How to run an eco-friendly car wash

How to Run an Eco-Friendly Car Wash

Jane Marsh - February 4, 2023

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You might be thinking of opening a car wash as a professional business. Alternatively, maybe you’re going to run an informal one to raise money for a sports team or local charity. The good news is you can take either of these approaches and also operate an eco-friendly car wash. 

Choose a Sustainable Spot for the Eco-Friendly Car Wash

When you’re figuring out where to wash the cars, the top thing on your mind might be finding a location that will attract the most people. That’s understandable, but there’s an eco-friendly aspect to weigh, too. 

More specifically, you want to limit the chances of car grime and cleaning products getting into storm drains and potentially reaching local water sources. The best way to do that is to wash cars on gravel or grass instead of in the street. 

Grass is ideal because it can absorb a significant amount of the liquid, preventing runoff. If you’re washing in an area where people may pass by when walking dogs, try to choose a location where the canines will be less likely to lap up pooled water.

If you’re choosing a location for an eco-friendly car-washing business, aim to position it as close as possible to where your target audience lives or works. That way, they can give you business without putting too many extra miles on their vehicles and contributing to CO2 emissions. 

Do you need signage to direct people to the washing area? If so, consider reusable options such as chalkboards rather than disposable signs. 

Use Renewable Energy When Possible

This tip primarily applies to people thinking of starting an eco-friendly car wash as a business venture. The fact that you’re reading this now strongly suggests you care about the planet and its future. With that in mind, why not make parts of your business run with renewable energy? 

That’s one of the selling points of Colorado’s Gleam Car Wash. It has a 41-kilowatt solar panel within its infrastructure. The panel powers the building and a water treatment system. Deciding to do something similar requires extra thought and resources. However, the approach could pay off by proving to customers that you genuinely care about operating as sustainably as is feasible. 

An alternative to on-site solar power is to purchase green energy through one of several possible means. For example, your existing energy provider might allow you to pay a premium to get your power from renewable sources. 

Limited possibilities to use renewable energy also exist if you’re hosting an informal eco-friendly car wash. For example, you might make arrangements with a business that uses renewable energy and will let you avail of it during your event. 

Conserve Your Water Usage

Uncontrolled water waste can quickly turn an eco-friendly car wash into a very unsustainable one. However, you have several options for avoiding that issue. If you’ve been planning on doing a local car wash for a while, one possibility might be to use collected rainwater as much as possible. You can save about 1,300 gallons of water by doing that during the summer.  

Another option is to put a spray-gun attachment on your hoses. Doing that enables better targeting of the water. Then you won’t risk letting the water run when you don’t need it. 

Recycling water comes with many benefits. They include energy savings and pollution reduction. Fortunately, many commercial facilities engage in that practice, even if they don’t market themselves as eco-friendly car washes. Such locations generally use recycled water for early rinses and to mix with detergents, but never for the final rinse. 

You might be running a car wash primarily operated by kids who want to raise money for a school club or something similar. It’s a great idea to have adults supervise the work and give the youngsters pointers to prevent wasting water.

Investigate Specialty Products That Enable Washing Without Water 

Car supplies shops also sell an array of waterless car wash products. They cater to people who may not have easy access to a hose or spigot but want to keep their automobiles clean. These products also come in handy for people living in areas under drought restrictions. 

For example, an area of New Zealand recently forbade people from using more than one bucket of water to wash cars. That could be a difficult rule to comply with if people have multiple vehicles or have gotten accustomed to using hoses. 

However, waterless products for cleaning cars are now readily available. They come in a spray form and are highly lubricated to prevent dirt from scratching the car’s finish as people remove it. These products also often save time because many versions feature wax in the ingredients. Then, as people get rid of dirt, they also add shine to the finish. 

Those who have tried these products often say they’re not full replacements for water. However, the offerings do a great job when people have various reasons for needing or wanting to use less water. That could mean they fit in well when you’re operating an eco-friendly car wash. 

Similarly, there are eco-friendly soaps to consider. Those stand out from conventional options because they don’t harm marine life and other living things if they get into primary water sources. 

Advertise the Eco-Friendly Car Wash as Superior

Many people wonder whether it’s more sustainable to wash a car at home or take it to a commercial facility. It’s generally understood that the latter option is best. That’s because professional locations typically deploy technologies that enable only using the necessary amount of resources. Plus, they must abide by requirements to treat all the associated wastewater. Some professional car washes even offer options that use positive and negative charges rather than water to clean the vehicle. 

Today’s consumers are often extremely eager to make the best choices for the planet’s future. However, they might need help with those selections, especially when trying to choose between several possibilities. You can assist them by calling out all the reasons why your car wash is better than them washing their vehicles by hand at home. 

Mention reasons that include and go beyond sustainability. For example, commercial car washes are generally big time-savers. When people get home from work or finish a day full of other obligations, they may not have the minutes or motivation needed to wash their cars by hand. However, it’s much easier to justify stopping at a commercial facility where everything gets done in a few minutes. 

Some car washes offer subscription packages to consumers. You could capitalize on the sustainable angle of that perk by asserting how subscriptions encourage people to only get washes done when needed instead of potentially too often. 

Donate Proceeds to an Eco-Friendly Charity

People often believe true sustainability requires thinking beyond themselves. If you feel the same, look at options for partnering with an environmental charity and donating a portion of your proceeds to them. That’s an excellent way to give back to a cause that matters while doing something that sets your business apart. 

El Car Wash is a Southern Florida brand with 26 locations and dozens more in the works. It has a membership program where people can wash their cars for less than $1 per day at any of its businesses. 

The company donated $1 per month for every month a customer remained a member. This effort most recently resulted in a $50,000 donation to a local health care system. However, the car wash brand has focused on numerous charities in the past, including those related to animals. 

However, you could deploy various strategies when figuring out how to make giving back part of your eco-friendly car wash. Maybe you’ll hold a raffle to raise money for your chosen charity. You could also ask people if they’d like to donate a dollar to it just before they pay for their car washes. When consumers are already about to purchase something, spending an extra dollar is something they can easily justify. 

Choose What to Focus on First

As you begin to think more about the specifics of your eco-friendly car wash, remember that it’s okay if everything happens in stages. You may find it too expensive to install solar panels before your commercial car wash opens. However, you might decide they’ll be the first things you purchase once the business venture becomes profitable. In the meantime, you can use eco-friendly soap and support a charity that aligns with your values. 

Taking a few small and intentional steps towards eco-friendliness in your car wash is better than doing too much all at once and getting overwhelmed. People will see your commitments, and those priorities will resonate with those similarly committed to protecting the planet. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.