I’ll be honest. My car is a mess. With a dog and a baby in the back seat, the inside isn’t much better than the outside that is covered in pollen and dirt. It is just a matter of time before I find “Wash Me” written in the pollen and dirt. When wash day comes, I will be using a commercial car wash. Using a commercial car wash, instead of washing the car at home, helps to protect our streams.
Why is it important to take your car to a commercial car wash? Our cars are covered in dirt and pollen as well as brake pad dust, oil, exhaust fume residue, grease, gasoline, oil and heavy metals. When a car is washed with soap, these pollutants and the soap are washed off with the rinse water. The car wash runoff travels down the driveway, into the street, down the nearest storm drain, and ultimately enters a nearby stream untreated. If these pollutants were coming from an industrial plant, the plant would be required to get a permit for this discharge.
Still not convinced that car wash runoff is bad for our streams?
- Consider the number of cars on your street and the quantity of runoff and pollutants that are generated when all of them are washed at home.
- It isn’t unusual for kids and dogs to explore our streams during the warm weather months. We don’t want them wading in soapy, grimy water.
- How would you like to be a fish or crayfish and see a wave of suds and grime heading towards you?
The best option for the environment is to take your car to a commercial car wash. U.S. EPA notes that efficient commercial facilities can use less water than someone washing their car at home.* Commercial facilities use very efficient spraying methods and often recycle their water. Their wastewater is directed to the wastewater treatment plant for treatment or the facility’s wastewater is regulated through a state permit.
Discharges from car wash fundraisers are not allowed in Arlington because of the large, concentrated quantities of pollutants and runoff that are generated at these events. An alternative fundraiser that is friendly to the environment is a car clean out. Wash the car’s windows (inside and out) with a spray bottle and rags, vacuum the vehicles, and recycle or throw out trash that may have accumulated in the car. My backseat would definitely benefit from a clean out. Another fundraising option is to partner with a local, commercial car wash and sell car wash coupons. The buyer supports your cause and the environment benefits. The Puget Sound Carwash Association’s website has more information on how to set up a car wash ticket fundraiser.
The next time you eye that “wash me” phrase on your car’s window, think about your local stream and the critters that live there. Save yourself some time, energy and water by taking your car to a commercial car wash. Or just draw in a smiley face next to “wash me.”