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Tuesday, January 26th, 2021
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Washing Vehicles, Water Conservation and Environment

 Water conservation begins at home.  Taking a few, simple steps when washing your boat or vehicle (including automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and trailers) can help to conserve water and protect the quality of nearby water bodies. To save water, we strongly recommend to always go for wash at car wash stations. From an environmental perspective, it is often the better choice..If you don’t live near a car wash, here are some ways to clean your car in an ecological way.

Wash vehicles on grass, not on pavement. Wash your vehicle over an unpaved area, such as an area covered with grass or gravel.  Washing over an unpaved surface will allow the soapy water to soak into the ground, be filtered, and eventually recharge the groundwater so they don’t end up in the storm sewer.  If you have your own well, you should wash your vehicle at least 100 feet from the well head.  If you wash the vehicle on a paved surface, the runoff flows into a storm drain, and the water and contaminants are discharged to the nearest lake or stream.

Wash vehicles using a bucket with soapy water.  Soap and water usually work well.  If you need a special cleaning product for vehicles, read the label carefully and be sure to use a non-toxic, biodegradable detergent.  Do not use a product that says Poison, Harmful, or Danger.  Be sure to turn the running water off while you are washing a vehicle.

Rinse vehicles with a hose equipped with an automatic shutoff nozzle.  A standard garden hose uses about 10 gallons per minute.  This means you use 100 gallons of water with only a 10-minute car wash.  When you use an automatic shutoff nozzle on your hose (with adjustable spray settings), water does not flow continuously while you wash your vehicle, saving as much as 70 gallons per wash. 
Using a power washer can conserve even more water; power washers use, on average, about 2 to 5 gallons per minute, with a potential savings of up to 80 gallons over using a standard house without an auomatic shutoff nozzle.

Use the right soap. Choose a biodegradable soap that is chlorine- and phosphate-free. Avoid dish soap, which could remove your car’s wax finish.

Use graywater. If you use biodegradable detergents in your home, and local regulations allow, you can wash your car with the water that drains from your washing machine or dishwasher. You can also use captured rainwater.

Dump your dirty soap bucket into a sink or toilet. These drain into the sanitary sewer (instead of the storm sewer).
Consider waterless wash products. Several companies have developed nontoxic car cleaners that are designed to be sprayed on and then wiped off with a soft towel — no water required!

Consider going to a commercial car wash.   If you cannot wash your vehicle in an area that drains to the lawn or a gravel area, take it to a commercial spray booth or car wash.  A properly designed car wash is connected to a sanitary sewer that carries the dirty water to a wastewater treatment plant.

Note:  Hand washes are extremely harmful to automobile finishes - Tests conducted by the University of Texas to compare surface disturbances showed that a single home hand wash on an automobile can produce scratches that penetrate as deep as 1/10 of the total thickness of the automobile’s paint.
There are three types of commercial car washes: self-serve car washes, in-bay automatic car washes, and conveyor car washes. The following table provides water use information by car wash type. The data represents the total water used, and does not take into account whether or not a car wash recycles its water.

                  Average Water Consumption (gallons per vehicle)                                                                             by Car Wash Type

Car Washing Type      
International Car Wash


Mid-Atlantic Carwash 


Home wash (with automatic shut-off nozzle)
                   --                  --                30   
Home wash4  (without automatic shutoff nozzle) 
                  --                    --                 100
Self Serve 
                  15                   15                --
               50-60                 35            65 -  100
              66 - 85                60             30 - 50 



1Brown Chiris.  "Water Use in the Professitional car wash Industry & Car Wash Association "  p.    47                                                     
2 Mid Atlantic Car Wash  Association, Inc. Information Provided to the Maryland Water Conservation Advis

ory committee. June 2000.2

3 Water Wiser []. February 20033
4 Assume a 15minute car wash with flow of 10gpm

Many newer conveyor car washes and some newer in-bay car washes clean and recycle water in their car wash bays. Car washes that recycle their water use much less water than standard car washes. The quantity of water recycled varies from 10 percent to 80 percent of the water used. Check to ensure that the car wash you choose recycles its water.

WATEEN Solution is designing vehicle wash water recycling/reuse systems that recycles at last 60 percent of its wash water. Depending on how often the facility is used, up to 100 percent of the water can be recycled.


Conservation Tips for Car Washes
Self-Service Car Washes 

  •     Reduce nozzle size and reduce water pressure to three gallons-per-minute maximum flow rate.
  •     Check for and repair water leaks as soon as possible.

Replace brass or plastic nozzles with stainless steel nozzles. Plastic and brass nozzles wear away faster, increasing the nozzle size and allowing more water out. 

  •     Turn off spot-free rinse or recycle reject water.
  •     Discontinue bay/lot wash down.
  •     Install a temperature-controlled weep management system and set it to 32 degrees.
  •     For reverse-osmosis systems car wash system there must be an optional feature to turn off the spot-free rinse feature or to recycle the reject water.

In-Bay Automatic & Conveyor Systems

  •     In-bay or conveyor car washes that have a reclaim system with filtration will be certified. Existing car washes may qualify for Denver Water’s Commercial and Industrial Incentive Program to help pay for a new reclaim system with filtration.
  •     If the car wash doesn’t have a reclaim system, it must reduce water use by 30 percent per vehicle. 
  •     To reduce water use for in-bay systems, reduce nozzle sizes and water pressure, increase the cycle-time speed, use only one soap pass and turn off the spot-free rinse cycle.
  •     To reduce water use in conveyor systems, reduce nozzle sizes and water pressure, increase the conveyor speed, shorten cycle times, adjust sensor settings, turn off certain wash and rinse arches and discontinue the spot-free rinse cycle.

Water efficiency is also a benefit of many commercial car washes. An analysis by an independent department  found that car washes use approximately 50 to 75 gallons of water per car (assuming the water is not being recycled). Using the self-service bay consumes only 15 gallons. A typical garden hose, on the other hand, has an average flow rate of 7 gallons per minute, and would thus exceed a car wash’s water consumption after two minutes compared with the self-service bay, or seven minutes compared with the automated wash if the hose were left running.

You Might Be Surprised by How Much You Can Save
Many commercial vehicle washing facilities are more efficient than hoses and buckets, so they
already do their part to save water. But like any business, improving efficiency benefits the bottom line, and by reducing water you can also save energy and benefit the environment. Water use in vehicle washing depends on the type of facility, how it is maintained, and whether it incorporates water recycling. Well maintained self-serve facilities typically use about 60 litres per vehicle (lpv) without recycling wash water, and automatic systems with water recycling can use less than 30 lpv. However, without water recycling or rigorous maintenance, automatic systems can easily use more than 300 lpv. 

Natural Resources Canada estimates that an average commercial car wash uses 260 lpv of heated water, and uses 1,300 gigajoules per year heating water to wash cars. Based on these estimates, a 20% improvement in water efficiency would save a typical automatic car wash in Greater Victoria about $1,500 in water and sewer costs and over $3,000 in energy costs annually.