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Car Washing and the Environment

When you’re washing your car in your driveway, the last thing you’re thinking of is how your wash effects the environment. Despite this, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently states that non-point wastewater runoff (like what happens when you wash your car at home) is the leading cause of freshwater pollution in the United States! It might surprise you, but in most municipalities washing your car in your driveway is actually illegal!

Most people agree, maintaining a clean car is not only important for the life of your vehicle, but for your personal image too. So, in this day-in-age of environmental consciousness, is using a commercial car wash THAT much better than doing it yourself at home? In order to answer this question, let’s break down what happens in regards to fresh water usage, wastewater disposal, and the chemicals and detergents being to used clean your car in-between when compared to do-it-yourselfers and a commercial business.

Washing Your Car at Home

Fresh Water Usage: When it comes to water usage, home car washing is very taxing on your local freshwater table. Studies show that a 5/8” hose running at only 50 PSI uses 10 gallons per minute. That means if you wash your car at home, you’re using about 100 gallons of water or more each time. If you wash your car once a week, you’ll use 52,000 gallons of fresh drinkable water in a single year. This is equivalent to about 1750 showers, and if you shower daily, that’s about 5 years worth of fresh water! Wow!

Waste Water: The chemicals people use when they wash their cars at home are another large contributing factor to environmental damage. Most people who wash their car at home in the driveway overlook where the wastewater goes; which is into our lakes, rivers and eventually, our oceans. Many soaps contain chemicals that harm fish and degrade water quality. When you wash your car in the driveway, everything you wash off your car and flows into nearby storm drains. These can run directly into lakes, rivers, or streams. Some soaps may also contain phosphates, which can cause excess algae to grow in local waterways. Algae look bad, smell bad, and harm water quality. As algae decay, the process uses up oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.

Using a Commercial Car Wash

Fresh Water Usage: Being a very cost-conscious industry, combined with the regulations imposed by the EPA, commercial car wash operators use as little fresh water as possible to clean their customer’s cars effectively and safely. The car washing industry has made great advancements in the types of equipment we use, which has greatly reduced water consumption. Comparatively, a professional car wash will use less than half (about 30 – 50 gallons) of fresh water to successfully clean a vehicle.

How Much Water Do Professional Car Wash Use vs. At-Home Washing?

Type of WashWater Usage
Touchless Tunnel Car Wash 80 gallons per car
Regular Tunnel Car Wash 30 gallons per car
Self Service Hi-Pressure Wand 15 gallons per 3 minute cycle
Self Serve Foaming Brush 1-2 gallons per minute
Washing Your Car at Home 100+ gallons per car

Wastewater: Wastewater is also a large concern for commercial car washes. Responsible operators not only want to do what is right for their community but also want what is the most cost-effective means of conducting business. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA has very strict guidelines for many commercial businesses, including car washes. All wastewater must be sent to a sewer treatment facility, which is kept separate from untreated storm sewers. Approved chemicals that are either treatable at these facilities or completely bio-degradable are only used in commercial car washes. While some car washes use water reclaiming systems as a means of saving water, this is not always the case depending on water utility costs in various regions of the country. Commercial car washes have a series of large underground holding tanks to separate sediment in the wastewater before it is sent back to the sewage treatment facility. After filling these tanks, a hazardous material company must come to pump them out and properly dispose of their contents.

FSCW Makes a Point of Saving Water and Reducing Waste

At FSCW, we recognize the need to minimize environmental pollution. We treat all of our water and recycle it. We also only use EPA approved chemicals to ensure a greener environment. All our facilities use high-efficiency lighting, VFD controlled electric motors. Our computer regulated equipment measures water, sewer, and chemical usage down to one-hundredth of an ounce. We regularly monitor our equipment as well as water usage to ensure we’re using the least amount of water possible while providing our customers with high-quality car washing. We only use soft touch tunnel car wash models, which not only do a better, safer job at cleaning your car but are also the most environmentally friendly too. These factors ensure our businesses proudly support a healthy environment for not only our customers, staff, and communities at large.


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