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Old 03-02-2008, 12:58 PM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Bay Area, California
Posts: 4,811
What's the deal with washing cars in California?

I've heard that it can be illegal at times to wash your car in your driveway in California? Is this true? If so, is area specific, and what are the limitations? (I live in the San Francisco area).

Last edited by Red Barchetta; 03-02-2008 at 12:58 PM.
Old 03-02-2008, 01:28 PM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Missoula, Montana, USA
Posts: 20,515
Speaking out of my ass, it's water conservation. I bet it's similarly illegal to water your lawn at some times, too.
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Old 03-02-2008, 01:44 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2000
Posts: 7,851
I believe the issue is not washing the car, per se, but allowing the soapy water into the storm drains. I also think it's technically illegal because of a federal clean water statute, so it applies more places than CA. Warnings that you shouldn't let water from washing your car flow into the storm drains are certainly issued in other states, such as this blurb from Indiana:
Old 03-02-2008, 02:04 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: NoWA
Posts: 59,089
Originally Posted by yabob
I believe the issue is not washing the car, per se, but allowing the soapy water into the storm drains.
Under the City's ordinance which was updated in Sept. 2000, it is illegal for persons to release chemicals, hazardous materials, used motor oil, machinery oils, household cleaners, pesticides, grease, leaves and debris into the streets, gutters or storm drains. Please note however that practices such as car washing, sidewalk washing, and discharges from de-chlorinated swimming pools and fountains are allowed.
McCloud, CA
Mandatory Stage If the Voluntary Stage does not result in the necessary reduction of water demand, or supply conditions worsen, the Mandatory Stage is triggered and it prohibits orrestricts certain water uses... The following conservation measures will be required toachieve a 25 percent reduction in normal water use:
  • Prohibit car washing except at commercial car wash facilities that recycle water;
These are city ordinances and not state laws. It's been four years since I moved to Washington, and many years since I was in severe drought conditions in California; but it was my understanding that the prohibition of washing cars at home was to conserve water rather than to alleviate pollution.

Last edited by Johnny L.A.; 03-02-2008 at 02:04 PM.
Old 03-02-2008, 02:11 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: south of the slot
Posts: 637
Anecdotally, car washing was prohibited on Stanford campus. That's because the storm drains drained directly to the bay, and they didn't want all that oil going with it. There might be similar ordinances in other cities depending on how they treat their storm drains.
Old 03-02-2008, 02:17 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Detroit
Posts: 9,490
and see,

Apparently, San Luis Obispo County recently passed an ordinance, but repealed it in response to protests:

And here is an article that talks about how some jurisdictions have handled the issue:
Old 03-02-2008, 02:20 PM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Bay Area, California
Posts: 4,811
Well, this is all rather interesting. So washing cars is generally okay, so long as there's not a drought (and the local city hasn't banned it)?

But assuming I did live in a city which banned car washing (commercial car washing is apparently still okay), how do those with motorcycles get them cleaned? As far as I know, there's no commercial motorcycle washers.

Last edited by Red Barchetta; 03-02-2008 at 02:21 PM.
Old 03-02-2008, 05:57 PM
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 9,193
For what it's worth, Sydney is under long term water restrictions, so you can't wash a car with a hose (have to use a bucket), but even when the water restrictions don't apply, I believe it's illegal to wash your car on the street or in any paved area that has stormwater run-off into the drainage system. Washing the car on the lawn is fine, and apparently the detergent is actually good for the grass!
Old 08-27-2013, 12:50 AM
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 1
Yes it is a law about Pollution first and foremost with conservation as an underpinning.

The idea behind carwashing at commercial facilities or on vegetative surfaces, was to prevent non-point-source-pollution from entering our waterways, wetlands and coastal waters. The material built up on cars, such as brake dust, oil residue, coolant residue, tire material, hydraulic fluids (power steering, transmission, brake, etc) can cause cancers in humans, lesions and organ failure in animals and humans and much more. The soaps normally used are not soap at all, soap being plant based, but detergents and degreasers, Both of which are petroleum based and nonbiodegradable and highly toxic to aquatic and terrestrial animals. One of which would be humans. Many of the additives in these chemical detergent and degreasers are also highly toxic, suspected carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and hormone mimics. One huge drawback of course is the algae bloom that follows this type of chemical when leached into our waterways. In Newport Beach algae blooms cause fish die off each year at the end of spring and creates algal islands larger than kayaks during spring when runoff is at its highpoints. here are some links to the new state laws in California.

Answer of course could be one of two. 1. use commercial carwashes that are required to impound and recycle water from their very water efficient machinery.
2. Still better than that, if you think you save money when washing at home (think hose running nonstop if no nozzle = 3.5-5 gallons per minute) then wash your car ON your lawn or ground cover! not near the lawn, beside the lawn, draining to your lawn, it must be ON your lawn. In this manner all contaminates from your vehicle are rinsed onto your lawn or ground cover (I would prefer if you were using native grass or ground covers of course) and the water now has an opportunity to be cleansed first by the plants, then by the soil, then the bedrock, before it helps to recharge our aquifers.

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