Vehicle Wash Introduction

Car wash 1Just the thought of a car wash facility can elevate concerns over water “waste” for many people. Yet, automatic car washes are generally among the most efficient of the commercial uses in the local community. In fact, the efficient technologies and practices adopted in recent years by many in the car wash industry have gone a long way toward minimizing the use of water in these facilities. An efficient automatic car wash usually uses less water per vehicle than one would consume by washing the same car at home! Some experts consider the car wash industry to be one of the more progressive when it comes to water use efficiency.Car wash 2 

Water efficiency strategies are two-fold:  (a) reduce overall water use wherever possible, often by on-site recycling; and (b) use non-potable water sources for make-up water where available. While capturing, filtering and recycling the water used in the wash bays is common in newer facilities, there are different levels of efficiencies based on design and operational practices. The water efficiency benchmark is to use no more than 40 gallons of  make-up water per vehicle (except for buses and larger vehicles).  Where alternate non-potable water sources of suitable quality are available, such as municipal reclaimed water , these water sources should be utilized to reduce the demand on potable water resources. It is important to remember all water is precious, and even reclaimed water use should adhere to the 40 gallons per vehicle benchmark.

An additional area for water conservation is the towel and chamois washers used at many facilities offering wipe-down service after the car is washed and rinsed. The wash bin is often operated under continuous flow of water with an overflow drain allowing thousands of gallons of water to be wasted every day. All such washers should include a high level shutoff to stop water flow before water levels reach the overflow drain, or include a metered fill valve to shut off the water when unattended.

Frequently, the emphasis upon re-use of water in car washes has been driven by sanitary sewer discharge requirements, not by the programs of the water utilities. However, some water utilities have exhibited a special interest in achieving greater water efficiency in the car wash sector. As such, a number of studies have been completed over the years that describe what new technologies and practices are available to that sector. Some of those study reports are available here for review and download. Two studies on water conservation sponsored by the International Car Wash Association and written by Chris Brown are available:

Brown, C. (2000) Water Conservation in the Professional Car Wash Industry 

Brown, C. (2002) Water Use in the Professional Car Wash Industry

The Water Smart Car Wash program of the Southern Nevada Water Authority is a good example of a utility sponsored car wash efficiency effort.

In 2006, the California Urban Water Conservation Council commissioned a study by Koeller and Compnay to examine the California statewide water savings potential for a Best Management Practice covering car wash efficiency. The report may be downloaded here:

Koeller & Co., et al (2006) PBMP Vehicle Wash Systems 

An important study on effluent and solid waste characteristics in the car wash industry (also authored by Chris Brown), sponsored by the International Car Wash Association is available for download here:

Brown, C. (2002) Water Effluent and Solid Waste Characteristics in the Profesional Car Wash Industry

The Australian Car Wash Association is launching a rating scheme for car washes and their water efficiency.  Learn more about this effort here. 

Mendleson (2006) Australian Car Wash Water Saver Rating Scheme