Should I wash my car during a drought?

Local News

SAN MATEO, CA – JULY 29: A car goes through the car was at Ducky’s Car Wash on July 29, 2015 in San Mateo, California. As California endures its fourth year of severe drought and state water officials have implemented mandatory water reductions, San Mateo County Health System officials are encouraging residents to have their cars washed by a local professional car wash instead of washing your car at home with a garden hose. Most professional car washes use recycled water and average about 20 gallons or less per wash versus up to 150 gallons for a home wash. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Utah (ABC4) – With Utah in the midst of a severe drought, many are trying come up with ways to cut water use.

For example, is getting your car washed during a drought a good idea? How has the drought affected car wash businesses in the state?

According to Jared Richards, CEO of Shiny Shell Car Wash, which has a location in Murray, the drought has not affected the business at this point in time.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“I guess the way that we look at the world is, we’re part of the solution to droughts,” Richards tells ABC4.

His reasoning? When people wash their cars at home, the extra water goes directly into the sewer and has to be reprocessed. However, many car washes, such as Shiny Shell, use a water reclaim system.

“The water goes down the drain; it goes into big holding tanks. It filters out all the sediment. Then, it gets sucked back up and in. After, it’s filtered and everything is reused on the next car,” he explains.

The car wash does use some fresh water on the final rinse and mixed with the soap to make it frothy and bubbly, Richards says.

“… all of our brushes are constantly reset by this recycled water. When we hit your car with a really high-pressure water, that’s all recycled water,” he states. “But overall, new car washes are part of the solution for areas and climates where you’ve got difficult water circumstances.”

A typical car wash at Shiny Shell uses 100 gallons of water. Seventy percent of that is made up of reclaimed water while 30% is fresh, so about 30 gallons of fresh, non-recycled water is used per car wash. A typical car wash at home also uses about 100 gallons of water, but the water and chemicals are not reused, according to Richards.

Shiny Shell’s process of reusing water is not a new one and not a change implemented due to the drought. It has been used by many car washes for the last decade, he says.

“As far as during the drought, we had not necessarily had to change our processes, per se. But overall we are using a lot less water than you typically would with a self serve carwash or with a driveway-type carwash,” Richards says.

Shiny Shell has not received any calls from local government or public utilities concerning water restrictions or guidelines at this point, according to Richards.

“Doing the recycling that we do to reduce the amount of water usage overall is where we try to have our impact,” he states.

But how can you tell which car washes use reclaimed water and which don’t?

“So basically when I say new car wash, anything you’ve seen built in the last five years or so, any of the new long tunnel car washes, I would say that 90% of them have a water recycling system,” Richards says. “The only ones that might not would be in more rural areas where they’re servicing fewer people.”

(Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

He says that municipalities recommend and encourage car wash companies to adopt reclamation systems and the cost of water without such a system would likely overwhelm these businesses anyway.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, using a commercial car wash that reclaims or reuses water can decrease water use by a significant amount in comparison with washing a car at home.

Stephanie Duer, Water Conservation Manager for Salt Lake City Department of public Utilities, says drive through car washes are more efficient than both car wash bays and home washing due to high pressure nozzles that reduce run times, manage nozzle timing, and auto-spacing.

She says facilities that recycle water are not necessarily conserving better than car washes that don’t. Rather, it all has to do with the nozzle pressure and timing.

“The car wash industry recognizes that they rely on a limited, precious resource and so work hard to minimize water waste through innovation and best practices. As a rule, it will take less water to wash your car at a drive-thru car wash than you will at home,” she tells ABC4.

But for those who want to save money and wash their car at home, Duer offers some best practices.

Use a positive pressure nozzle and a bucket to reduce waste, though there will still be some water lost during wetting and rinsing, she explains. And wash your car on a driveway rather than a lawn in order to avoid broken sprinkler equipment, compacted soil, and to keep the soil from getting contaminated by cleaning products.

Mister Car Wash, another car wash company with locations in Utah, offers the following statement about water usage during the drought.

“At Mister Car Wash, we are taking this matter very seriously and are doing everything we can to be good stewards and reduce our usage of water in a variety of ways. Of course, we will continue to follow the Governor’s guidelines and we are working closely with city leaders to adjust water usage as needed pending further guidelines,” Megan Everett, Senior Director of Communications, tells ABC4.

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