Car wash 1200

Washing your car can send harmful chemicals down storm drains not designed to filter water.

From there, chemicals and soap will get into our streams, bay, and Gulf where they can harm marine creatures, plant life and water quality. Wash your car with gentle chemicals where the water will seep into the ground or use a professional car wash that treats and recycles water.


Car Washing Detergents Contain Toxic Chemicals

Conventional car wash detergents contain chemicals like acids, chloride, and phosphates (including hydrochloric acid, naphthalene, methylene chloride, and sulfuric acid). When washing the car on the street, these chemicals run untreated down storm drains into our creeks, poisoning fish and wildlife.

Phosphates in Soap Cause Excess Algae Growth

Phosphates and nitrogen create nutrient pollution which causes algae to grow and reproduce very quickly creating a range of ecological problems including fish kills because of toxin production, decreased oxygen levels, and lack of sunlight.

Fish Kill from Karenia Brevis - Photo: Alison Robertson, Ph. D.

Hose Spray Wastes Water

Washing a car at home can use up to 100 gallons of water and commercial car washes use between 40-60 gallons, while self-serve spray guns need only 12-18 gallons for the same car.

Things You Can Do

Take the Car to a Car Wash

Carwashes that follow The International Carwash Association WaterSaver guidelines will limit water used to 40 gallons of water and will route the used water to water treatment centers or septic systems.

Use Chlorine-Free and Phosphate-Free Soap

Help prevent extra toxin and nutrient pollution from getting in the water with a car wash product that is biodegradable and doesn't contain phosphates, chlorine or other harmful chemicals.

Wash Car on Gravel or Grass

When polluted water seeps into the ground, there is a natural filtering process that takes place, but runoff from driveways and curbs drain to storm drains that send pollutants directly to the our estuaries and waterways.

Use Waterless Car Wash Spray

Waterless car wash sprays not only conserve water, but they help keep pollutants out of our storm drains and our rivers and bayous.


ADEM Carwash Flyer

Protecting Water Quality from Urban Runoff

In urban and suburban areas, much of the land surface is covered by buildings and pavement, which do not allow rain and snowmelt to soak into the ground.


WaterSavers® is a recognition program from the International Carwash Association designed to help professional car washes promote their environmentally responsible business practices. Find locations of parcipating car washes.

Related Actions

Get On The Water

Getting out on the water is not only fun and great exercise, the more you use the water, the more likely it is you'll think about protecting it. So go ahead, go for a swim, get your fishing pole, take a boat for a ride, or attend a water festival near you.

Bring Your Own Bag

Plastic bags are often found in our waters when they blow away or are disposed of improperly. They remain there for generations to come as they slowly degrade into small pieces that are easily misconceived for food by fish and marine wildlife.

Types of Pollution

When water rushes off hardened surfaces, erosion of sediments degrade water conditions and smother and disrupt seagrass growth and the habitat for benthic organisms they provide.

Compounds like oil, grease, and heavy metals take a long time to break down and threaten the health of both aquatic and human life.

Litter is not only unsightly, but it also causes a variety of problems to the ecosystem as it enters our waters where it is often is mistaken for food by fish and invertebrates.

Too much fertilizer, pet waste, and other nutrients in our water often lead to serious problems like lowering dissolved oxygen levels, preventing seagrass growth, and killing fish.

Disease-causing microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and other single-celled organisms, are referred to as pathogens, some, like Salmonella, cause human health problems.

While pesticides are designed to be toxic to certain organisms, they can often be harmful and kill other species in the marine system that are important for the entire ecosystem.