Utility Watchdog in San Diego

Wash a Car without Wasting San Diego Water


Home car washing is the sacred cow of water regulations. The agencies that regulate water use, from supply to storm drain, really don't like letting people wash their cars at home. Everything about it is wrong: too much water used (even with a cut-off nozzle, chances are good the car's spa day will use at least 110 gallons) and dump filth, petrochemical particles and dirty water into storm sewers, where they go straight into the watersheds.

Commercial car washes use an average of 35 gallons of water - equal to a 17-minute shower, when they wash your car. If they recycle, between 15 percent and 60 percent of that water is past its first use. In fact, almost all car washes use dirty water for the first dousing of the car as it moves down the line. Find your local commercial car wash participating in WaterSavers programs. 

"You can recycle up to 40 percent of the water easily and inexpensively," says Yogi Mody, who owns the Body Beautiful chain of carwashes. "With the 20 percent to 30 percent rate increases for water, recycling becomes more cost effective and we'll be looking to recycle more."

Those that don't recycle, treat their dirty water to remove all the road grit and soap before they put it into the sewer - not the storm drains. Both recycling and the treat-and-dump methods come down to storage tanks, where the dirt settles to the bottom. Then it's filtered and either reused or dumped.

"Rinsing requires pure or near pure water," Mody says. "But our wheel blasters- the toughest and dirtiest job - use recycled water."

Recycling water is more expensive than the treat-and-dump method, and that puts the best practices car wash at an economic disadvantage. Randy Cressall, a board member for the Western Carwash Association, says he had a reclamation system installed at his Valencia-area carwashes for more than $100,000

The International Carwash Association has launched a Water Saver certification program that will certify carwashes and give them advertising tools. But, right now, they don't have a list.



Coin-operated car washes aren't regulated by the water or wastewater departments. But they don't appear to use much water - estimates run from 12 to 20 gallons for the 4-6 minutes that we scurry around the car trying to get the tough spots cleaned.
It isn't clear if the soapy water ends up in the storm drain or in the sewer, where it will be treated - but it's still much less water than home washing and Cressall says they're probably using soaps that are less harsh than the ones people who wash at home tend to use.


Most aren't regulated beyond having a grease trap.  



There are plenty of water-less car washing solutions for home use - with varying degrees of green-ness and elbow grease. But be prepared to work. After squirting the stuff on the car, most products require two rubdowns with microfiber towels to rub out dirt and then finish the job.
The green-ness of the waterless wash products range from certified Green Logo products to petrochemical based stuff, so read the labels and pick your poison.
Freedom Waterless Car Wash products and NoWet Waterless Carwash, as well as World Klass and Dri-Guard'n Wash all get high marks from testers. (Google any of the brand names here and you'll get there quickly)

They aren't cheap - the least expensive is listed at $15.99 a bottle. A stack of microfiber towels - and the cost of washing them later - is part of the bargain.

But if you must wash at home, the best methods for saving water and beach life involve a hosing and a bucket - with plenty of elbow grease as well. Be sure you've got a nozzle that cuts off when you aren't using it - the average hose runs at about 11 gallons a minute.

Rocky, a pro detailer, describes his method on a Consumers Reports blog.

He says:

The Green Car Wash (aka the holesbath).
Tools needed:
1- 5 gallon bucket with fresh water. (Rinse bucket)
1- 5 gallon bucket of fresh water with 1oz of soap.
4- microfiber cloths @ 16x16.
1- oz concentrated car wash soap, I only use Cherry bomb.
1- synthetic chamois.
1- 32oz dipping cup or empty coffee container for rinsing.

Preparation is the key. Use name brand car wash soap.

Starting with the roof, using 1 microfiber cloth, dip into oap bucket and wring out lightly. Using forward and backward
strokes, complete entire roof and front and back windows. Now mmediately dip your 32 oz container into the fresh rinse water bucket and rinse the entire roof and windows. Next use your synthetic chamois and dry those areas.

Proceed to the front hood and wash the entire area including the lights and bumpers. Again rinse and dry. Continue in this pattern around the rest of the vehicle. Now that same soap bucket is used to clean the tires and rims. Rinse and you're finished almost.

With 1 microfiber cloth dipped and wrung out tight, from the fresh water bucket and one dry microfiber cloth clean your windows.

Finishing Touches
Spray a microfiber cloth with Detailers spray wax, using the same pattern used to wash the vehicle. Apply to small areas and with a dry microfiber cloth wipe the spray wax off. Shazamm!
This process will give your baby a silky smooth finish with BLING.

And leave the dish soap - the car wash solution more than half of us reach for - in the house. Since it's formulated to strip off oils, it's bad for your car, bad for the storm drain and deadly for the critters at the other end. Your lawn might not like it either.

About UCAN

UCAN has represented the interests of San Diego County utility customers since 1983. UCAN focuses its efforts on the rates and services of San Diego Gas and Electric Company, telecommunications utilities and the City of San Diego Water Department.