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Environment-friendly tips for washing your car

Commercial carwashes use less water and don't dump it directly into storm drains. If you do it yourself, use a nozzle that shuts off, and stick with biodegradable soap.

June 10, 2010|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

Now that most of the nation is basking in warm weather, more people will be out washing their cars. It turns out that there's an environmentally friendly way to get the task done, according to Ford Motor Co.

You might start at the local carwash, the automaker said, a view that's in sync with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"When you wash your car in the driveway or street, contaminants such as grease and brake dust as well as the detergent itself flow into storm sewers, which discharge directly into our waterways," the group said.

Carwashes, however, drain water into sewers that go to treatment facilities or they filter and reuse it on-site.

But if you are going to wash at home, Ford suggests that you do it on the lawn, so that your grass gets watered as well.

The automaker also recommends using a hose with a nozzle that shuts off the water when you are not spraying your car.

This represents a big reduction in water usage. A typical garden hose has an average flow of seven gallons per minute, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. When left running it can exceed a commercial carwash's water consumption in seven minutes; in just two minutes, it could exceed the usage at a self-service bay at a carwash, where the spray gun works only when depressed.

Give the car a quick rinse and then use a bucket and biodegradable soap that is chlorine- and phosphate-free to scrub the car down. Avoid dish soap, which could remove your car's wax finish, the scientist group said.

Don't use paper towels to dry the vehicle and its windows. Ford suggests using a clean rag or a microfiber towel. The automaker says both do a better job and can be reused.

Finally, dump your dirty soap bucket into a sink or toilet so that the water gets to a treatment center. If you just toss it in the gutter it will go into a storm sewer and eventually drain to your local waterway or ocean.

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