There's nothing like driving around town in a clean car. But what's the real cost of that sparkle? Traditional vehicle washing products pose some significant challenges to our environment. If you happen to visit the carwash on a regular basis, here are some things you should be aware of.

The problem with traditional car washing

According to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), the average homeowner uses 116 gallons of water to wash a car. Most commercial car washes, on the other hand, actually use 60 percent less water for the entire process than a homeowner uses just to rinse the car. So, it seems clear that environmentally conscious drivers should opt for the commercial car wash rather than do-it-yourself.

However, according to the EPA, professional car wash systems create wastewater that can damage the environment if not properly managed. This wastewater can contain a number of hazardous materials including motor oil, grease, poisonous detergents, soaps, chlorine bleach, residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline, phosphates, heavy metals and debris. It can then flow into storm drains and can be harmful to humans, plants and animals if released untreated into rivers, streams, creeks and lakes. Also, if it soaks into the ground, it can contaminate soil and groundwater.

Environmentally friendly alternatives

Because of these dangers, the EPA recommends using biodegradable, phosphate-free water-based cleaners instead of solvent-based solutions. They also suggest using less detergent, which reduces the amount released into the sewage system.

Zep Inc. was one of the first manufacturers to recognize the need for effective green chemicals in the carwash industry. The EnviroEdge chemical line, introduced in 2008, offers specially formulated biodegradable solutions that are produced using low-impact manufacturing to reduce consumption of energy and water. The products contain no chlorine bleach (which is highly corrosive), no phosphates (which can cause growth of algae and fish kill), no EDTA (a chelating agent that binds to heavy metals) and no APE/NPE surfactants (which can harm aquatic life). The biodegradable surfactants in the EnviroEdge products break down into carbon dioxide, water and minerals. The chemicals are also more concentrated, which reduces the package size and materials used.

A clean car is a luxury we all deserve, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our environment. Be sure to find a car wash service that makes responsible choices and uses earth-friendly products like Zep’s EnviroEdge.

(Sources: Mid-America Regional Council, Illinois EPA)