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Unregulated Hand Car Washes - Exploitation and Pollution Concerns

24 June 2018

The Environmental Audit Committee publishes over 20 submissions of written evidence it has received on the social and environmental impact of Hand Car Washes across the UK.

The Committee will be holding the first hearing into its inquiry on hand car washes in Parliament on Tuesday 26 June with academics, water quality experts, and petrol retailers (full details of witnesses below).

Chair's comments

Mary Creagh MP, Environmental Audit Committee:

‘Authorities appear to be turning a blind eye to thousands of hand car washes up and down the country. We will be asking questions in Parliament about the allegations of exploitation and environmental pollution that have been raised.'

Amongst the points raised in the 20 submission of written evidence:

  • The Government was unable to provide evidence on the number of hand car washes in operation across the UK. However, some estimates put the number at between 10,000 and 20,000. The Committee has not verified these numbers.
  • The Downstream Fuel Association has estimated that the minimum breakeven price for a car wash paying the minimum or living wage and complying with employment law is £6.88 including VAT.
  • Car wash effluent generally contains phosphates, detergents, oils, silts/sediments, traffic film remover, rubber, copper and other metals. These pollutants can impair water quality and harm biodiversity if they flow directly into surface water drains and are discharged into water courses.
  • Some hand car washes are legitimately operated connecting to the correct drains and abiding by employment regulation. However, many other hand car washes may be operating without planning permission or breaching environmental and employment regulations.


Tuesday 26 June, Committee Room 6, Palace of Westminster

At 10.15am

  • Dr Akilah Jardine, Research Associate for the Rights Lab, University of Nottingham
  • Professor Ian Clark, Professor of Work and Employment, Nottingham Business School
  • Alastair Chisholm, Director of Policy, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

At 11.00am

  • Cllr Alan Rhodes, Modern Slavery Spokesperson, Local Government Association
  • Brian Madderson, Petrol Retailers Association and Car Wash Association
  • Teresa Sayers, CEO, Downstream Fuel Association
  • Dr Lucinda Gilfoyle, Head of Catchment and Coastal Strategy, Anglian Water


Mechanical vehicle washes arrived in the UK in the 1970s and by the 1990s were seen on many petrol forecourts across the UK. In the last 15 years these have faced competition from cheap hand car washes that have sprung up on old forecourts and car parks across the country often using migrant labour. The cheap prices and pop-up locations of some of these hand car washes have raised concerns that employment and environmental regulations are being flouted.

Further information

Image: Creative Commons