Pressure washing is a cleaning method that uses a high-pressure stream of water--sometimes with cleaning agents--ejected from a hand-held nozzle. Pressure washing is used for washing surfaces--cars, boats, floors--that attract hard-to-remove pollutants such as grease, soot, and pesticides. Power washing per se is not the subject of any California laws or regulations, but because power washing is usually done outdoors and produces waste water, it is subject to state and federal environmental laws related to waste water disposal. Some municipalities have additional environmental regulations or permit requirements.
The federal Clean Water Act prohibits discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States. Since most storm drainage systems on the street empty into lakes, ponds or rivers--without being treated at a chemical plant--allowing polluted discharge from power washing to flow into the storm drains is not legal without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But EPA-permitted discharges require treatment and analysis of the water. The most common method of compliance with the Clean Water Act is to prevent waste water from discharging into the waters of the United States.
State and County Regulations
While California's laws do not specifically regulate power washing, several state statutes, such as the Porter-Cologne Act, prohibit allowing polluted runoff into the storm water system. Knowingly depositing any hazardous substance in any water body or in roadways can even lead to criminal prosecution under California's Penal Code. Some counties also have laws on outdoor waste water disposal. Santa Barbara County, for example, passed an ordinance in 2007 that prohibits polluted water discharges in the storm drainage system and gives county officials the power to enforce the law and issue penalties.
Many municipalities have adopted and enforce the same state and federal waste water regulations that prohibit pressure-washing runoff in the drainage system. Several have also codified procedures relating to pressure-washing waste disposal. The City of Corona, for example, requires power-washers to minimize pollutants by first cleaning equipment or floors with rags or mops before power-washing. Other pressure-washing guidelines in Corona include covering downgrade storm drains; collecting waste water with a vacuum pump or other recovery equipment; and disposing of polluted water in the sanitary sewer system, as long as it does not contain hazardous materials such as engine degreasers. Call local environmental or public works officials to find out about any needed permits or applicable regulations.