Plan an Environmentally Friendly Car Wash

​Car washes are fun and popular fundraising events for schools and community groups. If you are planning a car wash event, it is important to avoid negative impacts to streams and the environment.

Impacts to streams and waterways

Depending on the car wash location, soap and grime rinsed from vehicles during washing can end up directly in a stream. Most soap contains phosphates and other harsh chemicals. Pollutants, such as oil, antifreeze, and heavy metal, can be found in the grime on your car. When you wash your car on a hard surface, such as pavement, the pollutants are washed into a storm drain. From the storm drain, the dirty water flows into local streams. This contaminates the stream which negatively impacts water quality and can harm the aquatic animals and plants that live there.

Suggestions for your car wash

Here are some ideas that will help keep pollutants from your car wash out of local streams:

Plan your event

  • Ask local, commercial car washes if they offer fundraising programs. Some programs that may be available are selling tickets to the car wash, renting a wash bay for a day, or receiving a percentage of the event's proceeds.

  • Learn where stormwater flows at the location you plan to use.

  • When possible, select a site where wash water can soak into grass or gravel, or can be routed to landscaping.

  • Contact us if you have questions or if you would like to borrow a car wash kit.

At your event

  • Use a spray nozzle with an automatic shut off to conserve water.

  • Use soap or detergents that are vegetable-based or citrus-based, with the following labels:
    • Non-toxic
    • Chlorine-free
    • Phosphate-free
    • Biodegradable
  • Place oil absorbent pads next to the curb to catch oil and other chemicals. Purchase these pads at any automotive parts shop.

  • Wring sponges and washrags into buckets to reuse the soapy water.

  • Empty buckets into a landscaped area, not on a hard surface or directly down the storm drain.

Man washing a red car with a sponge

Contact us

Clean StreamsNatural Resources Outreach Public Works Department
8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
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