Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Yes, it’s possible to get your ride squeaky-clean without wasting water.
When it comes time to give your four-wheeled companion a good wash, the natural tendency is to hose the entire car down with water, then scrub until it’s covered in bubbles and rinse again.
That, however, requires a lot of water. A standard garden hose can spew out roughly 10 gallons per minute, which means a 10-minute car wash can use up to 100 gallons of water.
That’s a big problem if you’re in drought-stricken California, where under new regulations, you can be fined up to $500 a day for wasting water. As an alternative, some drivers in Los Angeles have taken part in the #DirtyCarPledge campaign. A handful have vowed to stop washing their cars altogether in order to make a water-saving statement.
But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There are ways to clean your car with much less water.
1. Use a waterless product. The idea comes from Eco Green Auto Clean, a California-based company that manufactures biodegradable, waterless car wash products and who recently announced their One Cup, One Car campaign. Instead of using just soap and water, opt for an effective cleaning product that breaks down dirt particles and separates them from the paint. A Los Angeles Times article recommends products by Meguiar or Eco Touch. Spray liberally and let the liquid work its magic, then wipe it down with a thick microfiber towel that will grab dirt particles better than a cotton one.
2. Reach for a bucket or nozzle. If you do need more water, Slate recommends filling a bucket of water and reserve the hose for quick rinses. Consider buying a nozzle for your hose so that you aren’t letting water run unattended.
3. Find a more eco-friendly car-wash. If you must take your car to commercial car washer (because, say, your city has completely banned residential car washes with potable water), find one that recycles its wash water. A car wash station with an efficient system can reuse up to 80 percent of the water, reports Slate.
4. Wash up regularly. Perhaps the most important part of maintaining the cleanliness of your car is to do it often. Eco Green Auto Clean CEO Anton Van Happen suggests washing your vehicle once or twice a week. Avoid waiting months between washes, which will allow dirt to pile up. That’s when you find yourself doing more srcubbing—and using more water.