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Hand car washes inquiry launched

24 April 2018

The Environmental Audit Committee seeks written evidence submissions to support a one-off evidence session examining hand car washes.

About Hand Car Washes

Hand car washes are an increasingly common phenomenon. 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 Committee will examine how the environmental impact of hand car washes compares to automatic ones. It will examine how they are regulated and what steps the Government might take to ensure hand car washes are operated sustainably.

Although the focus of the Committee's inquiry will be on environmental issues, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commission (IASC) has produced a list of indications of exploitation at hand car washes. The Committee will also be asking the Government how it is meeting its commitments under Sustainable Development Goal 8 (‘decent work and economic growth') in this context.Mary

Chair's comments

Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, 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.”

Terms of Reference

The Committee welcomes submissions by 5 p.m. on Friday, 18 May 2018 on some, or all, of the following points:

Development of the Industry

  • How many hand car washes are currently in operation in the UK? How many people are employed by them? How have hand car washes developed over the past decade? What impact has this had upon the wider car wash industry

Environmental Impact

  • How does the environmental impact of hand car washes compare to that of automatic car washes? What steps have been taken to reduce their environmental impact and use water more sustainably?
  • What chemicals are used in hand and automatic car washes and in what quantities? How should they be disposed of? What are the effects of working with these chemicals on human health and the natural environment?
  • What regulations are hand car wash operators subject to regarding their impact on the environment and the use of chemicals? Who enforces these? How effectively?
  • What role should the owners of premises on which hand car washes are operated have in ensuring their environmental impact is minimised? What legal duties are they under?
  • What further steps should be taken to minimise the environmental impact of car washes? How can run-off be managed most effectively? Are there less chemically intensive options available for car washes? How can water usage be minimised?

Sustainable Employment Practices

  • What can the Government do to ensure that they meet their commitment to “decent work” under Sustainable Development Goal 8 in the hand car wash industry?
  • What proportion of hand car washes are thought to be exploiting workers? Is there a clear link to human trafficking?
  • To what extent does this form of work exist in other advanced European economies? If it is less common, why is this the case?
  • What is the cost to the public of unpaid taxes in the sector and of police investigations, safeguarding work and minimum wage enforcement?
  • How has the 2015 Modern Slavery Act worked in tackling the problem of slavery in the industry?


The Committee values diversity and seek to ensure this where possible. We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence. We aim to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind if asked to appear.

Further information

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