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Drought and Professional Car Washes

by Eric Wulf | Sep 11, 2012

Drought has been an issue across much of North America this year. In some areas, government has restricted water usage by homes and businesses. In the most severe of instances, we are aware of – and have been working with – car washes that have been closed.

When working with water authorities, the International Carwash Association’s position is:

Professional car washes are a part of the water quality and conservation solution.

  • The professional car wash industry uses less than one-tenth of one percent of the daily water usage in North America (based on U.S. Geological Survey and ICA data). In any area, car washes use much less total water than restaurants, hotels and many other industries.
  • Professional car washes prevent pollution from entering rivers, lakes and streams.

Closing businesses is not a sustainable practice.

  • Closing car washes puts people out of work.
  • Closing car washes reduces payments into utility systems.

What can you do next?
In times of drought, every person and business should be expected to make an equitable contribution. The best drought response plans take this principle into account and therefore first target home and parking lot car washing for restriction. If further restrictions become necessary, the next steps should take into account the water conservation practices or footprint of each car wash. Finally, if the situation demands it, car washes should only have hours of operation restricted – and not closed down entirely.

The middle of a drought is the most difficult time to make progress on improving your area’s drought response policies, but it’s not too late to get ready for the next drought. The following are a list of things you can do today:

Educate your community.

  • If you are recycling water or using grey or reject water, be sure you are telling your customers via signage, promotions and in your greetings.
  • If you qualify, join the WaterSavers program to align your brand with the industry’s water conservation program. Receive exclusive use of the WaterSavers marks and logo, inclusion on the list of locations at
    and the use of the new WaterSavers tab for your company’s Facebook page.

Calculate the car wash footprint.
An important part of the communication to water authorities in times of drought is the relative/contextual use of water by professional car washes. So, know the count of car washes in your area and compare those to hotels, restaurants or other businesses. In nearly every instance, car washes as a category will use much less water.

Know your water authorities – and their thinking

You should know who makes the decisions for water restrictions in your area, and what they already know about car washing. You can position yourself as an information resource, using ICA supplied data and your local research, to help regulators form an informed opinion.

Build your emergency plan

Be pro-active in planning for what you’ll do if drought approaches.

An example:
Step One: If I can see drought coming, I’ll begin modifying my promotions, ads and customer interactions to make sure that we’re educating customers about our low water

Step Two: If restrictions are being talked about:
I’ll start modifying my wash packages or configurations so that I’m taking steps to reduce fresh water – and I’ll let my customers and regulators know about this.

Step Three: If I think restrictions could impact me, I’ll have contingency plans in place, such as:

1. Can I truck in water?
2. Is now the time to do preventative maintenance or site refurbishment?
3. Can I "ramp up" my other businesses, such as detailing, oil chage or windshield repair?

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