Car Washing the Right Way

soapy water in a stream


Dirty water from vehicle and equipment cleaning should not be allowed to run into storm drains. Water from washing cars may contain oils, greases, solvents, detergents, petroleum hydrocarbons and other pollutants that degrade water quality and harm fish and animals that live in streams.

The storm drainage system is separate from the sanitary sewer system. Storm drains convey stormwater runoff from the roads directly to local creeks and streams. It is not treated before entering the waterways. The sanitary sewer system carries wastewater from homes or businesses to a treatment plant before it is cleaned and later released into the environment. More information on these separate systems can be found on the water website.

The Stormwater Management Ordinance (Chapter 124, Article 9 of the Fairfax County Code, effective July 1, 2014), prohibits untreated and unpermitted vehicle wash water from entering the storm drainage system or streams. Currently, individual residential car washing is exempt from this regulation. In addition, commercial car washes must comply with the wastewater discharge and plumbing requirements that are specified in Chapter 67.1 and Chapter 65-6-11 of the Fairfax County Code which states that all car wash installations shall be equipped with a water recycling system approved by the county building official. More information on what can be directed to the sanitary sewer system may be found within the industrial waste and pretreatment car wash policy.

Car Washing at Home - Recommendations

Recommendations for washing your car at home:

  • Wash it on a grassy surface so the water can infiltrate into the ground.
  • Use the minimum amount of detergents necessary and use products that are phosphate-free and pH neutral.
  • Conserve water by turning off the hose while soaping up the car and rinse quickly.
  • Try a waterless car washing soap that can be wiped off.

A great way to prevent dirty water from getting into storm drains is to take your car to a commercial car wash. Fairfax County Code requires that these facilities recycle or reuse most of their water and that the rest is sent to the sanitary sewer system for processing. It is also important to maintain your car to prevent any liquids from dripping onto the ground that may be picked up by stormwater runoff.

Commercial/Mobile Vehicle Washing

See Fact Sheet - Outdoor Vehicle Washing: Options for Businesses

Car Washing Fundraisers (Charity Car Washing) - Recommendations

In addition to those recommendations listed under Car Washing at Home:

  • Partner with a commercial car washing facility. Wash water from commercial car washes goes to the sanitary sewer system for processing. Call your local car wash to ask if they offer fundraising options for schools, teamsor charities.
  • Take measures to prevent wash water from entering storm drains. This may include washing cars in an area away from storm drains or on an area that allows wash water to soak into the ground, directing wash water away from storm drains onto a grassy area, and protecting storm drains by covering with an impermeable barrier. There are a variety of impermeable covers available through commercial vendors.

For additional information, e-mail the Stormwater Planning Division or call 703-324-5500, TTY 711.

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