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Washington Waters  Ours to Protect

Car Washing What you can do...

Car washing

Don’t feed soap to the storm drain.
Wash your car right. Keep your waters clean.

Clean water is important to all of us. It's up to all of us to make it happen. In recent years sources of water pollution like industrial wastes from factories have been greatly reduced. Now, most water pollution comes from things like cars leaking oil, fertilizers from farms and gardens, and failing septic tanks. All these sources add up to a big pollution problem. But each of us can do small things to help clean up our water too. And that adds up to a pollution solution!

Bonus points!

Cleaning your car the right way also helps you:
  • Support a healthy watershed.
  • Help restore salmon runs.
  • Sets a good example for your children and your neighbors.

Why do we need clean water?
Having clean water is of primary importance for our health and economy. Clean water provides recreation, commercial opportunities, fish habitat, drinking water, and adds beauty to our landscape. All of us benefit from clean water and all of us have a role in getting and keeping our lakes, rivers, marine and ground waters clean.

What's the problem with car washing?
There's no problem with washing your car. It's just how and where you do it. Most soap contains phosphates and other chemicals that harm fish and water quality.

If you live in the city and you wash your car in the driveway, the soap, together with the dirt and oil washed from your car, flows into nearby storm drains which run directly into lakes, rivers or marine waters. The phosphates from the soap can cause excess algae to grow. Algae look bad, smell bad, and harm water quality. As algae decay, the process uses up oxygen in the water that fish need.

How will we change our ways?
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!

Car washing soaps don’t have to be a problem.

What will you do to help?

  • Use a commercial car wash, either self-serve or machine wash.
  • Wash on lawns or other surfaces where water can seep into the ground.
  • Divert water away from storm drain.
Charity Car Washes
  • Sell commercial car wash coupons instead.
  • Borrow a pump kit to send the soapy runoff to a sanitary sewer.
  • Locate the car wash to divert wash water into the sewer, not the storm drain.
  • Rent a “Bay for a Day” at a self-serve car wash that is hooked up to sanitary sewer.

When you’re washing your car in the driveway, remember
you’re not just washing your car in the driveway.

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A Pullman Partnership: Not Wishy-Washy about Preventing Stormwater Pollution (5/23/13)


Measuring the pollutants from car washing (City of Federal Way, September 2009)


Stop polluting the water, a video about car washes, City of Tacoma

Puget Sound Starts Here: car washing television ad

Car Wash Kit demonstration - How to use fundraiser kits, from Skagit county

Salmon Friendly Car Wash Kit - Car wash kits for fundraiser events, from the city of Seattle

"We all live downstream" Salt Lake County Stormwater Coalition


Parking lot car washes cause pollution. Sell car wash tickets instead!


Protecting Washington’s Waters from Stormwater Pollution