Environmentally friendly is an ambiguous term to describe products and services that cause the ecosystem or environment no harm. For example, the literature suggests the most eco-friendly way for a person to wash their vehicle is to take it to a commercial car wash.
The reason given is that a commercial facility is the most effective and efficient method of washing cars. Commercial washes take less time, wastewater is collected and treated before disposal, and less fresh water is used especially with a reclaim system in place.
For example, the International Carwash Association’s most recent study on water use indicates that conveyors equipped with a reclaim system had average freshwater usage of only 30 gallons per car. Consequently, car wash operators with such capabilities can eco-label their business.
For example, WaterSavers® is a recognition program from the ICA to help operators promote environmentally responsible business practices. The program’s criteria for conveyor and in-bay automatic washes include using no more than 40 gallons of fresh water per average wash package.
Eco-labeling can involve more specific certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED is the most widely used green-building rating system in the world.
Consider the Smart Car Wash located in Woodbridge, VA. Smart is billed as the world’s first LEED-certified car wash. Some of the notable attributes of this wash include a rainwater collection system, sustainable building construction, 100 percent natural lighting, and 100 percent of electricity coming from off-site wind turbines.
However, besides 40 gallons of fresh water per average wash package an eco-friendly car wash also needs to address chemical loading as well as sludge from trench and pit cleaning.
According to our research, the amount of chemical consumed in conveyor operations has a range of between four ounces for a basic car wash service and 20 ounces or more for the top package.
So, washing 100,000 cars would consume 4.0 million gallons of fresh water plus 7,800 gallons of chemical or enough to fill one hundred and forty-two 55-gallon drums.
A commercial wash also generates thousands of gallons of sludge annually. The reason is wastewater is emulsified and contaminated with oil and grease as well as high levels of COD (chemical oxygen demand), and total suspended soils.
Consequently, business practices, such as monthly subscription programs that encourage customers to wash more frequently, may not be considered eco-friendly by some folks. For example, experience has shown that monthly unlimited programs can increases annual sales volumes by a factor of 1.5.
Moreover, chemicals used in a commercial car wash may be labeled as 100 percent biodegradable but this doesn’t mean that discharge from washes is free of contaminants. For example, readily biodegradable means chemicals have the natural ability to biodegrade to their natural state when subjected to sunlight, water, and microbial activity, from 60 percent to 100 percent in 28 days.
Another environmental paradox is the carbon footprint left by many new washes especially high-volume express exteriors. Twenty or 30 years ago, a typical conveyor car wash might have been 80’ to 100’ in length, occupying .5 to .75 acre of land. Today, 150’ in length on 1.5 acres or larger is not uncommon, and about half of this is asphalt parking lot.
Arguably, the most eco-friendly method of washing cars is waterless because it uses the least amount of production inputs (i.e., fresh water, chemical) and generates the least amount of waste. The caveat is waterless car washing has its limits.
Waterless is only intended for cars with light to moderate dirt, so it is not practical for most location-based operations.
Consequently, waterless car washing is principally the domain of thousands of mom and pop businesses that have cropped up across the country.
Every time I research and write about this subject, I find more and more of them. Consider RideKleen based out of Huntingdon Valley, PA. RideKleen is a mobile cleaning and fleet management company that began in Philadelphia in 2013 as a single mobile car wash on wheels.
The company has now grown to 15 mobile units operating in seven major U.S. cities with 40+ employees. RideKleen offers full-service steam mobile cleaning, reconditioning services, a fleet cleaning program, and routine maintenance services.
Of course RideKleen isn’t the only waterless car wash operation in town. Waterless Works was founded by Christopher Caporale when he was 16 years old. Waterless Works is a mobile operation providing waterless car washing services for corporate fleets and auto dealerships as well as steam detailing services.
Waterless Works has partnered with WATER is LIFE, a charitable organization that deals with providing sustainable water solutions to 40 different countries all over the world. For every wash that Waterless Works performs, the company donates the saved water to WATER is LIFE.
As shown on page 32, Waterless Works has acquired partners that any car wash operator would like to have. Clearly, these new waterless car washes are not the typical mobile detailer operating out of the trunk of the family car.
Not only are waterless car wash methods more commonplace, auto parts stores and e-commerce sites are now selling hydrophobic car wash products that don’t contain soap, detergent, or petroleum solvent and that’s safe to use in driveways without runoff concerns.