Car Washing and Stormwater Permits

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.

Why does it matter?

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.

For more information visit:

Ecology information on car washing and stormwater permits

Residential Car Washing – Links to information and resources

Paying attention to how you wash your car is one way that everybody can contribute to clean water. Car washing alternatives include:

City of Bellingham

Federal Way: Washwater Monitoring Study (Revised September 2009)

Snohomish County 

Charity Car Washes – Links to information and resources

Contact your local government stormwater program for help with one of these approaches:

Kitsap County

Puget Sound Car Wash Association

Federal Way Fish Friendly Charity Car Wash sign (pdf)

City of Oak Harbor

Skagit County

Skagit County Car Wash Kit demonstration video

Car wash education from around the country

City of Noblesville, Indiana

New Jersey

City of Atlanta, Georgia

City of Santa Barbara, California

Johnson County, Kansas

Randolph County, North Carolina