Washing wisely - Car Washing Tips
It is important to be aware that there are three types of sewer systems in the City of Toronto. The sanitary system takes the used water from homes and businesses to a wastewater treatment plant for cleaning. The storm sewer system — the square grates on the side of the road — takes rainwater and melted snow from the streets and releases it, untreated, into local streams, rivers, and Lake Ontario.
The water that comes from washing your car often contains dirt, oil, grease, heavy metals, hazardous chemicals and soaps. If you wash your car on the driveway or street, the wash water can enter local streams, rivers, and Lake Ontario and can then harm aquatic habitat.
To avoid having dirty water run into the storm sewer system, consider these options for washing your car:
- Use a commercial car wash facility. These facilities are required to follow a set of practices determined by the City, including treating wastewater and discharging it into the sanitary sewer system where it will receive further treatment.
- Find a location where the wastewater won’t flow into the storm sewer. For example, washing cars on a grassy lawn or gravel surface allows the wastewater to be absorbed by the soil. Washing the car on your lawn doubles the water use by giving your lawn a good watering at the same time.
- Dispose of the wastewater into the sanitary sewer. By using a pail, washcloth and only a small amount of water, and then wiping the car dry, the waste water can be contained in the bucket and disposed of into the sanitary sewer through a laundry sink or toilet.
When choosing one of the above car washing options, here are a few tips to stay green:
- Don’t use soap. Instead, use a small amount of environmentally friendly water-based detergent that is phosphate and NPE free. Many other car-care products also contain harmful chemicals and should be avoided.
- Don’t wash your car during drought conditions.
- Re-think the need to wash your car if rain is in the forecast.
- Partner with commercial car wash facilities or follow the other tips above for charity car washes to ensure your fundraising event is environmentally friendly!
The City of Toronto has a Sewers By-law (PDF) that prohibits the discharge of any water other than storm water or melted snow into the storm sewers. For updates to Municipal Code, Chapter 681, see here: www.toronto.ca/legdocs/municode/
To report a spill or discharge of any hazardous substances to the storm sewer, call 311.
Remember: It is easier to clean up a spill before it gets to a river or stream than to try to find the source of pollutants after the fact