Harnessing Technology To Clean Up The Car Washing Industry

With 32.6m registered cars in the UK and a population of 67m, Brits are some of the most prolific car owners in Europe. And we spend a lot of money on keeping them looking good. An estimated £1bn is spent every year on car washes alone. As a result of the demand, the car washing industry is booming. 

Drive through any big city in the UK and you’ll likely pass several car washing services, the majority of which are still administered by hand. Despite our increasingly automated lives and a shift toward greater sustainability in the car industry more broadly, car washing has experienced very little innovation.

We first recognised the opportunity to revolutionise the car maintenance industry after my co-founder was trying to book a mobile car washing service to fit around his busy schedule. After searching endlessly online it was clear there wasn’t an appropriate solution. 

Beyond the relative lack of innovation in the industry, we discovered a much more sinister side to the car washing industry as we began to dig a little deeper. 

The murky side of car washing

Car washes aren’t regulated meaning anyone can set up shop, and with no rules designed to protect workers or the environment, human slavery is rife and environmental costs can be high. There are an estimated 8,000 hand car washes engaging in illegal activity and the Environmental Audit Committee recently warned many amount to “modern-day slavery in plain sight”.

Traditional car washing is also detrimental to the environment in terms of carbon emissions and water wasted. One traditional car wash can use up to 300 litres of water. If every UK car was washed just once, that would amount to 9.8 billion litres of wasted water. That’s the equivalent of nearly 4,000 Olympic swimming pools. 

And because there are no rules or regulations related to the products used or rules around drainage, pollutants that are harmful to animals, plants and humans alike, are washed into our water systems untreated. 

Dropless, on the other hand, uses just one litre of water per wash, an eco-friendly nano solution instead of any nasty chemicals and uses three times less carbon compared to traditional car washes. We’re aiming to bring this down even more in the future as we move towards making our entire fleet electric. 

Building for the future

Much like the food delivery and taxi industry, Dropless is revolutionising an analogue industry and in doing so, making it more convenient for the consumer while raising the bar for the protection of workers and the environment. 

Four years on, we’ve built a team of over a hundred people and operate consumer-facing services in London, Surrey, Bath, Bristol and Manchester, with more planned. We also service tens of thousands of fleet vehicles for business customers such as Amazon and Royal Mail. 

While there’s a big market to win, we’ve got our sights set on more than solely providing a car washing service. We have a team of 20 developers in Bristol working to continually improve the usability of our platform and build features designed to revolutionise the way we look after our vehicles. 

We are using AI technology to help us understand our customers’ vehicles better so we can start pre-empting what service they need without them even having to think about it. For example, we can anticipate when you will need to change your tires, prepare your car in advance of an MOT, or provide a quote for a scratch that we’ve identified. 

Taking on an unregulated industry is challenging and we know we have a long way to go. But the pay-off for consumers, businesses, workers and the environment all makes it worthwhile. 

Written by Christian Duncan, Co-Founder and CEO at Dropless, a waterless car washing service revolutionising the way we look after our cars.