This past week, the Castro welcomed a new business to the neighborhood: Auto Fresh, an environmentally conscious car wash service. Owner Sherwin Ang opened up shop last Wednesday at the RC gas station on Castro and Market.
This time last year, Ang was working as a digital marketer for a fashion media company, which she described as “your normal 9-to-5.” But with the impending arrival of her first child, Ang left her job, wanting to do something more for the world. “I wanted something that I could find meaning in,” she explained.
Ang, who lives in the Richmond, began to consider other ways that she could contribute to her community, and her subsequent reflections led her to the car wash industry, which is notorious for high water consumption, not to mention pollution from chemical compounds in soaps and waxes. “Car washes waste so much water,” said Ang, who thought she could make a difference amid California's ongoing drought. At the beginning of 2016, she began washing cars with the environment in mind, and Auto Fresh was born.
According to Ang, a typical car wash uses 800 cups of water; Auto Fresh uses just one. Intended for cars that are mainly used for city driving, Auto Fresh uses what is called a dry-wash method. “It’s a spray-on solution,” she said. “We use a premium, biodegradable, plant-based solution that is great for getting off dust and pollen. Then we wipe it down with a microfiber towel.” While Ang stressed that her car-washing approach is not for cars that have gone off-roading, it can handle everyday wear and tear.
"We” is a recent development for Ang, who started her business by making house calls to clean customers' cars by herself. “I did mobile car washes,” she said. “It was nice because I could set my own schedule and see my baby whenever I wanted, but I was so physically tired.”
Ang said she was driving through the Castro one day when she stopped to get gas and noticed a ‘for lease’ sign at the RC station. Neighbors may recall that a car wash with a similar approach to Auto Fresh used to operate out of the shared space; Ang said that she was told that the previous closure was due to a management issue.
Ang now has a team of employees working with her at Auto Fresh, and with the added help, a typical wash takes anywhere between 30 and 40 minutes, depending on the car’s condition. Drivers can even kill two birds with one stone: “There’s a smog testing business beside us,” said Ang, “so we can clean your car at the same time as your smog check. It’s so convenient—plus, you can go get a cup of coffee and come back.”
When asked why people should bring their cars to Auto Fresh, Ang said that “if we wash our cars in our backyards or in our garages, we use water, we use soap, and the water and soap go down the drain and eventually go to the ocean. It pollutes.”
“With us,” said Ang, “we don’t have any puddles, we barely use the drain, and we have no toxic runoff. We use one cup of water and everything is hand-washed. It’s just better service.”Auto Fresh is currently open at 376 Castro St. seven days a week, from 10am-6pm.