The phrase “environmentally friendly carwash” seems impossible when looking at retail or large scale automatic carwashing systems.1 The amount of water used must be high. In addition, the added soaps, waxes and/or rinsing agents that mix with the water must make it impossible to reuse that water. Add to those concerns the fact that the dirt and grime removed from a vehicle will contain pollutants that include gasoline, motor oil, surfactants and other solids.
Most washing systems in hot climates use between 44 and 73 gallons of water per vehicle according to a water consumption study.2 On top of that, evaporation and runoff will use up even more water. Most businesses pay for water use twice — once as part of a water bill and again as part of a sewer bill. Plus, many parts of the country need to ration water during summer months or times of drought.
Looking at run off, the chemicals used for cleaning and polishing a car will be absorbed into the soil or enter a sewer system. This can cause higher levels of pollution in the environment. Hand washing a car or vehicle means the soap, fuel residue and grime run off into the surrounding soil.
Innovative carwash system companies are aware that lots of water is necessary to properly clean a vehicle, and those companies have worked to develop methods of saving water and reducing pollution from runoff. Some of the ways to make environmentally friendly carwash systems are discussed here.
Lower horsepower pumps
All washing systems use pumps to move the water and the solutions for cleaning. Using lower horsepower engines in the pumps will reduce the gallons of water dispensed.
Different soap delivery systems
A traditional foam-based soap dispensing system generates more soap which means two things. One, more soap can generate more pollution, and, two, more soap means more rinse water is needed. Using a bubble based soap delivery system reduces the amount of soap used.
Water reclamation systems
Many carwash systems can come with or can have added to them a water reclamation system.3 The water used during the wash cycle is collected into an underground or above-ground tank. So, the first benefit is that the runoff pollution issue is eliminated because the grime-filled, soapy water is contained. Many businesses with an automated carwash system are near residential areas. The runoff from the polluted wash water could containment nearby yards.
As the water is collected, it is filtered so it is clean enough to be reused. The water needed to wash a vehicle’s exterior does not need to have the same purity as the water that a person drinks. Instead of using new water with each vehicle, the filtered water is used multiple times. This reduces the total amount of fresh water consumed by the system. The study noted above pointed out that wash systems using a water reclamation system can reclaim up to 82 percent of the water used.
Water conservation is an important issue in the automated carwash industry. Catching the dirty water prevents pollutants like fuel, oil and surfactants from leaching into the surrounding soil. In times of drought or water-rationing, having a system with the three above attributes can mean the washing system can stay open during those times. Adding a water reclamation system is important to making an environmentally friendly carwash.
Andrew Hoffman is a carwash manager, automobile enthusiast and freelance writer from Riverside, California. With over 15 years of experience in the vehicle wash industry, he has developed a passion for finding the best ways to clean automobiles while ensuring the least amount of impact on the environment. When he is not busy at work, he enjoys tending to his garden and driving his car.