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The real cost of washing your car

As local authorities, garages and car wash owners battle with the water crisis, householders and small businesses who are already finding it difficult to keep their heads above water are in deep water too with a flood of bad news.

Water charges and water scarcity means one thing for certain, water is becoming more expensive. However there are risks of other costs, financial and otherwise, associated with water use. As “Spring” blossoms it may be worth considering these options.

Few people realise that washing our cars in our driveways is one of the most environmentally un-friendly chores we can do around the house. Unlike household waste water that enters sewers or septic systems and undergoes treatment before it is discharged into the environment, what runs off from your car goes right into storm drains — and eventually into rivers, streams, groundwater and wetlands where it poisons aquatic life and wreaks other ecosystem havoc. After all, that water is loaded with a concoction of diesel, petrol, oil and residues from exhaust fumes — as well as the harsh detergents and chemicals being used for the washing itself.


Think Green When Washing Your Car

If you must wash your car at home, choose a biodegradable soap specifically formulated for vehicle parts. Or you can make your own biodegradable car wash by mixing one cup of liquid dishwashing detergent and 3/4 cup of powdered laundry detergent (each should be chlorine- and phosphate-free and non-petroleum-based) with three gallons of water. This concentrate can then be used as sparingly as possible with water over exterior car surfaces.

Individuals, schools and businesses alike though can get into hot water as a result of environment laws. John Gormley when Minister for Environment signed regulations bringing into effect Section 56 of the Water Services Act 2007 which provides for the conservation of water. Motorists who insist on washing their cars during times of water shortages face on-the-spot fines of €125, rising to as much as €5,000, if they fail to heed warnings to stop wasting water. (National Geographic calculates “A standard garden hose spews roughly 10 gallons of water per minute, adding up to between 80 and 140 gallons per wash”). At that rate a weekly wash can use over 5,000 gallons of water annually and cause pollution of our groundwater and rivers.

Even when using green-friendly cleaners, it is better to avoid the driveway and instead wash your car on your lawn or over dirt so that the toxic waste water can be absorbed and neutralised in soil instead of flowing directly into storm drains or open water bodies. As an animal lover I must remind you, always try to sop up or disperse those sudsy puddles that remain after you’re done. They contain toxic residues and can tempt thirsty animals.

Reputable Commercial Car Washes Treat Waste Water Carefully.

On the other hand, European laws require commercial carwash facilities to drain their wastewater into separation systems, so that it gets treated before it is discharged back into the great outdoors.  Reputable commercial car washes use computer controlled systems and high-pressure nozzles and pumps that minimise water usage.

Car Wash industry groups representing commercial car wash companies, claim that automatic car washes use less water than most home car washers.

Waterless Car Wash Products

One way to avoid such problems altogether is to wash your car using any number of waterless formulas available and are applied via an aerosol spray can or non-aerosol applicator, then wiped off with a cloth. Some car cleaning products may contain petroleum distillates, silicone, solvents, acids, abrasives or other harmful chemicals that may be hazardous to the health of family, pets and of course the environment. a leading product in this growing field claims that 100% of their products ingredients are derived from bio-based organic sources.

A Better Car Wash Option for Fundraising

One last caution: Children, parents, SME’s planning a fundraising car wash event for the summer should know that they might be violating clean water laws if run-off is not contained and disposed of properly. One alternative is to have a waterless car wash fundraiser.

Harry Toye is managing director, NOWET Ireland