car wash environmental drainage regulations

What Environmental Regulations Are There For Car Wash Businesses?

With the car wash business in the UK growing rapidly, many people are venturing into this business and a good number of them are not meeting the required standards. In return, this is posing a threat to the environment and workers are being treated unfairly, such as being paid low wages.

The pollution brought about by car wash effluent poses a great threat to the environment in which they operate as most of the effluent find itself into the surrounding water bodies. Thats why their are car wash environmental regulations in place to help with this problem.

There are more than 38 million vehicles in the UK that need washing with total car washing in the UK for all kinds of washes and detailing accounting for £1 billion turn-over.

So, before you venture into this promising and lucrative business, ensure that you observe and meet the current legislation and environmental regulations that many Mobile and hand car wash business are ignoring. This will allow you to operate smoothly.

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The owner of the car wash is required to control run-off from vehicle cleaning

Mobile and hand car wash businesses usually don’t have a proper disposal system as they are normally located in abandoned areas or places without proper sewerage connections. Surface run-off from car washing bases can have high levels of pollutants like oil & fuel, detergents, grease, suspended solids, and antifreeze.

Therefore, you should not permit run-off to enter surface waters, surface water drains or even ground waters like streams, lakes, rivers, etc. This will lead to pollution and you can be charged for it. As a result, you should only wash cars in areas where wash water and rainfall run-off can be easily contained and directed to the sewer.

Alternatively, you can direct the surface run-off from your car washing base to an on-the-scene treatment system. Having such a system on-site is vital as you can reuse the water at a later stage. Also, this will reduce your water usage and effect on the environment.

Your car wash business should be located where you can discharge run-off directly to a combined sewer or a foul sewer. For instance, you will be required by the authorities to have or show drainage plans.

In the UK, hand car wash owners are subject to the trade effluent provisions in the Water Industry Act 1991. For instance, Section 118 of the Act makes it a crime to discharge trade effluent to a sewer without written permission of the local water company. In addition, it states that for one to obtain permission, they have to write a notice to the water and sewerage company.

Get in touch with your water and Sewerage Company or authority to know if you require any authorization before you discharge run-off to a sewer. If you want to avoid problems, you should abide by all conditions of your authorization.

If you find this quite challenging, you can as well as collect your run-off water and car wash effluents in a sealed unit and transport it to an authorized disposal area. Moreover, you should make sure that the person or company that collects your car wash waste is a registered waste carrier.

N/B: If you use water from groundwater or surface water for cleaning cars, then you may require a licence or an authorization from your environmental regulator.

In England, the Environment Agency is in charge of protecting the water quality and it regulates discharges into surface waters or onto/into the ground via the environmental permitting system.

All car wash business operators require to have an environmental permit if they are going to discharge wastewater or effluent into surface waters such as streams, rivers, lakes, coastal waters or canals. In England, the Environment Agency can charge fines to any individual who discharges sewage or wastewater without a permit.

What practices should you perform as a car wash business to avoid being on the wrong side of the law?

Use water efficiently

  • Utilize car washing facilities and tools that filter and reuse water, or install a wash water recycling system.
  • Make use of trigger-operated spray guns. Also, the spray guns should have an automatic water supply cut-off.

Treat wastewater from car washing

  • Utilize collection systems to avoid contaminated water entering surface water drains, groundwaters or surface waters from draining onto the land.
  • Use silt traps or catch pots on drains, and make sure that they are well-positioned during washing.
  • Use the right absorbent materials like flocculent to get rid of suspended solids such as silt and mud. But before you use suspended solids, get in touch with your water and sewerage company to ensure that you can still discharge the effluent to the sewer.
  • Get rid of grease, oil, diesel, and petrol from wash water by passing it through the right sized oil separator. A good oil separator should be of the right size, have the right speed and be well-maintained. Note that no discharge containing detergent should run through the oil separator as it might stop it from functioning.
  • For those who use detergents, they should ensure that they utilize a recycling system with no discharge or make sure that any run-off with detergents is collected in a properly sealed unit.

Cleaning chemicals

  • Reduce the number of cleaning chemicals you apply
  • If you will be using detergents, ensure that you pick biodegradable and phosphate-free products as they are less dangerous to the surrounding.
  • Perform car wash business in a designated area and not just any other place.
  • Keep all cleaning chemicals safely and in a place where you can contain chemical spillage.


As citizens, we have to ensure that we keep our environment clean. So, if you plan on starting a car wash business, be it mobile or drive-through car wash, we need to ensure that we follow environmental regulations.

This will help to reduce pollution of the environment and our water sources will be clean and close to their natural state as much as possible.

Car wash water is considered dangerous to the environment because it contains detergents, oils, phosphates, rubber, surfactants, silts, copper, traffic film remover, and other metals. Observe the environmental regulations if you don’t want to brush shoulders with the law and be fined. It is not that these regulations cannot be met, but it’s just the ignorance from unscrupulous car wash operators.

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