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Scrooge’s Dewdrop Car Wash

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

We all remember the recent drought in California. According to some authorities it was broken by last winter’s storms that dumped tons of snow on the mighty Sierras and provided a fair amount of rain even in the parched Southland. Still, California’s history is replete with droughts. Because the next one may be just around the corner, continued water conservation is a must.

Besides installing low flush toilets, taking five-minite showers, and watering yard plants with shower warm-up water, there is at least one more method of conserving that precious fluid: washing our cars around 6 a.m.–using no soap–with the morning dew that has collected overnight on the automobiles belonging to those of us who park on the street or in uncovered driveways. I’ve been washing our family car in this fashion about once a week for the past two years with good results. Occasionally, I use about half a gallon of piped water to wash the wheels, afterward pouring the dirty water on my unsuspecting plants. Except for occasional wheel washings, I don’t have to contend with faucets, hoses, nozzles, buckets, and water running down the street. Pretty, pretty good as Hollywood’s Larry David might say.

Now full disclosure requires saying that my fears about writing this column were twofold. First, readers might say they thought Osborne was a kook, and now their sure of it. My dictionary defines a kook as “one whose ideas or actions are eccentric, fantastic, or insane.” I think I might be able to round up a few credible witnesses willing to perjure themselves by vouching for my sanity, but, that said, I may be eccentric about my car washing method in that it deviates “from an established or usual pattern or style.” Is that so bad? Are not many vegetarians, artists, marathon runners, and tournament chess players–among others–eccentric to varying degrees by that definition? The other fear I had in writing this column is that practically every car owner in town reading this piece would adopt the dewdrop method thereby putting the automotive detailing enterprises in Laguna out of business. Just kidding. But I do hope I’m not the only Lagunan washing their car in this or a similar water-conserving manner. Remember, other droughts will come and the next one could be sooner than we think.

Assuming my car looks good after such a wash job, what have I accomplished? Besides not having had to fuss with faucets, hoses, nozzles, and buckets, I have saved maybe 45 gallons of water (a conservative figure taken from several online sources) that otherwise would have wound up in a storm drain and eventually the ocean. Also, I’ve not had to put out the more than $100 a pop to have our car detailed by a professional (so call me Scrooge McDuck, Disney’s avuncular toon skinflint character) nor have I spent any time driving to a car wash and waiting for the job to be finished and then driving home. To this list of what has been accomplished, alas I cannot claim to have saved gas by washing my car at home because my wife and I drive an electric vehicle, which qualifies as another eccentricity I suppose. So be it.

As water becomes ever dearer, especially in the next drought, we’ll all have to be doubling down on ways of saving it. Maybe then this car washing method will catch on and even become a contagion in Laguna. No longer would I be the sole practitioner of this state of the art method. If that day ever comes just remember where you first learned about the 6 a.m. dewdrop car wash—that would be from the Indy column of, you guessed it, a certified Lagunatic.


Tom Osborne is a retired history professor who has written four books, the most recent of which is “Coastal Sage: Peter Douglas and the Fight to Save California’s Shore,” University of California Press, 2017.

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