Spring 2015

car wash green croppedIt’s hard to imagine that there’s a connection between keeping your car clean and keeping our streams, lakes, and Puget Sound clean and healthy.  It’s harder still to believe that one person washing their car can cause any harm to our local water bodies.   However, when thousands of people wash their cars with the soapy wash water flowing into our storm drains, there can be a serious problem.  So before you grab the bucket, sponge, and hose, let’s talk about the aspects of washing your car that we should be concerned with.


Where Does the Washwater Go?
soap runoffCar washwater and rinse water contain a mixture of detergents, oils, heavy metals and other pollutants that we wash off of our vehicles.  Once the washwater reaches the street, it flows into storm drains which discharge directly to Edmonds’ streams, lakes or Puget Sound.  This soapy, polluted water is untreated and is harmful to aquatic plants and animals.  Don’t forget, our storm drains carry runoff from streets and parking lots, and discharges it untreated into Puget Sound, and our lakes, streams and wetlands.

Is Car Washing Illegal?
No!  Washing your vehicle is not illegal.  But discharge of the soapy, dirty washwater (with the oil and other crud that was just washed off your vehicle) into the storm drain is technically a violation of federal, state, and City regulations (Edmonds City code Chapter 7.200  -  Illicit Discharges).  However, per Department of Ecology recommendation, the City has adopted an educational rather than enforcement approach to car washing.

What About Soaps?
All detergents, including biodegradable or “Green” soaps, can harm our surface waters.  Soaps break the surface tension of water, lowering the oxygen level which is harmful to fish and other aquatic life.  The worst soaps contain phosphates, which can cause unwanted algae blooms in surface waters.  Avoid soaps with the words “Caution”, “Danger“ or “Warning“ on the labels – if it’s not good for you, it’s likely not good for the environment.  And don’t forget - car washwater and rinse water is a mixture of soap, dirt, oil, grease, and heavy metals.

What Should I Do To Keep Our Waters Clean?save our salmon copy

  • Take your car to a commercial car wash facility - it uses significantly less water while more effectively (think power washing!) cleaning your car.  And the wash and rinse water are recycled and eventually sent to the sanitary sewer where it is treated at our Edmonds wastewater treatment plant.
  • Find a community car wash that uses a car wash kit and disposes of the wash water to a vegetated area or the sanitary sewer system;
  • When washing your car at home, wash it on the lawn (or other vegetated area) to keep the water out of the storm drain.   Mild, soapy water won’t hurt your lawn - it will actually water it!
  • Use waterless car wash products, available at auto parts stores, supermarkets, and online.  Saves water too!!


To Keep Our Creeks Clean, Use a Car Wash Kit.
car wash kitIf you’re organizing a charity car wash, the City of Edmonds has two SudSafe Car Wash Kits available to community groups and schools to encourage you to run environmentally-friendly car wash events.  Each kit has all the equipment you’ll need - hoses, safety cones, and a basin to capture and divert the soapy water away from the storm drain and onto a lawn (or other vegetated area) or into a sink that drains to the sanitary sewer.  See contact information below to reserve a kit.

Site Requirements for using SudSafe Car Wash Kit

  • Electric power within 100 ft. of the wash area;
  • Grass/gravel/vegetated area within 100 ft. of the wash area, or a
  • Sink/toilet that leads to sewer system within 100 ft. of wash area.

Other Ways to Wash Your Car and Keep Edmonds Clean and Green.
  • Use a shut-off nozzle on your hose to conserve water.Puget Sound Starts Here
  • Choose a soap that has little or no phosphates, is biodegradable, and contains no chlorine, bleach, nitrates, or ammonia.  The soapy water will be kinder to your lawn or other vegetated area.
  • Use a small amount of soap!  You don’t need a bucketful of suds.
  • If you live in a condominium complex, ask your Homeowners Association to purchase a SudSafe Car Wash Kit for use at your complex.  This kit will allow you to wash your vehicle in your parking lot and will discharge the wash water to the sanitary sewer, not the storm drain.

Questions or comments?  Contact Patrick Johnson, City of Edmonds Stormwater Technician, at (425) 771-0220 x1322 or pat.johnson@edmondswa.gov

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