Eco-Friendly Ways to Clean Your Car

Tips to Washing Your Car Without Hurting the Environment

When the sun’s shining and it’s warm outside, getting out to clean your car can be relaxing and enjoyable, especially if you’ve got a car you like to show off. The hitch is that the chemicals commonly used to wash vehicles can be very harmful to natural ecosystems. And since most people who engage in curbside car washing let the wash water drain into the stormwater system where it goes completely untreated, that means harmful chemicals (such things like benzene, ammonia, bleach, and petroleum distillates, kerosene as well as dyes and synthetic fragrances,) being flushed straight into lakes, streams, and rivers.(1) 

When combined with regular vehicle fluids - oils, rust, grease, brake pad residues, and so on which are toxic in their own right - that means a pretty poisonous soup that harms aquatic life and natural ecosystems. Add to this the amount of water you’ll likely use if you employ a hose to get your car clean (on average, about 140 gallons per wash!) and you’ve got a very unenvironmentally-friendly way of babying your car. But don't despair; follow these environmentally friendly car washing tips to ensure a "greener" way to wash your car.  


How to give your car a green clean

There are many good, ol’ fashioned things you can do to clean your vehicle, without using a lot of unhealthy products or a huge amount of water. We’ve gathered the best ideas for you here for cleaning both the inside and outside of your vehicle:

  • Choose eco-friendly car wash products: Instead of using off the shelf car wash products, choose natural ones such as those made by the following companies: Simple Green or Ecover. You can even look for natural products for shampooing your car’s carpets.
  • Use a bucket: Instead of using a hose, get a bucket and a sponge. Making actual contact with your vehicle will get the dirt and grime off easier and will ultimately take less time than letting a stream of water do the work. And it’ll save enormous amounts of water!
  • Waterless car wash: There are now many eco-friendly waterless car wash products on the market that eliminate the need for using H2O completely. Using a rag, you spray the solution on and then wipe it off. Easy! You can take it a step further and resist washing the outside of your car as rain can usually take care of that. 
  • Reusable cleaning supplies: Don’t use disposable paper towels - after all, you’ve got a lot of surface area to cover and you’ll end up wasting a lot of money with these throw-aways. Use soft reusable sponges and cloths (microfiber works very well for this purpose) to get the job done.
  • Visit a commercial car wash: In general, these systems use less water than you would if you use a hose, and they are required to treat their water before it goes into the stormwater system, so this is a great solution for those looking for an easier way to clean their car. It will cost more, however.
  • Vacuum greenly: If you’re in need of a good carpet cleaning, use a green vacuum that consumes less energy and results in less dust in your car’s indoor air.



1 Pollution Prevention Fact Sheet: Car Washing. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2010, from Stormwater Center:

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