Washing a car in the driveway usually involves a bucket or two, a hose, and so much water that drought-stricken California started slapping $500 fines on anyone who does it wrong. Inspired to create an alternative, a former software entrepreneur designed a new device that uses less water than brushing your teeth.
The gadget, called Gleamfire, eliminates the need to rinse a sponge or mitt to keep it clean. Instead, you put your mitt inside a small plastic tube and pump a few times, creating jets of water that blast dirt off the cloth and into filters. In a single wash, from start to finish, the system uses only 1.5 gallons of water. The designers estimate that a traditional wash can use between 25 and 480 gallons, depending on whether someone uses a hose and how long they leave it on.
Entreprenuer John Lohavichan was inspired while looking at the filters in an aquarium where he keeps fish. “One day, while feeding my fish, I was thinking of how to clean my car with less water,” he says. “And then it just hit me: My fish are healthy because of their clean water–what if I did the same thing with car washing? I could use a lot less water if I could just keep the wash water clean. So the next day I took an empty soda bottle and put aquarium filtration media into it to see if it could work–and it did. That set me down the road of prototyping and refining my designs.”
Thirteen prototypes later, he had something that worked. Crucially, it doesn’t just save water; it also does a better job of washing a car, because it removes any tiny particles of dirt that might scratch the surface. Because of the pump system, you also don’t ever need to reach into a dirty bucket of water. The pumping action also keeps the water perpetually sudsy, so you can only use a fraction of soap you normally might. In cold climates, the system can be used inside a garage when a driveway is covered with ice and snow.
The other benefits of the design make it possible for those who aren’t particularly concerned about water conservation to start saving it by default. “We want those who have never really thought about conservation before to start thinking and acting,” says Lohavichan.
Beyond eliminating rinse water, the design may also save water because mitts and towels no longer need to go in a washing machine after the car is clean. “A step I’ve just been testing is to use Gleamfire to clean these materials with the leftover wash water so that you don’t need to put it into a washing machine,” he says. “Because the water is filtered, it should be able to continue cleaning.”
The gadget is also designed to keep polluted water out of storms drains, where suds, oil, and grime can wash away to nearby streams. “The real key to making sure wash water is not dumped down the convenient storm drain is weight,” says Lohavichan. “A five-gallon bucket of water weighs 40 pounds, so it’s heavy to carry to empty in an appropriate location. That’s why car washers will take the shortcut and dump it out wherever they’re washing.”