As surely as daffodils bloom each spring, so too do charity car washes spring up at corner gas stations, convenience stores and church parking lots. But what happens to the soapy, grimy rinse water that flows down the nearest stormwater catch basin? The water is often conveyed untreated directly into streams, lakes and even Puget Sound. Here are answers to some common questions about charitable car washes.
What’s the Problem With Washing My Car at Home?
If you wash your car in your driveway or in the street, the grimy soapy water that washes off your car travels down the driveway and street and into the stormwater catch basin (storm drain). Dirty car wash water contains toxic pollutants from the car and the soap. Contrary to popular belief, this dirty wash water does not get cleaned at a wastewater treatment plant before it enters into the nearest stream, lake or Puget Sound. These contaminants can harm fish and wildlife; pollute streams, lakes and Puget Sound; and even seep into our groundwater, which is the source of most of our drinking water in Thurston County.
Remember: Only Rain Down The Storm Drain
If you do wash your car at home, you can protect local streams by washing your car on the lawn (be careful not to park over your septic drainfield) where the dirty wash water can seep into the ground and not run down the storm drain. Choose a low- or no-phosphate biodegradable car wash soap, and make sure you empty your wash buckets in sinks or toilets that are connected to the sanitary sewer system. If you have a septic system, you can pour the dirty wash water over your lawn.
How Can I Keep My Car and Streams Clean?
The best way to keep streams clean when you wash your car is to take it to a commercial car wash. The dirty water from commercial car washes is usually piped down the sanitary sewer to a treatment facility.
What About Charity Car Washes?
Charity car washes are intended to raise money for good causes, yet, they are often unknowingly held at locations where the dirty wash water can run off into stormwater catch basins and eventually into our streams, lakes and Puget Sound. Don’t worry -- there are options for raising money from a charity car wash that will keep our streams clean!
The best alternative is to use a commercial car wash or to sell commercial car wash tickets. Many local car wash businesses help charity groups by allowing them to use the car wash facility. (Inquire at a local car wash business if they offer a charity car wash incentive.) The businesses then donate a portion of the proceeds.
Groups can also sell car wash fundraiser tickets that are customized with the group’s name and includes a list of participating car wash businesses. To find out how your group can raise money by selling car wash tickets, go to the Puget Sound Car Wash Association charity car wash website: www.charitycarwash.org
Clean Cars, Clean Streams Charity Car Wash
The next best alternative is to make sure the site at which you plan to hold your charity car wash is a Clean Cars, Clean Streams site. These sites offer appropriate water treatment, which help prevent polluted car wash water from contaminating streams.
If you are planning a charity car wash, simply call one of the numbers listed below. Staff will help you determine if your proposed site is an approved site, and they’ll provide you with a FREE Clean Cars, Clean Streams Car Wash Kit. The kit includes buckets, sponges, biodegradable non-toxic soap, hose nozzles and a Clean Cars, Clean Streams sign to show your customers that your group cares about water quality, too!
To find a Clean Cars, Clean Streams approved site and to reserve a Clean Cars, Clean Streams Car Wash Kit, call:
- City of Lacey – 360-438-2687
- City of Olympia – 360-570-3794
- City of Tumwater – 360-754-4148
- Thurston County – 360-754-4681 ext. 8