When You Clean Your Car, Keep Our Waterways Clean, Too

It’s that time of year when many of us grab a hose, a rag and a bucket of soapy water to give our cars a good scrub.

And while it’s great to find out your vehicle really isn’t that shade of muddy-gray you’ve gotten so used to seeing, washing your car yourself comes with a caveat: All that dirty runoff has to go somewhere — and after it flows down the driveway and into the street, it flows into our rivers, lakes and streams.

Pollutants that accumulate on vehicles include gas, antifreeze, exhaust residue, oil, grease, tar, salt, and even heavy metals. And the special soaps used to wash them off contain pollutants, too. All of those end up, untreated, in our waterways — affecting water quality, killing fish and other aquatic life, and causing more problems downstream.

While we’re not saying you shouldn’t wash your car, there are steps you can take to protect source water quality. The easiest thing to do is to wash your car at a commercial car wash — there are plenty in the Lehigh Valley. Commercial car washes must comply with regulations aimed at protecting water quality. These car washes usually filter and reuse their water, and eventually send it to a wastewater treatment plant. They also help to conserve water, because they use much less than you’d use at home.

If you’re determined to do it yourself:

  • Wash your car over permeable surfaces like grass or gravel, instead of impervious pavement. When water is allowed to flow into the ground, the different layers of soil act as filters to significantly decrease the amount of pollutants that end up in our waterways.
  • Minimize water usage, which will not only save you money, but create less runoff. Conserve water by turning off the hose when it’s not in use.
  • Use environmentally friendly, biodegradable, phosphate-free soap. Phosphate can promote unhealthy algae growth, which harms aquatic life.
  • Empty soap buckets and dirty water into sinks or toilets. That way it will go to a wastewater treatment plant before it enters our waterways.


One last tip: If your vehicle has any fluid leaks, ensure that they are repaired promptly. Not only will you extend the life of your vehicle, you’ll keep pollutants from dripping onto roads and washing into our waterways.