A car wash uses large blasts of water to clean a car quickly. The water usage is a problem, especially in areas that normally have water shortages, such as Southern California. Soap is necessary to clean a car, and the soap and detergent at the car wash can also cause environmental problems. There are ways to reduce the environmental impact of the car wash.
Proper drainage is one of the biggest issues when washing cars. With trucks, it is an even greater issue, as the trucks are larger and may be covered in large amounts of mud and soil. According to Fortin Consulting, several precautions make a truck wash more environmentally friendly. It is best to create a Class V injection well to treat the soapy water, although this is expensive and requires permits. Storing the water and taking it to the water treatment plant, or sending runoff to a properly notified and prepared city wastewater treatment plant, is also effective.
Some nonprofits no longer conduct car wash fundraisers because of their environmental effects. According to Pacific Lutheran University, clubs and organizations at the campus cannot perform car washes to raise money. Even when the car wash uses less harmful and biodegradable soaps, the water can still flow into the ocean along with the soap, causing problems for marine life. The school also claims that car wash fundraisers violate the federal National Pollution Discharge Elimination System law, although most municipal authorities don’t enforce this law.
There are some steps people can take to reduce the environmental impact of a car wash. The city of Carson recommends removing garbage from the area around the car wash and ensuring that there is gravel nearby to soak up the runoff. Sandbags are helpful to redirect the water. Biodegradable soaps, and soaps without harmful additives, are often available at health food stores and coops.