Sunday Science: Is washing your car at home better or worse for the environment?


Winter is just around the corner, which means rock salt and other chemicals will soon be applied to southern New England roads. The agents will not only be on the road, but also in our cars. As someone who hates having a dirty car, this means it’s car wash season.

Did you know that the way you wash your car can affect the environment in a different way? is true! The two main methods are home car wash and commercial car wash. Let’s break it down.

Starting with indoor car washes, there are both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages are that each wash tends to be cheaper, it is finished at your level and it can be done in your home. However, this method of washing your car is worse for the environment. Part of the reason for this is how much water is needed. On average, 116 gallons of water are used when you wash your car yourself. Combine this with oil, rock salt, and harmful chemicals in your cleansers. Now you have a combination of toxic runoff that often finds its way into storms and subsequently into our local waterways.

Compare this to a commercial car wash; Yes, it is more expensive, but they are better for the environment. How is this case? The water required by a commercial car wash is approximately 40 gallons per wash. This is because commercial car washes are used to capture and recycle the water and suds used, and prevent most of the harmful toxins from going down the drain.

Commercial car wash not for you (don’t worry, I enjoy hand washing my vehicle too)? Here are a few tips to make washing at home more environmentally friendly

  1. Wash your car on the grass. Your lawn absorbs many chemicals from the shower, preventing them from entering our local waterways.
  2. Buy phosphate-free or biodegradable cleaners.
  3. Clean up the dirty water from the soap-buckets into the sink so it can be treated at the wastewater facility.

Thanks for reading!


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