Running an Environmentally Safe Car Wash Fundraiser


In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in response to the polluting of the nation's waterways from industry, sewage treatment plants and urban runoff. The Clean Water Act gave the states the power to begin solving this problem. Given this authority, the states enacted laws to begin healing our nation's waterways by targeting cities, counties, and businesses to implement pollution prevention programs.

Recently, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has asked all towns meeting a certain criteria, to apply for permits to discharge runoff into state waters, called National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System or NPDES Municipal Stormwater permits. As a requirement of the NPDES Permit, each permittee is responsible for developing programs and passing ordinances to control and reduce their local runoff/pollution.

The Town of Waterford adopted an Illegal Discharge Ordinance which regulates all storm water-polluting activities. However, the Town agreed to provide an exemption for "individual residential and non-commercial car washing" in the Town of Waterford." This exemption is based on an understanding of the basic value of car wash fundraisers to community organizations and youth throughout the Town. The Town has developed a set of "good housekeeping" pollution prevention practices for occasional noncommercial occasional car washing to minimize stormwater pollution from car washing events which are further described in this brochure.

Storm Water Discharge & Car Wash Fundraisers

During a car wash, dirty water containing soap and detergents, residues from exhaust fumes, gasoline and motor oils washes off the cars, flows off the pavement and into nearby storm drains (usually openings in the curb/gutter). Unlike the water we use in our homes and businesses which is treated at wastewater treatment plants, the water that goes into storm drains flows directly into rivers, bays, oceans and lakes without any kind of treatment. Alone, one car wash fundraiser event will create little, adverse environmental impact. But, collectively, car wash fundraiser events contribute significant amounts of water pollution.

To help ensure your compliance with municipal regulations, we suggest that you follow the "Good Housekeeping Practices" listed on this page for an environmentally successful car wash fundraising event. Using these practices, you will meet our important goal of minimizing the amount of soapy wash water that enters any storm drain.

Note: Both the owner/occupant of the property on which you conduct your car wash and your organization are responsible for implementing these practices. Ensuring that your group implements these practices will protect the site owner/occupant and should make them supportive of hosting car wash events of the future.

Good Housekeeping Practice Number 1

Before beginning your car wash, remove all trash and debris from the car washing area.

Good Housekeeping Practice Number 2

Use only soaps, cleaners, or detergents labeled "non-toxic", "phosphate-free", or "biodegradable". The safest products for the environment are vegetable-based or citrus-based soaps.

Good Housekeeping Practice Number 3

Avoid the use of acid-based wheel cleaners.

Good Housekeeping Practice Number 4

Minimize the amount of water or soapy wash water running off the car washing area by implementing the following:

  • Always shut off or kink the hoses when not in use.
  • Whenever possible, select a site where the cars can be driven onto grass or gravel for washing. Or, select a site where wash water will drain onto grass, gravel, or landscaping. This will allow the soapy water to filter through vegetation and soil instead of flowing into a storm drain. Use a bucket of soapy water to re-soap rags or sponges throughout the wash rather than adding more soap directly to the rag/sponge.
  • It is not recommended that you empty buckets of soapy or rinse water into the parking lot, street, gutter, or storm drains, but into a grassy area or lawn.

Water Conservation

Water conservation is as important as ensuring that runoff from your car wash fundraising event does not flow into local storm drains. The average person uses 65 gallons of water to wash their car. This total can increase to 3,600 gallons of water used during a car wash fundraising event where hundreds of cars are washed.

The following are some suggestions for ensuring that you clean cars with the least amount of water possible:

  • When using a regular garden hose, turn off nozzles or kink the hose when you are not spraying a car.
  • Use a pressure washer for your car wash if available. Using a pressure washer you should be able to wash 20 cars with one five-gallon water bucket. This will reduce your wet/rinse cycle to a little over one gallon of water/car. With a pressure washer, you can wash 50 cars with the same amount of water you would use to wash one car with a regular garden hose - a significant amount of water saved!
  • Tip: If you use a pressure washer to wash/rinse a car, you will get a fine mist spray. The water can be applied evenly and will spread the water evenly on the asphalt causing the water to evaporate quickly and greatly reducing the amount of water reaching the storm drains.

Other Recommendations For Pollution Prevention

  • If you choose a site that drains into a street, block off the storm drain with sandbags or wet towels and divert the dirty water, onto grass, gravel or an area where the water can pool and evaporate throughout the day. Wring sponges and wash rags into buckets, not onto the ground. Clean up the site after the event. Have volunteers walk the perimeter of the site location picking up any trash and debris and dispose of it properly.
  • Shake car mats into a trash can or vacuum them. Do not shake dirt from car mats directly onto the ground.