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Wash your car without water? Or don't wash it at all?  RSS feed

 
MJ Solaro
Posts: 131
Location: Bellevue, WA
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We don't worry as much about water in the Pacific Northwest. Especially here in King County, even factoring in climate change and population growth, the ecology department has announced that our water supply is secure for the next 50 years. 

But the reality is that much of the US, and the world, is in a record-breaking drought-state. And climate change threatens to only make it worse. We should want to conserve water so that we can share our embarrassment of H2O riches down the line sometime.

One small way in which we can do this is by not washing our cars with water. Traditional car washes use toxic chemicals, heavy phosphorus mixes, and are not efficient with the water that they use. If you wash your own car, you can be even more wasteful with the water.

There's a new line of products on the market called Eco-Touch that use natural, biodegradable, phosphate-free ingredients such that you don't have to use water at all. Just a rag and a few sprays of this stuff and your car will look nice for weeks. Seems like a better alternative if you must have your car sparkly.

Of course, my ultimate question is: does it really matter if your car is dirty?  In some places, like Florida, it's a crucial step to minimize rust-damage. But in the PacNw? Maybe it's just okay if our cars are dirty...
 
Leah Sattler
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I choose "don't wash it at all"  my husband hates it.
 
Charley Hoke
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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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We too choose don't wash, we do however travel dirt roads and occasionally rinse.
 
Leah Sattler
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sometimes I might run the windsheild wiper cleaner if I find myself having to peek around the clods of dirt and i have occasionally had to rinse out the bed after getting a load of compost. other than that my truck only gets a bath if my husband drives it
 
Susan Monroe
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Location: Western WA
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Maybe it depends on how old your car is (mine is an '85 Chev Cavalier that just keeps running), but here in western WA, stuff seems to be happening under the moss and mold.

I wash it once a year, whether it needs it or not!

When I drove limo in Las Vegas, we had these flannel cloths that we bought from an auto parts store.  We would wipe it over the cars to remove the dust, but they couldn't do much for mud.

Sue
 
Erica Wisner
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Susan Monroe wrote:
Maybe it depends on how old your car is (mine is an '85 Chev Cavalier that just keeps running), but here in western WA, stuff seems to be happening under the moss and mold.

I wash it once a year, whether it needs it or not!

When I drove limo in Las Vegas, we had these flannel cloths that we bought from an auto parts store.  We would wipe it over the cars to remove the dust, but they couldn't do much for mud.

Sue


I just washed my car for the first time in... a year maybe, and had to laugh when I saw you do the same.

How about washing the car when it's raining, and just using a cloth and a little bit of soap to work off any heavy grime?

I found some tree-sap dots that have etched themselves into my paint, and some cracks and dings that are starting to rust.  And there's a good crop of algae in the crack above the hatchback door.  Unfortunately, the actual plant that had sprouted from my rear window gasket has long since blown away.  But it all looks nice enough again now that I've washed it.

I think it's worth going over the surface every once in a while, just to check it for problems, and washing it by hand is a good way to do that.  Paint is for protecting a surface, and it needs to be maintained in good working order just like the rest of the car.

I used buckets and bottles and a rag (rinsed the rag often to avoid wiping grit onto the car and scratching it) with biodegradable dishwashing detergent, draining into a conveniently located 40-yard pile of wood chip in our driveway circle.

I used about 4 gallons of water.  Probably saved that much just by not drinking enough on hikes

Now all I have to do is remember to touch up those dings...

-Erica
 
Matt Baker
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I don't know. Keeping your car clean will keep the paint from cracking which keeps the metal from rusting which means you can potentially keep your vehicle for longer. Then again, most cars probably go to the junkyard before they rust.  I guess it depends on how long you plan to keep your vehicle. According to treehugger.com it takes over 40,000 gallons of water to build a new car. For me, my car is old, there is salt on the roads, and I can't afford a new car so I'm going to wash it.
 
r ranson
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We don't wash our car.  The paint hasn't cracked yet.  No rust, but they don't salt the roads here.  The car is pretty old , been over ten years since the last wash, possibly 15.  There is some moss, but that's just because we park it the same way and the one side always faces North.  We have about a year before the engine needs rebuilding (the mechanic says), so I don't think we'll bother cleaning it before then
 
Tj Jefferson
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In some places, like Florida, it's a crucial step to minimize rust-damage.


