If you don't own a car, consider yourself lucky that you don't have to deal with this pesky chore. But for those of us who need a vehicle to get around, car washes (as occasional as they may be) can't be avoided. Even though many of us may lighten up when we envision the fun, idyllic neighborhood car wash fundraiser on the side of the road, washing your own car is actually worse for the environment than going to the professionals.
What's not great about an at-home car wash?
There are two main factors at play that make a do-it-yourself car wash the less favorable option for the environment.
Amount of water used: a standard garden hose uses roughly 10 gallons of water per minute, which means that a 10 minute car wash (even that seems like a pretty speedy DIY car wash) uses about 100 gallons of water. That's equivalent to over 60 toilet flushes or 6 showers. Of course, if you're not a car-washing expert like us, then it would probably take you closer to 30 minutes to wash your car meaning 300 gallons of water!
Cleaning chemicals and their disposal: many of the soaps you would use to clean your car contain chemicals that harm fish and degrade water quality. When you wash your car on a standard concrete (or impermeable) driveway, all of that soapy water along with the grease, oil, and other contaminants that were on your car wash into the storm drains. Where do those storm drains lead? Straight into nearby lakes, streams, and rivers. So while you're busy cleaning your car, you're also busy polluting your nearby waterways and harming the marine life that lives in them.
If you're a fan of washing your car at home or don't want to spend the money on a drive-thru car wash, then try using biodegradable cleaning products and washing your car on grass or gravel where the water can permeate into the soil and get filtered naturally. Also consider investing in a hose with a shut-off valve so you can turn the water off while you're scrubbing.
What makes commercial car washes better?
Other than not having to do the scrubbing and drying yourself, commercial car washes are also the better option when considering the environment. The car washing industry is very competitive, and drive-thru car washes must be efficient with their resources in order to be profitable. Many professional carwashes recycle their water and use it for the pre-rinse steps, but even standard facilities (that don't recycle water) have efficient equipment that only uses about 45 gallons per car. Car washes also have to dispose of their wastewater according to local regulations, so the water ends up being treated at a water treatment facility instead of just going straight into a nearby river.
Even though standard car washes are a step up from washing your car at home, we still weren't super excited about the hard chemicals and the 45 gallons of water used to wash each car. So, after a little research we were able to find Carmel Car Wash, an eco-friendly car wash that recycles 100% of their water and only uses water-based, biodegradable cleaners and an on-site filtration system. This means that our car gets washed with only 3 gallons of fresh water (fresh water is needed for the final rinse process) and no chemicals that are toxic or harmful to marine life.
Although we don't frequent car washes too often (we don't mind riding around with a little dust on our wheels), when we do decide to give the car a little scrubbing, we choose an eco-friendly, commercial car wash to leave the smallest environmental footprint as possible.