Wash your car and protect Puget Sound

Wash your car and protect Puget Sound
Posted on 04/29/2018
Kids washing a car.

Summer is here and that means it’s car washing season! We know washing your car is an important part of car maintenance, but did you know that the dirty car wash water (also called effluent) is harmful to water quality and aquatic life? To protect these resources, Burien has laws about how you can wash your car. Let’s break it down.

How is car wash runoff bad for water quality and aquatic life?

In addition to soap and dirt, vehicle wash water carries oil, grease, solvents, nutrients, and metals to our local water bodies.

However, sometimes the soaps and detergents that we use to wash cars can be more of a pollution threat than the grime washed off the cars. For example, soap dissolves the mucous membrane on fish, leaving them vulnerable to parasites, predators, and water entering their body. Ultimately, dirty car wash water kills fish and other creatures.

How bad can it be?

A Puget Sound area study looked at what happens to fish when different concentrations of dirty car wash water is added to 8-liter tubs containing forty rainbow trout. The results were alarming: zero fish survived. See Table 1 for results.

Source: “Practical” Fish Toxicity Test Report, Environmental Partners, Inc., March 22, 2007.

How should I wash my car at home?

You have three options, which I’ll list in orca-friend order.

  1. Visit a commercial car wash. Commercial car washes are the best option because they are required to send their soapy, grimy water to the same system where our wastewater from showers, sinks, and toilets goes for treatment. This is the only way water is cleaned before it goes out into Puget Sound. Many commercial car washes even recycle their water, conserving more for our aquatic critters. Make sure to ask!
  2. Use a waterless car wash product. A less expensive option, these products are designed to clean and protect your vehicle without using water.
  3. Wash your car on the grass at home. The ground can soak up that water and your plants can filter out the pollutants, like soap, that run off your car. Remember, it is ILLEGAL to have dirty car wash water leave your property. Dirty or untreated water goes straight into the storm drain before it flows into local streams, creeks, lakes, and Puget Sound.

My high school group does an annual charity car wash. What now?

You have a few options:

  1. The PSCWA Charity Car Wash Program. Through this program, a group sells car wash tickets that can be used at several different car washes around the Puget Sound. The tickets are bought at $2.50 each and re-sold for $6 to $8 each. The program is easy to use and tickets are easy to sell. To find out more, please visit www.charitycarwash.org.
  2. Consider alternative fundraising ideas, like a bake sale, school auction, garage sale, or a Walk-A-Thon.
  3. Rent a car wash kit from the City of Burien. Kits are FREE and REQUIRED for any car washing taking place in Burien. To rent a free car wash kit, please contact Mary Eidmann at marye@burienwa.gov or 206-248-5511.

Car washing infographic.