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RISMEDIA, June 9, 2010—(MCT)—Fun as it may be, breaking out the hose and soaping up the family car in our driveways on a hot Saturday afternoon is one of the most environmentally unfriendly chores we can do.

Each time you wash your car, an average of 80—140 gallons of water is used. Carried in this soapy mess are road contaminants such as brake dust, oil, and harsh detergents from the soaps. This soapy concoction flows down your driveway and into the nearest storm drain where it travels, untreated, into our lakes and streams wreaking havoc on the environment. This summer, recalibrate your thinking on vehicle maintenance and do your part while keeping your car clean and green.

The simplest solution for all you die-hard do-it-yourselfers is to move your car from the driveway onto the lawn or a gravel surface where the car wash runoff can be absorbed into the ground. You’ll also want to replace products containing petroleum-distillates, kerosene, silicone or mineral spirits with a biodegradable, phosphate-free soap specifically formulated for automotive parts.

And don’t forget to use a nozzle on the hose to regulate the amount of water used. Or you could skip the water all together and try one of the new waterless car wash products available at many retailers.

If you want to minimize the environmental impact of washing your car and save yourself a little time—go to a car wash. A professional or automatic car wash typically uses half as much water than even the most careful home car washer. Commercial car washes are also federally mandated to route their wastewater into sewer systems, so it gets treated before hitting our water supply. The use of computer-controlled systems and high-pressure nozzles and pumps also minimize the amount of soap and water needed. Plus, some carwash facilities recycle most if not all of the water used in the car washing process.

Finally, the worst options in auto cleanliness are mobile car washes and the ever-popular car wash fundraiser, which are now in the sights of local governments across our nation. Many municipalities already have ordinances on the books making the discharge of pollutants into storm drains illegal.

Mobile or ‘parking lot fundraisers’ can discharge thousands of gallons of contaminated concoctions into our water supply every day. Schools and parents planning a fundraising event should know that they could be violating clean water laws if run-off is not contained and disposed of properly and it could result in a hefty fine. Not to mention the bad example it sets for our kids. Selling coupons to a local environmentally friendly car wash facility would be a better way to go.

Driving a clean car makes you feel good but it’s also good for your car and helps to maintain its value. This summer, do your part to keep contaminants out of our water supply by washing your car the right way or by patronizing one of the many commercial car wash facilities that reduce, reuse and recycle.

(c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.