Environmentally Safe Ways to Clean Your Vehicle

Washing a vehicle can require a fair amount of water and produces some nasty runoff. A major advantage of using a car wash is that, rather than allow the dirty water to run into natural bodies of water via storm drains, most of these facilities are required to either remove contaminants like chemical cleaners, soap, oil, and grease and recycle the water to wash additional vehicles; or send the runoff to the sewage treatment plant so it can reenter the environment harmlessly.

Because the price of water is rising, many car washes are recycling it whether or not they’re required to. When washing your vehicle at home, use biodegradable cleaning products to minimize environmental pollution. Try to do the job on a grassy or graveled area where the water can be absorbed and filtered by the dirt below, or do your washing near a drain connected to your home’s sewer system. Do not just let the water run down the street and into a storm drain.

No matter where you wash your car, conserve water. Don’t let the hose run while you work. Use it only to wet and rinse the vehicle, and shut it off when you don’t need it. Car Wash Association studies have found that people often use as much as 140 gallons for a single car wash, which isn’t surprising when you consider that a 5/8-inch hose can deliver 14 gallons of water per minute.

A good way to save water by not having to wash your vehicle as often, but also to preserve the finish of your vehicle, is to protect it with a car cover. The sidebar entitled “Car covers” later in this chapter tells you what you need to know in order to buy the right kind of cover for your vehicle.

Cleaning the Exterior

Keeping the exterior of your vehicle clean isn’t a matter of being a fanatic who spends every second of free time washing and waxing and dusting; just spending an hour or two each week can keep your new set of wheels young or brighten up Old Faithful.

De-bugging your vehicle safely

Getting rid of the bird-poop, tree sap, and other icky stuff on the body, windows, chrome, and wheel covers of your vehicle requires special treatment, often with harsh chemicals. Here are some precautions to take:

Safety tips for using commercial products

A commercial product can be just the thing you need to keep your vehicle in great shape, but with any store-bought cleaning supply, it’s in your car’s — and your — best interest to pay attention to a few common-sense and safety rules: Always read and follow the directions on the package. Some products can damage your skin or your car’s surface if left on too long or if applied and removed improperly.

Last word

Never use a spray in an unventilated area. And never get your face close enough to inhale it or risk getting it in your eyes. Don’t smoke when using chemicals or petroleum products. As a matter of fact, don’t smoke, period.

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