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Workin’ at the Car Wash

It’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s per­fect weather to get out there and wash your car! But think about this before you suds up your lovely vehi­cle: where does all of the dirt, oil, and soap from your car go after you wash it?

….Are you stumped?

It gets dumped down a storm drain. Why does that mat­ter? Because, unlike the water that you flush down the toi­let, water that’s swept into a storm drain isn’t treated before it emp­ties into a local stream or river. Now, all of the things you didn’t want on your car are in a local water body. This often includes met­als, nutri­ents, and hydrocarbons—all things that we shouldn’t be putting in our streams. So what should you do with your dirty car? We aren’t anti-car wash­ing in gen­eral, but there are some more stream-friendly ways to do it. Con­sider doing any of these:

  • Use a com­mer­cial car wash.

Com­mer­cial car washes either treat their water before dis­charg­ing it to the sewer sys­tem (where it will be fur­ther treated) or recy­cle their water, depend­ing on state and local requirements.

  • Wash your car on grass, gravel, or a per­me­able surface.

This way, pol­lu­tants can be par­tially fil­tered out before reach­ing the water table.

  • If you’re host­ing a car­wash as a fundraiser, block off the stor­mdrain or catch runoff with an insert.
  • Use biodegrad­able soaps.

These small steps can make a big impact. Accord­ing to stud­ies cited by the US EPA, 73% of peo­ple sur­veyed washed their own cars and allowed their wash-water to drain to pave­ment. Help us chip away at this 73% by tak­ing the actions above and encour­ag­ing your friends and neigh­bors to do the same.

Rachel Beebe
July 2014


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