Environmentally Friendly Car Washing

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

Washing your car on the lawn may raise the ire of your neighbors because it looks so....unusual. But it’s better for the environment than washing it on your driveway.

The many different products we use to wash our cars are harmful to water quality and aquatic life. When we hose off the cars in the driveway, street or parking lot, the dirt and detergent flow along the gutter and into the storm drain.

How does grass help? By washing your car on the lawn, you are providing a filter for the soapy water. Grass and other plants absorb the chemicals and other contaminants, thereby reducing the amount of pollutants that ends up in the storm drain. The root systems of plants can tolerate much more than can aquatic insects and fish.

An even better option is to go to a commercial car wash. According to the May 2002 issue of Stormwater magazine, most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water in the entire washing process than a home wash uses just to rinse off a car. Although you will be missing out on the “fun” of do-it-yourself car washing, you will be doing your part to conserve water.

Virginia requires commercial car washes that do not recycle their water to discharge the water into the sanitary sewer. If the car wash discharges to a storm sewer, the operator must get a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality and meet monitoring and performance requirements. Home car washers have no such requirements, so dirty water goes down the storm sewer. Here is a reminder: Sanitary sewers go to treatment plants. Storm sewers go to streams.

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