Waterless Car Washes

by Lori Straus

Washing your car with extremely little water can have an amazing benefit on the environment. However, it may still be unknown to many car owners. In this blog post, we’ll quickly cover the basics of waterless car washes.

How Much Water Does a Car Wash Use?

The numbers vary, depending on the source and where the car is washed. The EPA, for example, writes that home car washes use on average 530 L of water and commercial car washes about 60% of that, or 320 L per wash. Earth911, an environmental non-profit, says traditional commercial car washes use about 70-385 L of water per wash, and commercial car washes that use water reclamation and filtration systems about 35 to 320 L.

On the commercial side, a typical at-home car wash can use up to 680 L of water per wash, whereas a commercial car wash uses about 320 L or less.

What does that mean? We can put these numbers into perspective quickly: In 2017, the average residential consumption of water per person per day in Ontario was 200 L.

So, depending where you wash your car, you can easily use or save a day’s worth of water.

But products out there are telling us we can save even more.

What Is a Waterless Car Wash?

Think of waterless car washes like glass cleaner for windows: spray, wipe, and dry, basically. It’s not the same as touchless car washes or any other typical car wash for that matter. But it’s for the exterior only. If you need to clean the interior of your car, e.g., when disinfecting your vehicle, you’ll need other products and procedures.

You do need a stack of microfibre cloths, and there is a wiping technique to washing your car with a waterless car wash product, but compared to the buckets of soapy and clean water you think of for at-home car washes and the big machines that come to mind for commercial car washes, waterless car washes are essentially spray, wipe, and dry.

Is It Really Waterless?

Waterless car washes may also be called dry washes. In either case, the absence of water is implied. In reality, you may need to dilute the product you’re using, or you may want to spray a little water on hardened dirt to soften it up before using the dry wash, but other than that, you don’t need water with these products.

So, you can leave the bucket in the garage and hose coiled up.

Man washing his car with a wet clothDo Waterless Car Washes Work?

If you just went off-roading after a torrential downpour, you’ll need to go through a commercial car wash. A waterless car wash isn’t meant for that level of cleaning.

But for average dirt removal, in most cases, yes. In addition, you should be able to wash your car at home, because a waterless car wash won’t take oils and other contaminants from your vehicle and wash them down the sewer.

(A word of warning: Many municipalities have by-laws forbidding disposal of any chemicals through the sewage system, which an at-home car wash can do. Some go so far as to forbid washing your car at home at all. Check by-laws before using waterless car washes just to be safe).

If you enjoy spending a sunny afternoon washing your car, or you prefer to save a few dollars by washing it yourself, a waterless car wash is a great way to get a clean car without using litres and litres of water.