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Pollution Prevention - Cleaning Industry

Auto Cleaning

The following tips will help ensure that future generations will be able to use and enjoy our most valuable resource … water!

Plan Ahead

Call your local sewage treatment facility to determine if the job requires a wastewater discharge permit. Once you have received approval, you may discharge the wastewater to the sanitary sewer. Sanitary sewer inlets are typically indoors and include sinks, showers, bath tubs, toilets, floor drains and cleanouts. You may not discharge wastewater into streets, gutters or storm drains. Storm drains are located outdoors (in streets, lawn areas, walkways and other outdoor areas) and are designed to collect rain water only. Anything entering a storm drain flows directly into local creeks where it can harm fish and wildlife and impact our recreation and drinking water.

Auto Exterior Washing

Most auto detailing jobs begin with a thorough exterior wash. Many industry experts recommend using “lots of water” and “generous amounts of detergent” when washing and plenty of water again when rinsing, but they don’t tell you what to do with the sudsy rinse water. The fact is that to be disposed of safely and legally, this water must go into the sanitary sewer and not be washed into the street, storm drain or any outside drain.

Note: Biodegradable products are harmful to aquatic life and are not permitted down storm drains. Instead dispose of these products into the sanitary sewer.

Dry Cleanup

In many cases you can eliminate the need to collect and/or divert wastewater if you follow this two-step process:

  1. Use absorbents (such as rags, absorbent mats or pads, rice hull ash, cat litter, vermiculite or sand) to pick up small amounts of wastewater or spilled cleaning and detailing products, and
  2. Sweep or vacuum saturated absorbents. Dispose of saturated material appropriately in the trash or as hazardous waste, checking the disposal instructions on the product label(s).

Wet Cleanup

Small amounts of runoff may remain on paved surfaces to evaporate. If there is sufficient water volume to reach a storm drain, plug the storm drain and pump the water to a sanitary sewer inlet or storage tank. A catch system, including a sump pump and a collection mat under the vehicle, is a typical and effective way to collect wastewater. A storage tank (usually 55-gallon) collects the water delivered by the pump and contains it safely for later disposal into a sanitary sewer inlet at the customer’s site or at your own place of business.

A less preferable option is to direct wastewater to a landscaped, dirt or gravel area. Be aware that wastewater may adversely affect landscaping. Check the slope and other physical characteristics of the area to avoid runoff to the street, storm drain or other outside drain. Wastewater should be directed onto an area large enough to contain all of the water. If the soil is dry, wet it down before discharging to help wastewater soak into the ground.

Remaining soapy water in buckets should be discharged to a sanitary sewer inlet. If a sanitary sewer inlet is not available, this small quantity of wastewater may be distributed over a dirt or gravel area.

Bug & Tar Removal

The solvents used to remove stubborn grit and tar from car bodies and windshields are not allowed down storm drains as they are harmful to aquatic life. Use cloths to apply and remove these materials, then store them safely for future disposal as a hazardous waste.

Glass Cleaning

Most glass cleaners contain ammonia. Did you know that ammonia is harmful to fish and stimulates abnormal algae and plant growth? Some cleaners also contain alcohol and a variety of detergents. These materials are not allowed down storm drains, as they are harmful to fish and aquatic life and should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Use rags to pick up spilled glass cleaner.

Auto Interior Cleaning

Vacuuming – Dispose of debris in a trash container. Do not sweep debris into the street.

Carpet Cleaning – Foam carpet cleaners are recommended by most detailing experts. These cleaners are easily contained. However, care should be taken that no residues are washed into storm drains.

Floor Mats – If washing mats outside of the car, wastewater must be contained and disposed safely and legally. See Wet Cleanup.

Vinyl – Many recommend biodegradable products for cleaning vinyl surfaces, such as dashboards and interior doors. Even biodegradable cleaning products are harmful to fish and other aquatic life and are not permitted down storm drains.

Spill Prevention & Control

Before spills occur, train all employees in spill prevention and cleanup.

Post a Spill Cleanup Plan inside mobile auto detail unit.

Place spill cleanup materials in highly accessible locations inside the mobile auto detail unit.

Purchase and maintain the proper materials for containment and cleanup of different spills. These include rags, absorbents (such as cat litter or rice hull ash), absorbent pads, oleophilic pads (absorb oil but not water), drip pans, absorbent booms to contain spills, and storm drain covers.

Fix company vehicle leaks. Automobile fluids leaked onto streets get washed down storm drains when it rains.

Carpet Cleaning

The following tips will help ensure that future generations will be able to use and enjoy our most valuable resource … water!

Plan Ahead

Determine where you are going to discharge wastewater before starting a new job. Never discharge into a street, storm drain or other outside drain. These flow directly into nearby creeks. Instead dispose of wastewater in one of the following ways:

Into sanitary sewer drains at the job site such as sinks, showers, bath tubs, toilets, floor drains and cleanouts. (Note: When discharging wastewater, a mesh strainer should be used to prevent debris from clogging drains. Also, be sure to obtain the property owner’s consent before dumping.)

