A green car wash means you don't have to waste water and send pollutants downstream. With waterless cleaners and efficient commercial car washes, here's how to wash your car the clean, green way.
1. Keep the Dirt On
My friends in L.A., where most cars are as clean as surgical equipment, will recoil in horror when they read this: Don't wash your car. Does it really need to be scrubbed every weekend, folks? Washing your car less often -- say, once a month -- will save you a lot of time and use fewer resources, including water, electricity and money. It won't hurt the finish and the valet will still park it (until it gets as bad as the car on the left, which no valet will touch).
2. For a Truly Green Car Wash, Don't DIY
Do-It-Yourselfers, you can take today off. Going to a commercial carwash is a much greener option than washing your own car. Most carwashes have to comply with strict water contamination rules, so their runoff is often filtered before it enters the public wastewater system, where it then gets treated again. In contrast, the runoff from your driveway goes right into local streams and lakes, carrying with it all the oil, salt, grease and other pollutants from your car. You'll also use much less water going commercial than you'll use in your driveway.
3. Go Green, Right on the Lawn
If you're wondering how to wash your car without wasting water, here's an idea: just park it on your lawn. The phosphates in some (non-biodegradable) detergents are actually good for plants, and the water will help to keep the grass green. This also lets the runoff soak into the soil, filtering it before it goes downstream. If you don't have a lawn, try parking it on a gravel surface, where water can also sink into the soil.
4. Let's Get Less Wet
The EPA claims that the average home car wash uses about 500 gallons of water. That sounds a bit high to me; other sources put the figure at around 100 gallons. (In contrast, a commercial car wash uses just 45 gallons per car.) To save both water and money, go commercial or use an adjustable hose nozzle that shuts off when not in use -- a constantly running hose is incredibly wasteful. Another tip: park in the shade so water doesn't dry on the car's surface too fast, causing water spots.
5. Soap It Up
Several manufacturers are offering green car wash soaps and waxes with better, safer ingredients. Simple Green car care products, for example, contain only biodegradable ingredients, according to the company. Some folks also claim you can easily make your own car cleaners -- all you really need is soapy water, like you'll get from diluted dishwashing liquid.
6. Water, Water, Nowhere
For the greatest water savings, try a waterless car cleaner. Eco Touch, Lucky Earth and Freedom make cleaners that require no additional water. Some folks claim, however, that if your car is really splattered with mud and muck, you might be better off hosing it down somewhere first, and use these cleaners on a car that's just a bit grimy.
7. The Devil's in the Detailing
That new car smell is mostly chemicals with some toxic properties. Instead of paying a high price for interior detailing -- with all the attendant chemical fumes -- opt for one of the commercially available, non-toxic interior cleaners noted above. You can also keep your car's interior clean with regular vacuuming and, for the seriously OCD clean freak, an ordinary cotton swab.