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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When carpet cleaning, where should the wash water go?

By Brook Beeler, watershed education coordinator, Eastern Regional Office

Know how to dump smart

My mother-in-law pulled up to our house recently with my daughter, a huge pan of barbecued ribs, and a problem. Luckily the problem was not related to my six-year-old. It had to do with that delicious pan of ribs steeped in rich barbecue sauce and the carpet in her truck. It spilled and she was left with one heck of a mess.

So what is one to do when confronted with a carpet conundrum? Well believe it or not carpet cleaning is a bit of a hot topic and there a few things everyone should know.

Everyone makes mistakes

In September 2009, Ecology experienced its own “red-faced” moment when a contracted carpet cleaner at our Central Regional Office, dumped wash water directly to a storm drain.
    “To say the situation was a bit ironic is an understatement. Here, Ecology, the agency responsible
    for ensuring that cities and counties follow the new stormwater phase II program under the Clean
    Water Act was found to be violating the very requirements intended to protect water quality,”

Central Regional Director Tom Tebb said at the time.

Occurrences like this are called “teachable moments.” Did the carpet contractor know the storm drain leads straight to the Yakima River? And that carpet wash water is loaded with pollution?

Carpet wash water is toxic soup

Carpet wash water isn’t just dirt and water or barbecue sauce. It also may contain the very toxic chemicals we are trying to prevent from entering our environment. Wash water can be loaded with PBDE’s (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a toxic flame retardant. PBDE’s are found in many household products including televisions, mattresses, and the carpets themselves. Heavy metals can bind to sediment that is tracked in by our pets and shoes.

Grease, oils, and detergents are also common in wash water. Dumping carpet cleaning wash water into our street drains -- which are usually not treated and essentially the headwaters to our lakes, rivers and streams – can add to big pollution problems.

Ecology has new, carpet cleaning advice

In response to our own carpet cleaning conundrum, we have developed advice to share with carpet cleaners and the people who hire them. You can see our two page Focus on Carpet Cleaning and Carpet Cleaning Quick Tips on our Washington Waters website in the @Work – Best Practices for Businesses section.

Dump Smart, it’s not just water

The state has made grants available to cities and counties across the state to provide stormwater runoff education – education related to anything that might run into the storm drains.
Special funding allowed a consortium of counties led by Snohomish County to initiate a program targeting mobile businesses, including carpet cleaners. The Dump Smart program encourages mobile businesses that use water to know the facts about best business practices in each jurisdiction.

Where should wash water go?

The bottom line is that wash water should be filtered and treated at a wastewater facility and never dumped down a street drain or into a residential septic system. The best way to get rid of water is through toilets or utility sinks connected to a sewer system. Sewer water goes to a facility where it is treated and cleaned before it is sent back into the environment. For areas without sewer systems, wash water should be collected and disposed at a proper disposal point.

Lucky for my mother-in-law, I knew the best practices for carpet cleaning and her mess didn’t end up harming the environment. When hiring a company to clean the carpeting in her truck, she asked the right disposal questions and ended up hiring a responsible company.

And here’s a tip: You can clean up many of these messes on your own with a little vinegar, water and a drop of detergent. Then be sure to dispose your wash water into a sewer system.

Remember to dump smart, because it’s not just water.

3 comments:

Sandy Howard said...

Eh Gad Brook, your carpet is REALLY dirty!!

Sandy Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavin Green said...

Thanks for the great page and info.

Another thing to keep in mind when thinking of what the waste water from a carpet cleaner contains is what chemicals and spotters are being used to remove stains. these spotters have to be rinsed from the carpet, and then are in the waste water.

For an example almost all spotters for rust or coffee contain oxalic acid, even "green" chemicals many times are chemicals we still don't want in our streams, lakes, and oceans.