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Carwash Certification Program

As a joint venture with the City of Charlottesville, the Albemarle County Service Authority’s Carwash Certification Program (CCP) aims to promote and recognize water efficiency in local businesses. Working with the carwashes, the City and ACSA have modeled a revised program after ones that have been established in San Antonio, TX and Denver, CO. In order to achieve certification, each carwash facility must meet certain criteria, particularly in regard to the maximum amount of potable water used for each type of wash offered. For the facilities served by the ACSA, certification is also a requirement to remain in operation during any future drought restrictions.     

Program Summary:

The complete detail of the program in the ACSA Rules and Regulations can be found here: Section 18 (pdf)

Current Certified Carwashes

Carwash Frequently Asked Questions

Do other carwash certification programs like this one exist?

Yes, but not in all communities. The International Carwash Association has a WaterSavers Program that includes a certification process, and the standards are quite similar to those used in our program. See The programs of San Antonio, TX and Denver, CO were modeled in the development of our program, as well.

Why does our certification measure potable water, and not recycled/reclaimed water, used in the process?

There are several reasons. Potable water represents the “new” water that is drawn from our community water supplies, and which we all must attempt to conserve. Reasonable caps have been placed on the carwashes for the volume of potable water they can use in the various washes they offer. A majority of the automatic in-bay and conveyor carwashes use recycled water in their process, but not all do; self-service carwashes also do not use recycled water (see below). Finally, for the carwashes that use recycled water, it is not metered and so it is difficult to accurately measure.

What is the most efficient type of carwash?

Carwashes are generally placed into three categories: self-service, in-bay automatic (the type in which you drive your vehicle into the middle of the bay and stop), and conveyor (a track moves the vehicle through the entire process). In general, assuming all equipment is properly maintained, a conveyor system will use more water than an in-bay premium wash, and an in-bay premium wash will use more water than an in-bay basic wash. A “touchless” wash will typically use more water than a wash involving friction (brushes touching your vehicle). When any of these methods use recycled water, then the amount of potable water is obviously reduced. A self-serve carwash may be the most efficient, but may also be the most wasteful, depending upon individual habits and preferences. Using the soapy, scrubber brush extensively, and the high pressure wand for pre-soak and rinsing as briefly as possible, may possibly result in less water used than at an automatic facility.

Should I only use a carwash that recycles water?

Recycling and re-using water at an in-bay automatic and conveyor facility is an important component of their efficiency, and should be encouraged and recognized. However, self-serve facilities do not use recycled water since they are generally unmanned during business hours. Trash and illicit disposal of oil and other fluids make re-use impractical and cost prohibitive. As mentioned above, a conscientious self-serve customer could still use less water than at an automatic facility.

  Can’t I just wash my vehicle at home?

Assuming we are not under drought conditions, there is nothing prohibiting you from washing your vehicle at home. As with self-serve carwashes, home washing can either be quite efficient or very wasteful. To use the least amount of water, use a hose with no leaks and fitted with a shut-off nozzle, wet and rinse your vehicle as quickly as possible, and use a bucket of soapy water for cleaning. Commercial carwashes do have one distinct environmental advantage over the home wash. Washing a vehicle removes a variety of contaminants such as sediment, oil and grease, and heavy metals (from brake pads). In a commercial carwash, these pollutants drain to the ACSA wastewater collection system (sewer), and are carried to the wastewater treatment plant where they are removed from the water. With washing in the driveway, these pollutants may enter a storm drain that will carry them, untreated, to a stream or river. If possible, wash your car over a grassy area; the soil and plant material will offer some filtration of the contaminated water.

Isn’t it really just a waste of water to wash my vehicle at all?

Car washing is not an essential use of potable water, such as for drinking, cooking and bathing. However, for many people, a vehicle is a significant financial investment, and so, as with all discretionary uses of our resources, the pros and cons must be balanced. Regular washing is known to protect the finish, and thus the investment, of the vehicle. The aesthetic value of a clean vehicle is certainly of importance to many people, as well.