Green car wash in Sacramento

Cleaning your car the sustainable way

No, they’re not Mormons, but they do preach the eco-gospel at Splash & Dash.

No, they’re not Mormons, but they do preach the eco-gospel at Splash & Dash.

Photo By Anne Stokes

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It may not be as sexy as busty blondes in bikinis, but Splash & Dash is using water conservation and other sound environmental practices to lure customers to its car washes in Sacramento. So even tree-huggers can keep the rims of their veggie-powered VW bus or plug-in Prius squeaky clean with a minimum of eco-guilt.

For the thousands of Sacramento residents who aren’t fortunate enough to live and work within safe and manageable biking or walking distances, the automobile is an indispensable means of getting to and fro. And in a culture that’s still largely obsessed with material wealth, rolling around in a dirty-ass car with “wash me” thumbed into the grime on the rear window just won’t fly.

Luckily, the environmentally savvy entrepreneurs at Splash & Dash have said, “We hear ya!” This company is the first to be certified by the Sacramento Business Environmental Resource Center as a sustainable car wash.

Splash & Dash reclaims 100 percent of the water used in its 100-ft. car-washing tunnel, thanks to a $30,000 piece of filtering equipment that allows soapy rinse water to be reused. Only the spot-free final rinse uses fresh water, bringing average fresh-water consumption down to 8 gallons per vehicle, said Travis Kimball, director of marketing. That’s about one-tenth the amount of water used to wash a car in the driveway, which he estimates uses between 50 and 150 gallons of fresh water.

According to one industry audit, a conventional car wash uses anywhere from 20 to 50 gallons of fresh water per vehicle, while self-service bays with high-pressure washers use closer to 15 gallons per vehicle. Of course, at a self-service wash, the vehicle owner supplies the elbow grease.

Splash & Dash uses only biodegradable and nontoxic soaps that break down naturally in the sewer system without harming wildlife. Washing a car in the driveway sends runoff into storm drains where toxic soaps are flushed into natural drainage areas, polluting groundwater and local waterways, often ending up in major rivers or the ocean. Many touchless or touch-free full-service car washes rely on harsh chemicals and corrosive acids to remove dirt, which Kimball said is not just bad for the environment, but bad for employees, too.

Whether sustainability matters to customers is another question entirely; operators hand out a small flyer summarizing the car wash’s green elements, yet few customers seem motivated by the environment alone.

Jack Quartaroli, for example, brings his 2000 Ford F-150 to the Northgate Boulevard location a couple times a month because of the low price: “It’s close, it’s cheap, it’s effective,” he said. The basic wash costs $6 and “the works” costs $12. Discounted five-packs are available, or visitors can buy an unlimited monthly pass for $25.

Several patrons who shared their impressions with SN&R were unaware that Splash & Dash was a green enterprise, but said this would likely influence their decision to return. They were more impressed with the efficiency of the 100-ft. tunnel that keeps cars moving quickly. The typical visit takes three minutes, allowing Splash & Dash to move up to 100 cars through in an hour.

CEO and president Jason Johnson was helping his father-in-law with finances for a car wash in St. George, Utah, when he came up with the idea for an express car wash in Sacramento. He found a group of investors willing to back his idea and began operations in 2004. Splash & Dash has since opened six locations, all of which are in the process of getting a green business certification through BERC, with another two scheduled to open by early 2009. The environment may not be the company’s main concern, but Kimball recognizes that it is a potentially significant selling point.

“There’s a certain percentage [of customers] that wants to know the businesses they visit are environmentally friendly,” he said. “And a bigger segment, once they understand a little bit more about the water usage, will make those behavior changes.”

Drivers in Sacramento may be pragmatists who prefer cheap, efficient car washing to clever green washing, but fortunately, at Splash & Dash, they can get both.