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Professional car washes use less water

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

With a restricted schedule for outdoor water uses statewide, when can you wash your car? A University of Georgia expert says you'll save time and water during the drought if you do it at a car wash.

Certain days, times

Georgia is now using its level-2 outdoor water-use schedule. Outdoor water uses are allowed only from midnight to 10 a.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at odd-number street addresses and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at even-number addresses. Outdoor watering is banned all day on Fridays.

"Most people aren't going to stay up until midnight or get up early in order to wash their car within the allotted watering times," said Rose Mary Seymour, a water specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Many people visit car washes because they save time. But they save water, too. "Most measurements and surveys indicate that it takes less water to wash a vehicle at a car wash than it does washing it at home," Seymour said.

Do they recycle?

Before you go to a car wash, Seymour said, make sure you select one that recycles their water.

"The water we use goes into one of three holding tanks," said Tommy Cox, manager of Minit Car Wash in Griffin, Ga. "The first tank traps the heavy dirt, the second the light dirt and the third holds the dirty, soapy water. This is the water that we filter and recycle."

Cox said he only uses fresh water for the final rinse.

"The pressure system we use helps knock off the mud and dirt without using a lot of water," he said. "And the final stage, when the vehicles are wiped with cloths, is just like rubbing your hands together to get them clean."

Much less water than home washing

Cox's system uses 55 gallons of water per vehicle. But 20 minutes of car washing at home would use 100 to 200 gallons of water, Seymour said.

"A typical garden hose without an end nozzle has a flow-rate range from 5 to 10 gallons per minute," she said. "Most people take longer than 20 minutes to wash their cars, so you can see how much more water it takes than going to a car wash."

Seymour said washing cars at home uses more water partly because many people don't take the time to attach an adjustable nozzle to their hose.

"The water that flows down the driveway while you're washing your car is a huge waste," she said. "Use a bucket of sudsy water to wash your car. And turn on the water only when you're ready to rinse."

If you insist on washing your car at home, she said, you must do it during the appropriate outdoor-watering day and time.

Dishwashers use less water, too

Seymour said another common myth is that dishwashers waste water.

"Surveys show that washing dishes by hand uses much more water than a dishwasher does," Seymour said. "Just make sure you wait until the dishwasher is completely full before you run a load."

Like car washes, dishwashers use water and pressure to clean.

"The same principal that makes car washes more efficient applies to dishwashers," she said. "Your dishwasher does recycle some of its wash water as well. That may sound unappealing, but you can rest assured that the heat in the drying process sanitizes everything."

Using fewer kitchen utensils will cut down on the times you have to wash dishes, too.

"Just because Rachel Ray puts each ingredient in a separate dish doesn't mean you have to," Seymour said. "If you cook like she does, you'll have a lot of extra, dirty dishes to deal with."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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