Into sanitary sewer drains at your place of business. If sanitary sewer inlets are not readily available, dispose of wastewater to a landscaped, dirt or gravel area (after obtaining the property owner’s consent). Be aware that wastewater may adversely affect landscaping. Wastewater should be directed onto an area large enough to contain all of the water. Check the slope and other physical characteristics of the area to avoid runoff to the street, storm drain or other outside drain.

If the soil is dry, wet it down before discharging to help the wastewater soak into the ground.

Employee/Customer Education

Educate your employees and customers about proper wastewater disposal. Remind them that dumping wastewater down a storm drain is illegal, and make sure they have what they need to do the job right. Storm drains (located in streets, lawn areas, walkways and other outdoor areas) collect water outside homes and businesses and channel it directly to our creeks. Sanitary sewer drains (sinks, toilets, bathtubs, showers, floor drains and cleanouts) typically collect water inside homes and businesses and channel it to treatment plants.

Note: Even products labeled “biodegradable” are harmful to fish and other aquatic life.

Leaking Vehicles

Fix vehicle leaks. Automobile fluids leaked onto the streets get washed down storm drains when it rains.

Waste Disposal

Dispose of waste properly. Recycle waste whenever possible. If you use hazardous products, take the unused portions to a hazardous waste collection facility. Call the Sonoma County ECO-DESK at (707) 565-DESK for information on hazardous waste recycling and disposal.

Spill Clean-Up

Clean up spills by using a dry clean-up method:

Use absorbents (such as absorbent pads, rice hull ash, cat litter, vermiculite or sand) to pick up spilled liquids.

Sweep or vacuum up saturated absorbents.

Avoid using solvent-based cleaners (especially chlorinated solvent cleaners).

These best management practices were provided by the City of Sacramento’s Clean Water Business Partner Program. For more clean water standards, provided by the carpet cleaning industry, contact the Carpet & Fabricare Institute at (800) CARPET-9.

Cleaning Industry Questions & Answers

What’s the difference between a storm drain and the sanitary sewer? Doesn’t all the water go to the same place?

Actually, there is a critical difference between a storm drain and a sanitary sewer. Confusing the two can cause severe damage to our creeks and to every living thing that depends on them for drinking water, habitat and recreation. Making sure your employees know the difference can help reduce your company’s liability and protect the environment.

Storm drains are located outside (in streets, lawn areas walkways and other outdoor areas) and are not connected to the system of pipes that carries wastewater to a treatment plant. Anything dumped into storm drains flows directly into nearby creeks. There it can harm fish and wildlife and impact our recreation and drinking water. Nothing should enter storm drains except rain water.

Sanitary sewers are most often inside (toilets, sinks, bathtubs, showers, floor drains and cleanouts) and are connected to the system of pipes that carries wastewater to a treatment plant. There, harmful materials are removed so that the water leaving the plant is safe for the environment. Many properties also have cleanouts located outdoors. These pipes, which usually come out of the ground a few inches and have a screw-on cover, provide outdoor access to the sanitary sewer system.

Wastewater disposal hasn’t been an issue for me before. Why now?

Clean water laws are not actually new. California Fish and Game Code 5650 is the oldest water pollution law in the US, dating to 1872. One hundred years later (1972), Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Later called the Clean Water Act, this law set water pollution standards for the whole country. Since then, states, counties and cities have been working to implement and enforce these laws. The County of Sonoma has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit which requires the County to provide planning, education and enforcement related to storm water. The County enacted a local storm water ordinance to help our community with these challenges. This information is provided to help cleaning industry professionals make pollution prevention practices part of their daily routines. We all need to work together to make sure our creeks, rivers and oceans are kept clean and safe for the environment and our families

In a typical day, I only dump a few gallons of wash water down the gutters. How much of a difference can one company or person make?

Each one of us can make a difference in the quality of the water around us. What may seem like only a few gallons actually adds up to more than you might think. Many people are surprised to learn that the number one cause of water pollution in the nation – including here in Sonoma County – isn’t large factories or other industrial facilities, but the cumulative effect of urban runoff from thousands of homes, cars, mechanic shops, farms, and, yes, even cleaning companies. Did you know that ammonia – used in many cleaning products – is toxic to fish and stimulates abnormal algae and plant growth? Even dirt, dust and sand (suspended solids) clog spawning areas for fish and bury their food sources, when washed into waterways.

What about biodegradable soaps?

Cleaning products labeled biodegradable eventually break down, but not before they can be deadly to fish and other aquatic life. Because of their harmful effects to these creek inhabitants, they must be kept out of storm drains and creeks.

This sounds like it might be a big hassle. Will it cost a lot?

Many in the cleaning industry are already using pollution prevention practices in their businesses. These companies have already made the change to techniques and equipment that protect local creeks and find them easy and effective. They’ve also discovered that pollution prevention is good for business. Customers feel better knowing their contractors are cleaning their properties safely and legally. Customers want unpolluted creeks for their families, too, and they know that if a violation is found on their property, they could be held liable in addition to the cleaning company. Pollution prevention practices can range from “low-tech” and inexpensive, like drain covers and wet vacs, to more expensive, depending on the type of work your company performs. With fines of up to $25,000 per violation per day, not doing it right is just not worth the risk.

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