Like other businesses, commercial car wash facilities take resources and transform them into a finished product. The resources a car wash uses to produce are called inputs or factors of production, and the amount of services (and waste) produced is called its output.

In economics, the production function is a mathematical representation of the various technological recipes from which a company can choose to configure its production process.

The production function can be used to determine the maximum quantity of output the firm can produce given the quantities of the inputs that it might use.

Quantity = f (raw material, freshwater, energy, maintenance)

As shown above, car wash quantity is a function of several categories of production inputs.

Raw material is a function of chemical as well as any solvents or lubricants consumed. Chemical is a function of sales take rate and volume. Energy is a function of electricity and fuel consumption. Electricity is a function of motor horsepower, lighting, etc.

To illustrate, we constructed two production sets (technically feasible combinations of inputs and outputs) for a 60’ conveyor.

Basic wash = (4.0 oz chemical, 55 gallons water, kilowatts, parts, and labor)

Top wash = (20 oz chemical, 75 gallons of water, kilowatts, parts, and labor)

With some basic assumptions about expenses and a little math, the production sets can be expressed in terms of cost per unit:

In addition to services, car wash output also includes waste such as empty containers and drums, pit sludge, debris, broken parts, wastewater, garbage, etc.

Consequently, a facility capable of washing 100,000 cars a year would consume millions of gallons of freshwater and thousands of gallons of chemical (most of which goes down the drain) while also generating a lot of refuse.

If we wanted to take this further, there are online calculators to determine the carbon footprint of a business measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

So, we could define an ecological car wash as one that adopts best practices to prevent pollution and waste and minimize carbon footprint.

Pollution prevention is simply any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source. Reducing the amount of pollution produced means less waste to control, treat, or dispose of.

In the commercial sector, such practices may include modifying a process, using less toxic chemicals and water, energy conservation measures, and reusing drums rather than disposing of them.

According to the EPA, pollution prevention measures are reduction in hazardous inputs (pounds) and carbon dioxide equivalent (metric ton), reduced water consumption (gallons), and their associated cost savings.

A pollution prevention plan for a business consists of several elements. These include developing goals and objectives, establishing a team, calculating a baseline, conducting an assessment, developing accept/reject criteria, and reviewing and decision-making.

Let’s assume one goal is to reduce freshwater consumption. Not only would this be good for the environment, it would also be expected to result in less cost and waste.

Experience has shown reclaim can reduce freshwater consumption by at least 50 percent, whereas a pollution-prevention approach would be to look for practical ways to reduce freshwater use at the source.reduce, eliminate,
or prevent pollution
at its source

For example, if you removed the high-pressure wheel blasters from the conveyor and replaced them with wheel brushes, freshwater consumption would drop by 15 gallons or 27 percent. Not to mention less electric use.

Coupled with practices such as using smaller nozzles on pre-soak and rinse/wax arches, it can save several more gallons of water, and the benefit of reclaim becomes less certain.

Other measures that can be adopted include switching from conventional lighting to LED, using hyper-concentrated chemicals, and installing variable frequency drives.

On the other hand, car washing presents pollution prevention with some challenges, one of them being chemical usage because, as in many other industries, more is considered better. Another issue that challenges pollution prevention is the unlimited wash option, which basically encourages some customers to use the car wash more frequently than they otherwise would have done.

In the final analysis, the benefits of an ecological car wash would not be ambiguous. It would live up to its name. It would provide measurable reductions in material, freshwater, energy, and waste. And finally, it would reward the operator with less cost and a reputation of protecting the environment.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at

reduce, eliminate, or prevent pollution at its source.