Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of washing your car? That simple weekend routine that most of us do on a sunny afternoon could actually be harmful to the environment. Washing a car uses anything from 100-300 liters of water each time. This regular washing, impacts the environment in ways vehicle owners don’t seem to realize. In fact, washing cars in driveways is one of the most environmentally un-friendly tasks we carry out at home. 

What does car washing mean for the environment?

Our household waste water enters sewers or septic systems and undergoes treatment before being released into the environment. However, what runs off from your car goes right into the drains. It eventually enters rivers and streams, poisoning aquatic life and causing havoc to the ecosystem. Don’t forget, this water is full of oil, exhaust fume residues and harsh detergents used for the washing itself.

carwashing

Impact of not washing your car

But the answer to protecting the environment is not to avoid washing the car altogether. There can be serious implications to not washing sediment and other pollutants off your car regularly. Any water that comes off your car, from rain bouncing off the body or using the windscreen sprinkler, will be full of dirt and pollutants which will most likely get into the drain system. Not to mention the serious damage caused to the car’s bodywork. If you don’t clean your car, then the paint can quickly become worn, scratched and eaten away by bird droppings and sap. It can also clog up mechanical parts, resulting in costly repairs in the future.

Commercial car washes

Commercial car washes minimize the use of water with computer controlled systems and high-pressure jets. Many also recycle and re-use the rinse water too. And afterwards, the dirty water ends up in the sewage system, not rivers and streams. A car wash uses around 120 liters of water per wash at the most. This is just a quarter of the water used to wash the car with a hosepipe which is why some countries like Germany, prevent motorists from washing their cars at home.

Think of the environment when you next wash your car

If you do wash your car at home, use a biodegradable soap, designed for automotive parts. Or you can also make your own biodegradable car wash solution yourself quite easily. Combine 3/4 cup of powdered laundry detergent and one cup of liquid dishwashing detergent with three gallons of water. Use this solution sparingly with water over the exterior of the car. But even when using eco-friendly cleaners, try to avoid cleaning the car on the driveway. Move it on to the lawn, so the toxic waste water becomes absorbed and neutralized in the soil. This avoids it flowing directly into drains or other sources of open water. Also, try to dry up or disperse any soapy puddles when you finish. They contain toxic residues and can tempt thirsty animals.

A healthy environment and clean water is crucial for everyone. And we can make it happen. We just need to think responsibly about what we do and consider the consequences of our actions. Sometimes it can just take the smallest action, to make a big difference.


Writer: Sally Whites is a writer from Trenton, New Jersey, USA, travelling in Chile.