An inquiry into hand car washes has been launched by the Environmental Audit Committee to examine how hand car washes are regulated and what steps the Government might take to ensure hand car washes are operated sustainably.

The inquiry will seek to establish how many hand car washes are currently in operation in the UK; how many people it employs; how car washes have developed over the past decade; and what impact this has had on the wider car wash industry. 

Interested parties have until 5pm, Friday May 18 to make their submissions.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), said: “Hand car washes are a familiar sight throughout the UK and often offer drivers a cheaper and more convenient alternative to automatic car washes, but they may be having a damaging environmental impact.

“Oil, dirt and cleaning products are often not disposed of correctly, which could be having a significant impact on local water sources and wildlife. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commission has also expressed concerns around the exploitation of the workforce at hand car washes. We are concerned about the cost to the public purse of tackling criminality, including trafficking, tax evasion and enforcement of minimum wage law.

“Our inquiry will look at the environmental impact of hand car washes and ask how effective the regulations that govern them are. It will also ask the Government how it is meeting its commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce human exploitation.”

According to the Car Wash Association’s estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 hand car washes in operation in the UK. Many hand car washes operate in the forecourts and car parks of trusted retailers.

Waste water from vehicle washing can harm the environment and pollute rivers, streams and ground water. The dirt removed from cars, including oil and other contaminants can pollute water sources. Cleaning agents can be harmful to wildlife and plant life. DEFRA issues guidance to operators on the safe handling of such chemicals.

The Association of Convenience Stores welcomed the inquiry. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s attention on this issue. Over half of UK forecourts provide car wash facilities for customers with most of these being either automatic or jet washes. We will consult with members in the coming weeks and feed in to the Committee’s inquiry.”