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Mass Department of Environmental Protection

Nonpoint Source Pollution Education: Car Washing

When you wash your car in the driveway, remember - you're not just washing your car in the driveway.

All the soap, scum, and oily grit runs along the curb. Then into a storm drain and directly into our lakes, rivers, and streams. And that causes pollution which is unhealthy for everyone. So how do you avoid this whole mess? Easy! Wash your car on the grass or gravel instead of the street. Or better yet, take it to a car wash where the water gets treated or recycled.

Clean water is important to all of us.

It's up to all of us to make it happen. In recent years, sources of water pollution like industrial wastes from factories have been greatly reduced. Now, more than 60 percent of water pollution comes from things like cars leaking oil, fertilizers from farms and gardens, and failing septic tanks. All these sources add up to a big pollution problem. But each of us can do small things to help clean up our water too-and that adds up to a pollution solution!

Why do we need clean water?

Having clean water is of primary importance for our health and economy. Clean water provides recreation, commercial opportunities, fish habitat, drinking water, and adds beauty to our landscape. All of us benefit from clean water-and all of us have a role in getting and keeping our lakes, rivers, streams, marine, and ground waters clean.

What's the problem with car washing?

There's no problem with washing your car. It's just how and where you do it. The average driveway car wash uses a total of 116 gallons of water! Most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water in the entire washing process than a simple home wash uses just to rinse off a car. Most soap contains phosphates and other chemicals that harm fish and water quality. The soap, together with the dirt and oil washed from your car, flows into nearby storm drains which run directly into lakes, rivers, or marine waters. The phosphates from the soap can cause excess algae to grow. Algae look bad, smell bad, and harm water quality. As algae decays, it uses up oxygen in the water that fish and other wildlife need.


Clean Water Tips: How can you wash your car and help keep our waters clean?
  • Use soap sparingly. Use a hose nozzle with a trigger to save water.
  • Pour your bucket of soapy water down the sink when you're done, not in the street. Or wash your care on a grassy area so the ground can filter the water naturally.
  • Best of all, take your car to a commercial car wash, especially if you plan to clean the engine or the bottom of your car. Most car washes reuse wash water several times before sending it to the sewer system for treatment.


newspaperWashing the car threatens rivers
Officials adopt rules banning soapy water from storm drains

Seattle (AP) – It’s one of the great American summer pastimes: Pulling the car onto the driveway on a sundrenched Saturday afternoon, lathering it up with soap, rinsing it off and watching the sudsy water flow toward the storm drain.

Now, officials in Washington and elsewhere are telling residents to either take that old ride to the car wash, or hold the soap and wash the car over gravel or grass to filter the dirty water.
The officials are trying to prevent the runoff, with all of its soap, grime and metals from the car, from reaching rivers and streams and harming the fish and other aquatic life in them.

“The soaps are just as toxic as some of the chemicals we regulate in the Industrial (sector).  They kill fish,” said Sandy Howard,  a Washington Department of Ecology spokeswomen.
The state, however, isn’t banning car washing. Instead, it is requiring cities to adopt ordinances that prohibit anything other than clean storm water from entering drains as part of a broader storm water permit it issues.

While there are no federal regulations dealing specifically with residential car washing and storm water pollution, local government may prohibit car wash water if it’s a significant part of the storm water problem.

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with numerous cities and states, are urging residents to keep soapy wash water out of storm drains and have launched public education campaigns.

Some eco-friendly West Coast cities, such as Santa Monica, Calif., have taken it a step further, fining residents $500 if runoff leaves their property.  A few fines have been issued.
The town of Fairfax, north of San Francisco, briefly considered banning residential car washing but residents batted down the idea.

The city of Vancouver, north of Portland, Ore., is rewriting its ordinance to omit car wash water as an allowable storm water discharge to comply with state rules.  But the city won’t be issuing tickets, public works director Brain Carlson said.

In Washington, state and local officials say they’re not going to bust scofflaws either.
“Are we going to have car wash police out there? No,” said Doug Navetski, with the water quality division of King County, which includes Seattle.  “We’ll do public education.”

Even washing a car without soap or with biodegradable soap is a no-no if the water runs off into storm drains, because it still picks up oil, grease and metals from the vehicle’s brake pads.

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535 Plain Street
Route 139
Marshfield, MA 02050

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424 Washington Street
Route 53
Norwell, MA

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131 Commerce Way
Plymouth, MA 02360


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129 Whalon St.
Fitchburg, MA  01420

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Randolph, MA 02368

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1019 Second Street
Manchester, NH 03102

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Open 24/7 -365 days
Open 24/7 -365 days


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Briteway Carwash
PO Box 2809
Duxbury, MA 02331