Clean Cars, Clean Creeks

You can keep your car looking and running great and prevent stormwater pollution by using a commercial car wash, cleaning up spills and taking oil and fluids to a collection center.

Cars are a necessity for some people, while others also enjoy changing the oil and doing their own repairs. Whether you’re a DIY car enthusiast or just use your car for transportation, this page will help you keep your car looking and running great — while also protecting yourself, your family, pets and local waterways from auto pollution.

How Pollution from Auto Care Happens

Washing cars, changing oil and cleaning engines— as well as brake dust and tire wear and tear— can leave residue on streets. During rainstorms, rainwater carries this residue into the storm drain system, where it will flow directly to local creeks and San Francisco Bay.

How Pollution Hurts Our Waterways and Wildlife

Pollutants from cars are toxic to fish, birds and amphibians. Oil and grease can clog fish gills and block oxygen. Pollutants can also break down the oil on feathers, making it more difficult for birds to float and repel water. Even soap from car washing affects the health of our creeks, the Bay, and the wildlife that lives there.

View of the street surface during rain.

Prevent Water Pollution from Car Care


Use a Commercial Car Wash

Washing your car in the driveway, street or carport can carry detergents, oil, brake dust, metals and other chemicals to the storm drain that leads directly to local creeks and the Bay. Wash your car in an unpaved area or better yet, take it to a commercial car wash. Car washes are a more eco-friendly choice because they collect and recycle the water. They even help you save water! Watershed Watch offers discounts at local car washes.

Download Discount Card

Click here for more information in English, and click here for information in Vietnamese, Chinese and Spanish.

Clean Brake Dust Off Wheels

Clean your wheels with paper towels and dispose of the towels in the trash.

Fix Fluid Leaks Immediately

If you see drips and stains on your parking spot, place a plastic tarp or drip pan underneath your car to catch fluids until you repair the leak. Dispose of fluids and the drip pan or tarp at your local Household Hazardous Waste collection center.

Change Oil on Time

The longer engine oil is used, the thinner it gets. Leaks are more likely and exhaust emissions are increased.

Properly Dispose of Used Oil

If you change your own oil or other automotive fluids, drain fluid into a drain pan. Use a funnel to pour fluid into a plastic container and recycle the used fluids with your local curbside recycling pickup, or at the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection center. Never drain or pour any auto fluid onto the street or into a storm drain.

Learn About HHW Disposal

Clean Engines with the Least Toxic Cleaner

Many engine cleaners contain degreasers that contain highly toxic solvents that are dangerous to work with and harmful to our watershed. Read labels carefully before you buy. Avoid products containing naphtha, nonylphenol ethozylate, trichloroethane or trichloroethylene. Try limonene, a citrus-based solvent instead of the ingredients listed above. Use rags instead of water to clean your engine. Don’t allow wash water to go onto pavement, or into the storm drain or street.

Reduce Unnecessary Driving

Carpool or use alternative forms of transportation when possible, to reduce harmful emissions and the potential to contribute to water pollution.

Car wash worker
Automobile care
The Watershed Watch Campaign is an initiative of
the following agencies: