Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Catching wastewater flow on the go

October 11, 2010

What’s that residents see pouring into their storm drain? It’s wastewater from a mobile wash unit — cleaning vehicles, trucks, parts, aircraft and buildings.

It’s also foamy and noticeable, containing hydrocarbons, metals and other pollutants — as a matter of fact, it’s visible water pollution.

Buckets of problems
Water is a limited resource. With all of our lakes and rivers in North America, we don’t realize just how precious clean water really is.

How large an impact can mobile wash and detail companies have on this big of a problem?

It is estimated that there are approximately 40,000 mobile wash companies in the U.S.

A conservative estimate of the pollutants that come off a single tractor trailer unit washed monthly equals two pounds.

Let’s assume each mobile wash company washes 50 units a day (or creates an equivalent amount of waste through washing buildings, parts or other items). This means in one day the mobile wash industry creates: 40,000 (companies) X 2 (lb.) X 50 (units) = 4,000,000 lbs. of waste.

Yes, that’s four million pounds per day. At 250 working days per year, we’re now talking about one billion pounds per year.

This is a conservative estimate. This problem is not going to go away.

Capture on the go
The theory behind capturing waste wash water for a mobile unit is to capture and recover the wastewater prior to entry into the storm drain or water table. This usually involves a three-step process:

Step 1. Use a capture and containment system.

Step 2. Utilize a recovery system to remove the liquids from the containment system.

Step 3. Operate a system to clean the water prior to returning it to the sanitary drain system or back to the process for reuse.

Capture and containment systems typically keep the water from flowing into the drain-like sewer covers, portable wash pads and also water dikes.

Once the fluids have been contained, the recovery systems take over. Recovery systems draw the water off the ground and into a holding tank, pretreatment system or wastewater recycler for further processing.

Recovery systems range from sump pumps to wet vacs to sophisticated automatic sump/vacuum combinations. Some portable systems combine capture and recovery in one step through vacuum suction.

Recycling the flow
Now that you have captured and recovered the water, what do you do next? The decision whether to recycle is site dependent.

For some sites you may be able to route your water through a filter system to the client’s sanitary drain system.

For others, the amount of hydrocarbons present may necessitate the use of an oil/water separator and a filter system or pretreatment system prior to discharge.

For multiple sites and conditions, as well as safety and efficiency, you may wish to use a portable recycling system to eliminate the guesswork and create fresh water for your mobile wash needs.

Whatever system you decide to use, check with your local regulatory agencies to ensure you are working within their guidelines.

Calculating your needs
If you choose a wash pad option, it is absolutely critical to ensure that the system will stand up to the daily traffic that you subject it to.

Calculate how many vehicles you will be cleaning daily and determine the type of conditions you will encounter; including site, vehicle types and chemicals used.

The quality of pad construction and design has a definite impact on the life of your wash pad. Consider materials used, warranties and user referrals.

Some units have secondary containment areas to ensure 100 percent capture and containment during drive-on and drive-off.

Ease of use, portability, deployment, and retrieval are also very important.

One manufacturer has designed an electric reel system to allow one man to deploy and retrieve the wash pad with ease.

Since your biggest daily cost is for labor, consider your daily time investment to operate the system.

It’s not too late
Eleven years ago, most of us were unaware of the pollution situation; the need to capture and contain waste wash water prior to storm drains and the importance of protecting our environment.

Nine years ago, California and Oregon began to implement some of the rules and regulations that were called for in the Clean Water Act. They also enforced some fines and closures.

In 2005, more states have come in-line with similar measures and enforcement.

The direction is clear. The time has come to capture, recover and clean your waste wash water.

It’s not too late. These are our lakes and rivers. It’s our drinking water and it’s our responsibility to keep it clean.

Douglas Latimer is the founder and president of Latimat, Inc., a corporation serving the Canadian and U.S. markets as well as a dozen other countries since 1992. For more information, e-mail Doug at