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Eco-friendly detailing

July 09, 2008
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Attention detailers: The world is going green! Why not you?

“Going green” encompasses several definitions and ideas. We should start by identifying the ways in which detailers can apply this widely-used term to their own business practices. Simply put, being green is the idea of living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle that has a minimal impact on the environment. For the detail industry, that environmental impact is typically focused on water conservation and controlling run-off and/or discharge.

Rules & regulations

The Federal Water Pollution Act of 1972 (later amended to the Clean Water Act in 1977) created laws to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our nation’s waters. These laws also allowed the Environmental Protection Agency the right to set and enforce the appropriate standards.

Under these laws, carwashes and professional detailers have to ensure water used in the cleaning process is drained or recaptured to the appropriate place or recycled or re-used. This is easier done by carwash operations than by detail shops because carwashes use more efficient equipment for the more complicated automated processes; such as computer controlled systems, high pressure nozzles and pumps that minimize water usage.

There are several ways in which detailers can recapture water:

· Portable wash mat;

· Wash boom;

· Sand or wash berm; or

· Triangle-shaped “puddle scoop” hooked up to a water discharge pump to collect the water and prevent running into the storm drain.

The professional detailer simply pumps the water into a reclaim tank and properly disposes of it.

Many cities, states and counties have their own best management practices that are available. In order to avoid costly code enforcement fines, you should check with your local municipality to discover any additional rules or regulations.

Sanitary or storm?

What is the difference between a sanitary sewer and a storm sewer?

Sanitary sewers are a series of underground pipes that take sewage from bathrooms, kitchens, sinks, and other means of plumbing to a wastewater treatment. Most fixed-based detail locations require a discharge permit and require installation of a clarifier or separator that will remove solids from the water, prior to discharge. Check with your local governmental authorities to clarify and determine what type of permit (if any) is need for your jurisdiction.

Storm sewers or “storm drain ditches” are designed to carry the runoff and other drainages in underground pipes or open ditches and are discharged untreated into streams, river, lakes and other surface body of waters.

Detailers are never allowed to discharge into the storm drain system. Doing so will result in significant code violations and fines.

Eco friendly cleaning products

Currently today in the professional detailing and carwash industry there is a constant “buzz” as to what product or products are the best to properly clean and detail your vehicle.

First and foremost is the hot topic on using a biodegradable soap which by definition is that the soap will break down over time and does not necessarily guarantee it is better for plants, animal or the environment.

Some of the biodegradable soaps which are still being used are still toxic to fish and other aquatic species because they have cleaners that may harm fish by destroying the external mucus layers that protect them from bacteria and parasites which also may cause damage to the fish’s gills.

Bottom line is try to use soaps that are labeled non-toxic, phosphate free, and that are vegetable- or citrus-based is the best choice.

Lastly, no matter what products or chemicals you are using, if you are not capturing run-off water, the contaminants coming off the car you have detailed, brake dust, rail dust, road grime, grease, etc., are far worse for the environment than most soaps used to remove them from the car.

Anthony Flammia is the owner of Gia’s Mobile Detailing in Long Island, NY. He can be contacted at Jim Fitzpatrick is the master franchisee of ProntoWash USA in California. He can be reached at