be tipped onto your flowerbeds.

Darci H.
Darci H2 years ago

Coconut oil is better than olive oil, which can turn rancid in the heat and build up to a sticky mess. Ditto the lemon juice- I guess the author doesn't realize the bleaching effect that can have, especially when you add sun.
How about a teaspoon of white vinegar in a gallon of warm water, wash down with a soft cloth (interior or exterior, windows, leather, pleather, paint, etc.), then use another cloth with plain water. It doesn't take much water. I can do an entire car with a gallon, each. Save and use your old t shirts-they are great, turn inside out if they have the rubber logos. Use another cloth to dry.
Coconut oil on the dash and other places that tend to dry out, even leather. Use your fingers to rub in; it won't take very much. Then use a clean cloth to buff. Your car will smell amazing and the inside won't dry out, or get gunked up.

Christine Jones
Christine J2 years ago

The lemon and olive oil for the interior sounds good. Wouldn't use newspapers for windows though; they used to be great, but modern inks tend to smear.

Mark Bill
Past Member 3 years ago

I have visited so many sites but I never got the site like yours, amazing posts with informative latest things.
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Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey3 years ago

I'll have to try a car wash next then, instead of using the hose pipe at home!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

K S.
Krish Away4 years ago


Lis T.
Elisabeth T4 years ago

Thanks for sharing this good information.

Mary L.
Mary L4 years ago

Thanks for the great ideas!

Tanya W.
Tanya W4 years ago