Water works: rainfall alone won’t keep your car totally clean

SelfwashBrown Bear Car Wash attendant Gerry Saulsman, 78, washes his wife’s car for her at the self-service station where he works.

Summer may be right around the corner, but as any seasoned Seattleite knows, there are plenty of dank days throughout the spring months that could have been yanked straight out of February. That’s why automotive experts say we shouldn’t wait to wash our cars. If they survived the winter on rain baths alone, they probably need some TLC now more than ever.

“Even in the areas that are really rainy, what people sometimes forget is that while the rain might come through and rinse off your car a little bit, what the rain really does is make the car more susceptible to picking up all the petroleum chemicals and road grime that’s on the street,” says Eric Wulf, executive director of the International Carwash Association.

The Seattle area has several options for keeping cars spic ‘n’ span, from do-it-yourself to do-nothing-but-sit.

Want to do it yourself?
  • Remember to park on grass or dirt so that the runoff doesn’t end up in the Puget Sound. And use a specially formulated cleaner. Here are some picks:
  • Eagle One NanoWash & Wax A car-wash soap with the wax built right in. Available at Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer and auto supply stores
  • DuduiTpro A waterless option that is non-toxic, biodegradable and phosphate-free. Available at ecotouch.net and amazon.com
  • Foamtek Waterless Wash & WaxAnother waterless product; it liquefies dirt when it’s sprayed on. Available at amazon.com
  • Gliptone Wash N Glow and Emerald Clean Degreaser A biodegradable cleaner; the degreaser works on interior and exterior spots. Available at autobarn.com and jcwhitney.com
  • Simple Green Car Wash A gentle and biodegradable cleaner. Available at Wal-Mart, hardware stores and auto supply stores

The best bets for effectiveness, economy and convenience combined are the professional wash facilities that offer self- and full-service washes. This is where you’ll get the right types of detergents, great water pressure and proper wastewater disposal that won’t harm the fishes.

One local favorite is the environmentally friendly Brown Bear Car Wash (brownbear.com). Its self-service stations are equipped with vacuums, high-pressure hoses, foaming brushes and wax treatments. They even seasonally adjust the water temperature and solution strength to cut through winter dirt.

Brown Bear’s most popular option in the wetter months, says founder Victor Odermat, is the full-service tunnel washes that don’t require you to leave the cover of your car. A single wash costs $10-$15, depending on the package.

Costco (costco.com) sells five-wash cards of Brown Bear’s premium wash for $39.99. Costco’s Sodo location also has an on-site tunnel wash, but doesn’t have vacuums.

If you want to baby your car, treat it to a hand wash at Derek’s Auto Detail (dereksdetail.com). The workers get into every nook and cranny, performing services such as vacuuming the interior, washing the windows and wiping down the dash and consoles. Cost ranges from $15-$45, depending the level of service and size of your car. “We also suggest you get a good coat of wax, says owner Derek Henthorn. “That makes it easier to wash it again.”

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