Hmmm, I lived in Florida and literally washed my car never. The rain down there is more thorough than a car wash, and I drove the car when rain was in the forecast rather than bike. The only for-sure indication for washing a car is because of salt, which is either applied on the road or from sea spray, since it catalyses the oxidation of iron. A light coating of static dirt will not degrade paint any faster than using water to remove that paint. The issue is friction, not corrosion in most circumstances, unless it is a mix of organic material in the mix. Water has incredible friction with a small amount of solute dirt, and removal of the clear coat is the enemy. My car is almost 20 years old and has no significant more rust (literally a couple spots) than when I left Michigan 15 years ago, and I think that is likely because I don't wash it!

The way I think about it, dirt is dead, and is not going to be a threat. Once you have soil starting to form (pine pitch and organic matter) there is a chance it will corrode. And of course maintaining moisture next to steel is going to cause rust. Otherwise I get a free rinse every time it rains.

According to treehugger.com it takes over 40,000 gallons of water to build a new car.
I don't know the number for sure but I have a friend who is a production engineer who told me the most environmentally sensitive vehicle is an old vehicle unless you drive quite a lot of mileage. That number is just the water consumption and does not include the fossil fuels to make the steel and plastics. He told me my break-even on changing out my 32MPG vehicle for a hybrid was probably a 120 mile commute every day, but that was based on hybrid manufacturers' claims, which are likely optimistic.
 
Matthew Lewis
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I think water conservation can get taken a bit overboard. There are some areas where water shortages are real and rivers and aquifers are being depleted.  In most parts of North America there is plenty of water. The real issue is water pollution or contamination.

For example if your city gets its water from the river and then puts the sewage back you haven't really depleted the water but you have contaminated it.

Same scenario if you harvest rain water and then use it to water your garden or wash your car. The water would have ended up on/in the ground anyway. You are just delaying when that happens.

Unless your water comes from a depleted aquafer or from hundreds of miles away. I would say wash your car. Just don't use toxic chemicals.
 
tamara dutch
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Dirt = more wind resistance = higher fuel use. So keeping your car clean has use. But dragging a bucket of water around the car is not funny. Spraybottle soapy water + microfiber cloth works fine and is much easier on you and the environment.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Sometimes I wait until near the end of a rain, to go out to the car with a soapy Rag and give it a once-over. Rags can drag grit around and damage the paint. After a few days in the rain, this isn't so much of a worry. After a good soaping up, rain works as a rinse cycle and leaves the car looking like I just left the car wash.

This is my $600 Toyota. It looks really nice after a good wash.
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Nicole Alderman
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Well, we've lived down a dirt road for almost 5 years now, and we bought our car (it was new) 8.5 years ago. We chose a silver/grey car because it hides dirt better, lol! We washed the car once, like 7 years ago when the local carwash place was giving out free carwashes.  Other than that, the only washing it gets is on its windows or when it rains. The car has no rust or paint damage that I can see. Also! I view an unwashed car as a theft-deterrent. It says, "Look! We don't even have enough money to wash our car; there's nothing worth stealing in here!"
 
Tj Jefferson
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Dirt = more wind resistance = higher fuel use.


Mythbusters actually did a test on it. It was absolutely caked with clay/mud, and it was ~10% difference at highway speeds. They did another with wax that showed no difference compared with unwaxed. I will say I would probably be more assertive about washing if I drove highway speeds (10% is no joke), but I seldom go on the highway! I suspect the air gets turbulent rather than laminar at a lower speed with mud, but I doubt light dirt is significant based on the wax test.  Nothing inherently wrong with a clean car, I do tend to spend more time tending to the unseen parts than the visible ones. I just enjoy it more.

I think water conservation can get taken a bit overboard.


The OP mentioned
But the reality is that much of the US, and the world, is in a record-breaking drought-state.
which may be slightly hyperbolic. Drought is relative, and much of the area of "drought" is desert absent intervention. I remember Worldwatch was warning about water wars since the 80s (yeah I'm old) and the reality is that most of the water worldwide is used in agriculture. There are water fluctuations intermittently in any big area, and soil carbon is a big part of the answer! That's what we are all about on here right? It is why this made so much sense, dampen the fluctuations with carbon (which we have a surplus) and we fix two problems at the same time. And maybe grow lemons in Montana!

Dale that is awesome! Mine probably would be considered totalled if I ran out of gas, but it still runs like a champ and still gets >30MPG.
 
Rachelle Adams
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Location: Virginia, USA
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A microfiber cloth and a little bit of soap spray will do. Or use rain water.
 
Dale Hodgins
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We are having a light rain right now. I seized the opportunity to do a quick hand wash. I literally used my open hand, with no cloth. That might be dangerous if you're driving a rust bucket.

I like to keep the roof nice and clean, since it's where I often place my solar shower bag. Dark green works almost as well as black. The large collection area means that I can have a hot shower in as little as 1 hour on hot days. On cooler days,  it's on the dash or in the back window area.
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