The state recommends that cities and counties help educate people in urban areas about sensible ways to wash their cars and still keep soapy water from washing into storm drains. You can, indeed, wash your car and you can also keep our waters clean!
Ecology’s stormwater permits recommend that cities and counties take a public education approach to residential car wash activities to prevent soaps and detergents from going down the storm drain. Cities and counties covered by the permit will adopt ordinances to protect stormwater from polluting discharges. Ecology’s guidance to local governments recommends they put a statement in the ordinances that for residential activities, public education for voluntary compliance is our main goal. We can only get to clean water through voluntary actions by many.
Most water that enters the storm drain in urban areas goes directly into surface water without any water quality treatment. Stormwater carries all the pollutants – soapy water and all. Soapy water and the chemicals in many detergents are harmful to fish and other aquatic life. This pollution also can get in drinking water in streams where water treatment plants take in the water farther downstream. Soapy water from car washing is just one source of “people” pollution problem. Car washing is just one of our actions on land that add up to many hard-to-trace sources of pollution. There are other ways you can help reduce your pollution: Scoop your pet’s poop; maintain your septic system; take care with use of yard care products; manage the manure on your small farm; avoid drips and spills when you fuel your boat.
Paying attention to how you wash your car is one way that everybody can contribute to clean water. Car washing alternatives include:
Take your car to a commercial car wash, either self-serve or machine
Wash on lawns or other surfaces where water can seep into the ground.
Divert water away from storm drain.
City of Bellingham
Federal Way: Washwater Monitoring Study (Revised September 2009)
Contact your local government stormwater program for help with one of these approaches:
Puget Sound Car Wash Association
Federal Way Fish Friendly Charity Car Wash sign (pdf)
City of Oak Harbor
Skagit County Car Wash Kit demonstration video
City of Noblesville, Indiana
City of Atlanta, Georgia
City of Santa Barbara, California
Johnson County, Kansas
Randolph County, North Carolina
Copyright © Washington State Department of Ecology. See http://www.ecy.wa.gov/copyright.html.