The Best Way to Wash Your Car


Fred Frog and Izzy Egret want you to know that soapy, dirty, grimy water hurts. When you wash your car on the street or in your driveway, all that dirty, grimy, soapy water runs down the storm drain and into creeks and the Bay. Even biodegradeable soap is harmful. Egrets, herons, red-legged frogs, turtles, seagulls, trout, stilts....all birds, fish and amphibians are at risk.

Taking your car to a commercial or coin operated self-service car wash helps because all wash water is recycled and properly disposed.

Cars are a necessity—and often a passion for many of us. But they are also among the main sources of water pollution in the Bay Area. That's because leaking fluids like motor oil, debris from tire and break pad wear, particles from exhaust and other contaminants end up on our roads, from where they are washed into storm drains that lead directly to our waterways.

Car wash water entering the storm drains adds to the problem as it contains not only the grime that used to be on your car, but also chlorine and detergents. These automotive related pollutants in our waterways can kill or severely impair the health of insects, plants, fish, amphibians and other aquatic organisms.

Watch Fred & Izzy show us how washing your car on the street or driveway harms wildlife and water health. Help protect them by taking your car to a commercial car wash.

The Clean Water Program encourages residents to use some simple practices that help keep cars in good shape and our water clean and healthy.

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What You Can Do

Prevent leaks

Check for drops in fluid levels and inspect the integrity of your hoses monthly. Repair any problems right away. If you don’t know how, take your car to a reputable mechainc twice a year for leak inspection.

Clean up spills with care.

To handle spilled auto fluids like motor oil, transmission fluid etc., don’t use water. Clean them up with rags or absorbents like kitty litter, then dispose of the absorbents promptly at your local household hazardous waste facility.

car wash detergentDon’t allow any cleaning products to enter storm drains. Even biodegradable products harm aquatic wildlife since they need time to break down before they are safe.

Recycle used motor oil and filters.

If you change your own oil, be sure to recycle the oil as well as the oil filter, either through curbside pickup or at a certified collection center. For more info visit Dispose of any other automotive fluids at your local household hazardous waste facility.

Don’t wash your car on the curb or in the driveway.

Instead, take it to a commercial or coin operated self-service car wash where all wash water is recycled and properly disposed of. If you’re organizing a car wash fundraiser, make sure the site drains to the sewer system. Check out our car wash fundraiser fact sheet for more guidance.

Put the brakes on roadside litter.

When transporting materials in a pick-up truck, avoid overloading and secure your cargo with tarps, weights and bungee cords. Inside your car, have a trash bag handy to collect cigarette butts, food wrappers and other garbage.

Resources for Download (PDF format)

Car Wash Fundraiser Fact Sheet

Wheels by the Bay 
Check out the 8-page "Wheels by the Bay" for tips on car maintenance, classic car culture in the East Bay and more!