Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Down the drain know how

October 11, 2010

Robert Harvey, director of engineering and support for Duluth, GA-based Hydro Management Systems, is a chemical engineer with 29+ years experience with industrial water and wastewater. His involvement with the carwash industry came about eight years ago, when he and his team were asked to design an industrial wastewater treatment system for a full-serve conveyor in Atlanta, GA.

Harvey recently spoke with Professional Carwashing and Detailing® and explained how carwashes can become more eco- and water-friendly.

PC&D: How have the recent (and some still occurring) droughts across the United States affected carwashes?

Harvey: The drought situation has been in the forefront of the Atlanta area along with other regions of the U.S. and even globally to a larger extent.

In many areas, drinking water reservoirs have dropped to unprecedented levels. To say that we’ve had a regional panic over the past few years would be putting it mildly. What has evolved is a general industry acceptance of the fact that water is a very finite resource that must be managed to the highest extent possible.

Numerous certification programs are being put in place and local ordinances are certainly stricter when permitting a carwash. We recently built a flex-serve conveyor wash for ourselves and had numerous meetings with the county regulatory agencies detailing our water recycling efforts before they would issue our construction permits.

In addition, the general public (our customers) are much more aware of “green” concepts including water use. Being green isn’t just a buzz word any longer; it has become a way of life for many of us.

During the height of our local drought several of the local wash operators put up “We Recycle Our Water” signs and subsequently reported almost immediate car count increases upwards of 15 percent.

PC&D: What are some of the myths you’ve heard about carwashes and their use and misuse of water?

Harvey: Myths about the excessive volume of water and pollution caused by carwashes are generally inaccurate.

Commercial carwashes, especially those that recycle, use much less water than a typical driveway wash to say nothing of the chemical runoff from a driveway wash.

Many commercial carwashes discharge to a publically owned treatment works (POTW) facility where the wastewater is collected for further treatment. Driveway washes generally discharge directly to storm sewer as runoff where there is no further treatment before entering the environment.

Candidly, in some areas of the country water is still relatively plentiful and inexpensive so it isn’t much of a concern for these particular operators. However, the vast majority of operators have or are considering water recycling as a business and operational priority.

PC&D: Do you find that a lot of carwashes out there misuse water?

Harvey: Absolutely not! It’s a function of their business, no one can afford to waste water, especially not in area subject to drought and/or water use restrictions.

Water and sewer use fees can be astronomical and generally are increasing regularly. It is simply prudent business to reuse the water.

We have customers that have reduced water/sewer cost in excess of $6,000 per month using our equipment; that’s $72,000 per year in reduced operating costs.

PC&D: What are some of the biggest mistakes owners and operators are making in terms of water usage?

Harvey: This may not sit well with some readers, but you asked so here are my observations. Some operators make buying decisions based solely on the lowest cost without doing enough due diligence on their own to make certain that the recycling system they are purchasing is the right one for their specific wash.

We’ve also seen operators buy a recycling system knowing in advance that it won’t meet their needs just to get permitted to open and start operating. We also know of operators that shut off and bypass the recycling system after opening because they either bought the cheapest system quoted or because they become so frustrated with the level and cost of maintenance and the poor quality water that is produced causes them to simply quit using it.

Selecting the right system requires some work. Truth is, even some highly experienced equipment vendors and distributors aren’t always up-to-speed on the latest and most effective technology. We encourage the operator, working in conjunction with his equipment distributor, to thoroughly understand the site specific water issues and demands for his wash. This typically means getting a site specific lab analysis of the water source to define the constituents that may be of concern in advance of selecting any water treatment or recycling equipment.

In addition, sharing this information with a qualified and experienced water treatment professional will go a long way towards insuring that the equipment ultimately selected matches the needs and expectations of the site for the long term.

Simply put, investigate, actually go and visit several washes using the equipment you’re being quoted. Talk with the managers of these washes and ask detailed and direct questions about maintenance, water quality, odors, support after the sale, etc.