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Fund Raising Car Wash Guidelines


Car washes to raise funds for charities, schools activities or community groups often occur in densely populated urban areas.  Car washing activities can have a significant impact on water quality if not properly managed.  Wash water from these activities may flow into a storm drain, which may be regulated under the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program


This program regulates the stormwater discharges through storm sewers owned or operated by local, state or federal government entities.  Releases from car wash fund raisers are not considered stormwater discharges by DEQ, but may be restricted by local governments or the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) under their MS4 programs.  Before conducting a car wash fund-raiser, contact your local government (environmental/sanitary section) to ensure it is allowable and to obtain any local approval(s) that may be necessary.


With proper best management practice (BMP) implementation, car wash fund-raisers can be conducted to avoid or minimize releases that reach storm sewers or surface waters.  Following these BMPs, any releases from car wash fund-raisers are not expected to contain pollutants in concentrations that are toxic or would cause or contribute to violations of the Virginia Water Quality Standards, (9VAC25-260). Therefore, control of the discharge under the VPDES permit1 issued by DEQ is generally not necessary to protect water quality, provided the guidelines outlined below are followed.  


Use of these guidelines is intended for car wash fund-raisers that are temporary and intermittent in nature, and not for commercial, business vehicle wash activities that are regulated by the general permit. Use of these guidelines does not relieve the owner of responsibility for any environmental impacts and associated penalty liability that occur as a result of a release.


BMP Guidelines

  1. When possible, partner with a commercial car wash where wastewater is properly treated.
  2. Wash vehicles in an area designed for vehicle washing where the water is conveyed to the sanitary sewer system for treatment (not the storm sewer system).  The local sewer authority should always be contacted for approval and/or specific requirements before disposal of wash water into the sanitary sewer system.
  3. Wash on an area that absorbs water, such as grass, gravel or other permeable surfaces that allow water to infiltrate into the ground rather than run off the ground surface. 
  4. Avoid washing cars on impermeable surfaces such as concrete or asphalt unless it drains to a vegetated area. 
  5. Use a plug, seal, boom or other device to block storm drain(s) to prevent the wash water from entering the storm sewer system.  Accumulated wash water should be pumped to a vegetated area or allowed to evaporate to avoid a discharge. Be sure to check with the local sewer authority before disposal into the sanitary sewer system. 
  6. Use biodegradable, phosphate-free water-based cleaners only.
  7. Minimize water usage.  Use hoses with nozzles that automatically turn off when left unattended.
  8. Do not clean engines or wheels with any cleaning agents involving emulsifiers, degreasers (excluding kitchen dish soaps), strong acids, caustics, or other metal brighteners.
  9. Immediately contain and clean any spills that occur.
  10. Empty buckets of soapy water to the sanitary sewer via a drain, sink or toilet.
  11. Washing on sunny days is optimal as evaporation of wash water is accelerated. 
  12. If a release occurs from the wash site, ensure it is free from any foam and/or sheen.

Before conducting car wash fund-raisers, check with your local government to ensure it is allowable and to obtain any necessary approvals.  Some localities may have designated locations where these activities can be held to minimize water quality impacts. Some localities also may provide car wash kits that address BMPs that will help manage the activity and minimize impacts.

1Point source discharges to the storm sewer or directly to surface water from vehicle washing are governed by the General Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) Permit for Vehicle Wash Facilities and Laundry Facilities (9VAC25-194). The general permit covers discharges of wastewater from any fixed or mobile operation where the manual, automatic or self-service exterior washing of vehicles is conducted. 

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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