The History of the Car Wash

Photo Credit: The Car Wash Advisory via

Have you ever wondered how the car washes we know (and build!) today evolved from a bucket and sponge to the tech-heavy businesses we use today? 

The first car wash was created in 1914 in Detroit, which seems appropriate given its former status as “Automobile Capital of the World.” It was appropriately named “Automobile Laundry.” Cars were pushed by hand from station to station to be scrubbed, rinsed, and dried (SOURCE).

By the 1940s Hollywood introduced the first semi-automatic car wash, which had conveyor belts that whisked cars through cleaning stages, with no manual pushing required. The 1950s ushered in the automatic car wash, complete with spinning brushes and drying mechanisms making the car wash industry even more efficient. 

As the environmental movement grew, and going green became more important in the 70s and 80s, car wash technology got smarter, introducing systems to recycle water and use safer soaps to protect our planet. This is the model COR3 follows today.

Water reclamation and recycling are now an essential part of car wash design–the data depends on the type and size of the car wash, but conventional automatic washes (before going green) are often used between 15 to 85 gallons per vehicle. Now, with conservation tactics in place, today’s versions use only 8 to 70 gallons per vehicle–and that water is used again and again (SOURCE). 

According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, efficient automatic car washes with this kind of technology in place actually “use less water per vehicle than one would consume by washing the same car at home” (SOURCE). As part of these strategies, conservation is prioritized through on-site recycling and the use of non-potable water sources for make-up water where available. 

While attending The Car Wash Show in Nashville in May, we were able to learn more about these technologies and the advancements underway. Conservation is a crucial part of the industry and we are constantly designing for it in our work with partners in the field. 

Designing car washes and oil change locations began as a niche for us but has now become a significant part of our business. We meticulously design these projects to ensure they can handle severe weather and, naturally, a lot of water.  Our approach guarantees durability and functionality, aligning with the rigorous demands of these facilities. 

As our managing partner, Brian Doiron, says, “We get a kick out of how car washes mirror our own journey in the world of architecture–constantly innovating and adapting to make things better, cleaner, and more sustainable.” 

Next time you’re at a car wash, remember you’re part of a fascinating history of clean cars and clever human ingenuity.

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