How Car Washes Work

By: Jeff Tyson

The Operation

A typical car wash uses less than half the amount of water you would use to wash your car at home.

­ ­Operating a car wash is a competitive and often stressful business. Because the revenue per car is very low, you have to wash a lot of cars to make a reasonable profit. Probably the biggest factor in this business is the weather. If it is raining, people do not go to the car wash. In fact, a frustrating problem for car-wash owners is the forecast of bad weather. Whenever the forecast calls for rain or some other precipitation, people don't get their cars washed because they figure that the bad weather will make it a wasted effort.

An interesting fact is that most car washes use substantially less water to wash your car than you would use if you were washing it yourself at home. For example, one report says that washing your car at home typically uses between 80 and 140 gallons (304 and 532 L) of water, while a car-wash facility (without a high-pressure wash) averages less than 45 gallons (171 L) per car. In addition, all of the chemicals and detergents are washed into the sewer when you wash your car at home, but a car-wash facility must dispose of the waste in accordance with local regulations. This means that washing your car at a car-wash facility is usually better for the environment.


This pit captures the water that runs off the cars and recycles it.

To cut down on the amount of water used, a lot of car washes recycle water. The recycled water is normally used in the early rinses and to mix with the detergents. It may also be used in the high-pressure washer. It should never be used in the final rinse.

There you have it! Next time you pull up to the car wash, you will know just what each machine is doing. Be sure to check out the links below for additional information.

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