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Reframing Pressure Washing BMPs

Reframing Pressure Washing BMPs

From the July 2011 Issue of Pressure Cleaning Contractor Magazine

by Allison Hester


Best Management Practices, or BMPs, can work to benefit power washing contractors when properly developed and implemented

This past month, I naively discovered one way to stir up controversy in the industry. Mention the term “BMPs” – or Best Management Practices.

After posting that I was seeking comments about some recently published BMP for washwater control on a couple of the bulletin boards, I quickly learned this was not a popular topic. Thankfully, I received a kind note from Jerry McMillen, aka “Sirocco Jerry” (Sirocco Performance Vacuums) who offered to help me get myself out of the pickle I’d created by sharing his wealth of knowledge and expertise on the topic.

Best Management Practices, according to Jerry, are just that – BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES. These are not dirty words. They are not about the fear of being caught doing something wrong and being fined. They are not even about regulations. They are about working smart, educating properly, and building sustainable relationships.

But first this requires reframing how we approach the term “BMPs.”

We Are the Solution, NOT the Problem!

      The issue with some approaches to BMPs is that they make the contractor look like polluters. The BMPs are written as regulations needed to keep contractors from placing their pollution down the drain.

However, this approach is majorly flawed because “cleaning professionals are not creating pollution. They are the ones who help control it,” explains Jerry.

In other words – with a few possible exceptions, such as vehicle washing – contract cleaners are not the ones who put pollution on a property. They did not put the mildew on the building, or the bird droppings on the sidewalk, or even the spilled oil on the parking lot. Those were already there. A hard rain will wash much of the pollution off of the property and down the storm drain.

An educated pressure-washing contractor, however, will come in and remove these items in an environmentally-friendly way. They will plug the storm drains, filter the water, use biodegradable cleaners, and either divert the water to the landscape or place the filtered water down the sanitary sewer. They do all of this while cleaning up the pollution already on the property and reducing the amount of polluted water that would naturally enter the storm drain if the contractor had not cleaned the property. And they do it without hauling dirty water off property, saving the potential liability of hazardous material spills.

“The contract cleaner should never have to take responsibility for the dirt or the water,” says Jerry. “It’s the customer’s dirt. It’s the customer’s water. It’s the customer’s dirty water. And it ought to stay on his site. The customer is the one who has ownership for the pollution.”

Jerry is not saying, however, that contract cleaners have no responsibility when it comes to cleaning. “They have to take responsibility for filtering it in an environmentally friendly manner, but that’s not rocket science. And in fact, that is the easiest way to come up with a sustainable relationship with the customer.”

BMPs Are All About Sustainable Relationships

      “If we are going to do a good job as an industry for the public good, we absolutely have to engage in being environmentally friendly and teach the cities what a sustainable relationship is,” Jerry adds.

That said, Jerry is recommending that everyone who has an opportunity to educate someone about what the industry does will “belly up” and provide that education. “But the entire conversation should be about sustainable best management practices. Nothing about permits. We don’t have the education or the experience or the connections to have that discussion.”

What about those who think that talking to their local municipalities will put them on the front lines for environmental crackdowns? “No matter what, we are a high profile industry,” says Jerry. “Everyone knows what a pressure washer is. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to let nasty stuff go down the drain and kill birds and fish.”

In fact, Jerry adds that those who are trying to slip under the radar may be trying to hide something, and those who actually are doing things illegally don’t need to be in our industry. “It’s screwing up the relationship we are trying to build with people who want to be environmentally friendly. The cities want to be environmentally friendly, fantastic. Let’s get to work.”

This is what Jerry refers to as a sustainable relationship. “Common sense is going to protect the environment and capitalism is going to pay for it. If you don’t get common sense next to capitalism, guess what? There are no jobs.”

And if cities enforce unrealistic guidelines, guess what? They won’t get cleaned, creating added environmental, health and safety hazards that pressure washing actually eliminates.

So, What Are BMPs?

      “The context of BMPs should absolutely and only be addressed as what you do on the site when you get there,” explains Jerry. “It’s not about how easily they could send a cop out to give you a ticket if you don’t have some sort of wastewater hauling permit.”

According to Jerry, BMPs consist of common-sense approaches to cleaning. Picking up trash before cleaning. Sweeping what needs to be swept. Minimizing what needs to be managed. “Make it as manageable as possible, and oh, by the way, that is the fastest, easiest path between the two points anyway,” he explains. “If you go and create that extra 5000 gallons of water that has to be filtered because you didn’t sweep it up first, then sweep it up first and be smart about it. You won’t get the job anyway because your bid was too high.”

Really, it comes down to what is the most manageable way to clean. “It’s not about how much regulation can be put on people, it’s about how much work can be done in a reasonable manner, in a reasonable time, with reasonable profits so we can go back and do it again next month,” says Jerry. “And nobody is going to mind you coming back and doing it next month because these are reasonable BMPs.”

What BMPs Are Not

      “What we don’t want to talk about is regulation,” Jerry explains. “We don’t want to talk about how they are going to monitor the cleaning business. But the bottom line is we won’t need much monitoring at all if we just have proper onsite best management practices. That’s the big difference between what some others have done wrong and what the rest of the world is going to do right.”

Again, Jerry stresses that BMPs are NOT about regulations. “Regulations are a totally different matter and should be controlled by someone other than contract cleaners. Those who write the regulations and manage the permit processes should come up with a program that is reasonable, otherwise guess what? The front steps of City Hall are not going to be relatively inexpensive to keep clean.”

Environmental Boot Camp

      Jerry has taken his environmental knowledge – and the ideas presented in this article – and turned them into an environmental boot camp. The program does not focus what can go wrong if a contractor pollutes, but rather explains that there are “ways and means by which we can control washwater and we are not subject to any of that law enforcement. It’s irrelevant if the water doesn’t get there.”

Jerry held a boot camp in San Diego in April and received rave reviews for presenting practical information that can not only help contractors understand how to apply BMPs to create sustainable relationships, but how to gain new business by doing just that.

His next boot camp will take place during the NCE East event in Tampa on July 28-30. To learn more, visit the NCE East website at or Jerry at

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