Car Washing Impacts the Environment

A commercial car wash prevents pollution and uses less water

A commercial car wash prevents pollution and uses less water

Every time you wash your car in the driveway or street, contaminants such as oil, grease, metals (copper, nickel and zinc), dirt and soap can flow into storm drains. Storm drains discharge directly into our local creeks, the San Francisco Bay, and Pacific Ocean. Car wash water contains soap and copper dust from brake pads that end up polluting our environment.

The best way to avoid this is to use a commercial car wash. The most affordable type is what is called a “spray booth” car wash. These are considered “do it yourself” car washes that operate on quarters. There are almost 20 full-service car washes in San Mateo County that will do the job for you, with a variety of pricing options. The basic car wash price actually costs you less than you would pay for using soap and water at home, not to mention the time and water you save by not doing it yourself. On average, full service commercial car washes save between 50 to 150 gallons of water per wash! Check with your local water company or the city you live in, driveway car washing may no longer be allowed due to extreme drought conditions.

All commercial car washes use less water due to high pressure nozzles, and many of them recycle their water. Not only does going to a commercial car wash protect the environment, it also saves water in this time of drought. There is even one car wash in Redwood City that only uses a cup of water in organic cleansers applied by hand!
If you prefer to wash your car at home, there are a few things you can do to prevent pollution. Wash the car where the wash water can soak into grass, gravel or be diverted to nearby landscaping, away from the street and storm drains. Put a trigger nozzle on your hose to increase pressure, and shut it off while you are scrubbing. Use rags to wipe off brake dust from the wheels before you start washing. Use phosphate free or biodegradable soap, or best yet, use no soap at all…

Environmental Health has established partnerships with commercial car washes to offer residents discounts. Go to for more information, or email us at

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