We all like to have a clean car, don’t we?
I know some people may wonder if I care about a clean car by the way mine often looks, but a secret dream of mine is for my car to look clean and shiny all the time. Unfortunately, this probably is not a realistic dream for an owner of a black car who also lives on a dirt road. But a girl can dream, can’t she?
For many, car washing is a weekly ritual. I am not one of those people. I am lucky if I can find time to swing through a car wash every month or so. I try to think of it as another way I conserve water.
Seriously, though, I want to share some problems that occur from washing cars the wrong way. It can be a negative experience for our environment as well as for a lazy car owner, like me.
Often, people do not know that washing all that grime off their vehicles actually might be causing harm to our local waterways. Water that enters storm drains — unlike water that enters sanitary sewers — does not undergo treatment before it is discharged into our waterways. Cars washed on streets and driveways with impervious surfaces, like concrete or asphalt, cause their dirty, sudsy water to eventually wind up in rivers, streams, creeks and even the ocean.
Washing one car may not seem like a big deal, but collectively, car washing can add up to big problems for our local creeks, streams and rivers. This type of pollution degrades water quality in our local waterways.
Washing your car is only a problem if you don’t know where or how to do it correctly. Yes, there is a correct way to wash a car. When I was 15, a very cute guy taught me how to wash a car. I suspect he just wanted help washing his car. I just had a crush on him so I was quite willing to learn.
Seriously, did you know that the average homeowner uses 116 gallons of water to wash a car at home, according to dailyhome.com? Most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water for the entire process than a homeowner uses just to rinse the car! I learned this fact from the Environmental Protection Division —not from the cute car wash teacher.
But excessive water waste is not the only problem here.
Car washing has been noted by water quality experts as a serious contributor to water pollution. Dirty water containing soap, detergents, often residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline, heavy metals from rust, and motor oils can wash off the car and flow directly into nearby storm drains and into the nearest creek or stream. This dirty water can harm water quality and wildlife. The phosphates from soap can cause excess algae to grow. Excessive algae smell bad and look bad. I would not want to swim in that or drink it either. As algae decay, the process uses up oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.
The best way to minimize the effect washing your car has on the environment is to use a commercial car wash. Most locations reuse wash water several times before sending it to a treatment plant. However, if you need to wash your car at home or on the street, here are some recommendations from the Environmental Protection Division to minimize your water quality impact:
• Use biodegradable, phosphate-free, water-based cleaners only.
• Minimize water usage. Use a spray gun with flow restriction to minimize water volume and runoff.
• Wash on an area that absorbs water, such as gravel or grass. This can help to filter water before it enters groundwater, storm drains or creeks. Avoid washing cars on concrete or asphalt pavement unless it drains into a vegetated area.
• Only let wash water soak into the ground as long as you are using biodegradable, phosphate-free cleaners.
• Try to empty leftover wash water into a sink or toilet.
Car-wash fundraisers also can generate this kind of pollution. These events are usually held in heavily paved areas. When planning a car wash fundraiser, try developing a partnership with a commercial car wash facility, or use a location that is grassy rather than concrete or asphalt.
Car wash runoff is an easy fix if we just change our habits a little. By tackling the issues that we create in our waterways, we all can find the solution to water pollution.
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