Carpet Cleaning and the Environment


When it comes to environmental issues, some carpet cleaners are like the perennial ostrich, sticking their head in the sand and hoping that the EPA won’t bother them.

If they dispose of their effluent (water with chemical) into a storm drain or on the ground, these same carpet cleaners are in violation of the Environmental Protection Act (Canada) or the Clean Water Act (United States).

storm drainA storm drain is designed to handle only rain water. In most instances, this system discharges untreated water directly into rivers and streams.

A sanitary sewer, on the other hand, treats all effluent or discharge before being put into rivers and streams.

All car wash operations, service stations, quick lubes and any business with a wet bay will have a connection to the sanitary sewer.

This comes at no small cost to the owners of these businesses. Sewer connection charges and monthly sewer use costs can amount to hundreds of thousands to connect, and hundreds of dollars monthly. 

It is any wonder that self-service car wash operators get upset when they catch carpet cleaners dumping their wastewater in their car wash bays? While this is an environmentally responsible way to get rid of wastewater, it is trespassing and makes you liable for a civil suit. It is also theft of services, and could be a legal issue as well.

The more responsible thing to do is contact the owners of the self-service car washes where you would like to dump your wastewater and make them a proposal. Either:

  • Ask what they would charge you to dump your wastewater, or
  • Strike a barter deal where you clean their carpet so many times a year for the privilege of dumping your wastewater.

Carpet cleaners must wake up to this issue because they are subject to substantial fines, personal liability and the possibility of suspended business activity if caught dumping wastewater illegally.

The challenge

Put simply, if your business generates a liquid waste, and if it flows into a storm drain or onto the ground, you are breaking the law. And, if you dump into a self-service car wash without permission, you can be subject to fines and civil penalties.

Each time you clean a carpet and/or upholstery, you are using water and chemical. Even diluted, this effluent contains various forms of pollutants and, if you dump it into the storm drain or onto the ground, you are polluting the environment.

A carpet cleaning company can generate a tremendous amount of wastewater each year. Just imagine, then, the tens of thousands of carpet cleaners doing five houses, five days a week, and you can see the amount of pollution generated by the carpet cleaning industry.

Pollution issues

The Clean Water Act indicates that any water with chemical in it cannot be discharged into a storm drain or on to the ground.

The problem is that local agencies required to enforce the regulations of the Clean Water Act are not consistent in their enforcement, giving carpet cleaners, along with mobile car washers and mobile detailers, all with effluent to discharge, wrong signals.

As I understand it, any water that has chemical in it, whether it is biodegradable or not, is considered “hazardous waste” by the Clean Water Act regulations.

You must realize if you do not properly discharge wastewater, you may find that you will be liable for cleanup or correction.

Worse, any properties that you pollute could ultimately be rendered worthless and you would be held personally liable. That is extreme, but entirely possible.

The solution is simple. Discharge your water properly, and/or do it by asking permission of a self-service car wash.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems in Portland, OR, and is a member of the car care industry for nearly 40-years. He is a member of the Western Carwash Association board of directors, as well as a board member of the International Detailing Association. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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