March 30, 2023

Washing your car is more than ordinary vanity. Several environmental factors can actually compromise your vehicle’s paint and lead to premature metal deterioration.

Aside from paint sealant products, nothing can protect your investment better than regular washing. The most economical wash is usually done at home. However, Southern Californians must also consider two major issues; water usage and runoff pollution.

Naturally a desert, Southern California has benefited from outside water sources, such as the Colorado River and California Aqueduct, as well as local reservoirs and lakes, which also serve as habitat for wildlife and venues for recreation. Depletion of these sources endangers not only their inhabitants, but the quality of water used by human consumers.

We must also limit the amount of chemicals entering the water-table and running into the ocean. Hazardous waste and chemicals in water sources can cause serious illness and death to unsuspecting consumers. Even southland beaches must be closed after significant rainfall, when contaminants are purged from storm drains.

So, how can we preserve our four-wheel investments without completely compromising the environment? Here are some choices:

  • Keep it clean. Park in a garage when possible. Avoid parking under trees, which may attract birds, or emit damaging sap. Avoid driving through standing water, and on dirt/gravel/muddy roads.


  • Use waterless cleaning products. There are several products available at your auto parts store and on the internet. These are ideal for spot cleaning, or even washing your entire vehicle. Look for non-toxic and biodegradable ingredients, and avoid those containing petroleum and other poisons.


  • Use a commercial carwash that recycles. Believe it or not, professionals can clean your car better, and use less water than a home-wash—some as little as eight gallons per vehicle. Ask if the carwash recycles its water and note how efficiently it operates. Remove all valuables from your vehicle, and watch it during the entire process.


  • Do it yourself. This should be your last resort. Residential hoses typically dispense ten gallons per minute. Average washes waste a minimum of 65 gallons of clean water. Furthermore, this contaminated water goes directly into the water-table or storm drainage system. If you must do it yourself, follow these tips:


      • Wash on your lawn. Water will not go directly into storm-drainage system; it will feed vegetation and allow natural filtration of organic waste. Parking on your lawn is illegal, so remove it when done.


      • Wash on a cloudy day. Avoid hot, sunny conditions, which hasten evaporation and promote greater water usage. Your car may dry more quickly in the sun, but it will also be spotted by mineral residue.


      • Use a bucket of soapy water. This conserves both water and soap, while producing superior results. Use soap and applicator made especially for cars. Dish soap and other household cleaners are not formulated to dissolve motor oil, gasoline, tar, tree sap and other road-related contaminants. Don’t believe the erroneous theory of soap-free washing. Dirt is easily removed when bound to soap molecules. Wiping a dirty car (wet or dry) without soap is the quickest way to ruin your car’s finish. Dispose of excess solution down the toilet.


    • Use a hose nozzle attachment. Choose one that produces a strong spray at low pressure, and allows complete shut-off when not in immediate use.

Author’s Note: Many concerned citizens never wash their vehicles for environmental reasons. However, we were unable to identify any scientific dirt study, so let us know if you know of one.

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