You’re the kind of person who wants to do everything you can to minimize the impact of your automobile on the environment. That’s why you bought that hybrid or electric car, or that gasoline-powered vehicle with the great fuel economy.


Now it’s time to apply that same environmentalism to the care of your car, specifically its cleaning. If you’re not careful, you can waste water and create polluted runoff when washing your vehicle. By following the green cleaning tips outlined below, though, you can be sure that you’re washing your car in the most environmentally friendly way possible.


Don’t try this at home

Washing the car in your driveway may be an enjoyable way to spend a sunny summer afternoon, but environmentally speaking, home washing is not a great way to care for your automobile. First off, it can create polluted water runoff that the flows off your property and into a community’s storm drainage system, which sends it untreated into nearby rivers and streams. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cleaning a car outside with lots of soap creates runoff that “may contain high amounts of nutrients, metals and hydrocarbons.”


On its web site, the city of Irvine, Calif., also warns about the dangers of car-wash runoff: “The amount of metals such as copper from brake pads and zinc from tires is increasing in our waterways. These metals are toxic to marine habitat and cause significant damage to our creeks, rivers, bays and ocean.”


The solution? Take your vehicle to a commercial wash. As noted by the Irvine website, these facilities are required by federal law to capture water runoff and treat it before sending it to the sanitary sewer system, where it receives further treatment. If taking your car to a commercial wash isn’t an option, take the following steps, collected from the city of Irvine and the EPA, when cleaning your vehicle at home:


  • Only use soap that contains one of the following labels: “non-toxic,” “phosphate-free,” or “biodegradable.”
  • Avoid the use of acid-based wheel cleaners.
  • Wash your car on a permeable surface, such as grass or gravel, which will capture runoff before it can enter a storm drainage system.

Wasting Water

In addition to creating polluted runoff, cleaning your car at home can waste water. According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, getting your car cleaned at a commercial wash uses 60 percent less water than washing it at home. This is in part because commercial sites use high-pressure pumps and hoses that reduce water consumption.


Commercial washes are environmentally friendly in another way: they often recycle and reuse water.


If you don’t have access to a commercial wash and therefore must clean your car at home, you can have a significant impact on your water consumption by taking a very simple step. According to the EPA, “as much as 150 gallons of water can be saved when washing a car by turning off the hose between rinses.” The Fort Worth, Texas, Department of Environmental Management also notes that the use of a spray release nozzle on your hose can reduce your water use.


As a responsible car owner, you want to take good care of your vehicle and make sure that it looks its best. By taking the steps above, you’ll be taking care of the environment, too.


Have other thoughts on green cleaning for cars? Leave us a note in the comments below.