Car cleaning options review and compare

How can you save water while washing your car? CHOICE investigates.
 
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04.Car-washing options: manual

We’ve included the most popular options, comparing their cost and water usage per wash, excluding water in a commercial car wash. Cost is the average for a single wash – see the table  for the full cost breakdown. We didn’t include mobile car wash services, as the cost of the fuel used in driving to your home is an environmental issue and as such, means the real cost can’t be compared with the other methods. 

Bucket and sponge

Simple, traditional and popular.

Good points

  • It’s inexpensive.
  • There’s no waiting.
  • Satisfaction of doing it yourself.
  • Allows you to check the car for wear and tear.

Bad points

  • Labour intensive.
  • Difficult to rinse car with a bucket.
  • You need to buy and replace sponges and detergent.
  • There’s a legal requirement in many areas to wash cars on a lawn.
  • Possible fines for roadside cleaning.
  • You have a legal obligation to ensure pollutants don’t go into stormwater drains.

Water usage: The average bucket and sponge wash uses 100L of water, or the equivalent of 10 buckets per wash, according Sydney Water. We managed an effective bucket and sponge wash on a small/medium car with just two buckets, using a watering can to rinse the car.

Price: $0.70 / wash

Hose with trigger nozzle

A trigger nozzle on a hose is a legal requirement in some states when washing your car at home. It helps to reduce water usage.

Good points

  • Usually easy to adjust spray or turn it off while sponging.
  • It’s inexpensive.
  • There’s no waiting.
  • Satisfaction of doing it yourself.
  • Allows you to check the car for wear and tear.

Bad points

  • Labour intensive.
  • You need to buy and replace sponges and detergent.
  • There’s a legal requirement in many areas to wash cars on a lawn.
  • Possible fines for roadside cleaning.
  • You have a legal obligation to ensure pollutants don’t go into stormwater drains.

Water usage: 120L

Price: $0.75 / wash  

Hose and sponge

Cleaning your car with an open hose connection, allowing the water to flow into a drain, is not recommended.

Good points  

  • Good ease of use.
  • It’s inexpensive.
  • There’s no waiting.
  • Satisfaction of doing it yourself.
  • Allows you to check the car for wear and tear.

Bad points

  •  Labour intensive.
  • Large loss of water.
  • Difficult to contain constant flow of water in barriers for directing onto lawn.
  • You need to buy and replace sponges and detergent.  

Water usage: From 150L per wash, according to Sydney Water, to more than 500L per wash, according to some car wash manufacturers. It depends on whether you leave the water running between sponging down the car and rinsing.

Price: $0.80 / wash  

Low flow, high pressure car cleaner

These low water use, high pressure devices claim to save water compared to using traditional methods of cleaning your car.

Good points

  • Relatively easy to use.
  • High pressure cleaners can help remove dirt.

Bad points

  • We used more water than the manufacturers claim.
  • Substantial initial cost included in price below.
  • High pressure is not enough to clean the car directly, still requires sponging.

Water usage: 23L

Price: $6.00 / wash

 

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