A common myth surrounding commercial car washes is that they are partially responsible for droughts and rising water prices. Commercial car washes are actually helping to keep the environment clean, cut water costs and keep cleaner cars on the road.
On the average, a driveway car wash uses a total of 80-140 gallons of fresh water. A commercial car wash uses, on average, less than half of this amount.
In one city, domestic car washing was found to be the second-largest source of peak water demand after lawn watering.
Every time a car is washed, at home or at a commercial wash, a toxic mix of oils, grease, rust, benzene, chromium and elements from brake linings are likely to appear. At a commercial car wash the dirty water full of toxins is cycled through a reclaim system. The water runs through a series of pits and settlement tanks allowing chemicals to float to the top. Solids and chemicals from the reclaim tanks are disposed of in an environmentally safe manner, while the "clean" water is filtered several times and reused to apply detergent and wash the car. Fresh water is used to rinse, apply wax, clear coat and spot free rinse to the car.
Many people pour untreated contaminants and detergent directly into storm sewers daily without recognizing the damage they are committing to a larger source – our bodies and our environment. People often use household detergents (dish and laundry soap, vinegar, etc.) to wash their cars at home. Environment Canada and the United States Environmental Protective Agency have identified these detergents as possibly disrupting the body's hormone system because they have the ability to mimic estrogen. In the case of aquatic species, the effect is a difficulty in reproduction, which results in a decreased population.