Mobile Commercial Cosmetic Cleaning (Power Washer) Regulation



The purpose of the City of Fort Worth's permit program for mobile commercial cosmetic cleaners (also known as power washers) is to limit detergents and other pollutant discharges into the city's storm drain system. Anything that is discharged into the street eventually ends up in a local creek, lake or river without being treated to remove pollutants.

Any person or business who engages in mobile commercial cosmetic cleaning is required to have a permit for the business.

Apply for Permit


Cosmetic Cleaning Ordinance

The City of Fort Worth has a Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) Stormwater Permit to operate its municipal storm drain system. As required by the TPDES, the City of Fort Worth enforces a Stormwater Ordinance which bans pollutant discharges to the storm drain. This ordinance prohibits illicit discharges to the municipal separate storm sewer system, regulates the use of mobile commercial cosmetic cleaning (power washers) and regulates stormwater discharges from industrial sources, including construction activity. 

Any person or business who engages in mobile commercial cosmetic cleaning is required by the City of Fort Worth Cosmetic Cleaning Ordinance to have a permit for the business. Failure to obtain a permit or meet the permit discharge requirements may result in fines(PDF, 919KB) of up to $2,000 per occurrence.

Permit Process

Application process

Obtaining a mobile commercial cosmetic cleaning permit can be completed online, by phone/email or in person. To complete the application process, a person or business must:

  1. Complete the application form. (Apply online or download the printable version(PDF, 132KB).)
  2. Provide the following documentation:
    • Copy of driver's license(s) for everyone operating the vehicles
    • Proof of insurance for all vehicles and/or trailers
  3. Pay the appropriate permit fee by check or money order made payable to City of Fort Worth. Credit cards and cash payments are accepted in person.

Obtaining a mobile commercial cosmetic cleaning permit can be completed online, by phone/email or in person.


  • The fee for the permit is $25 and is issued to the business.
  • The fee for registration certificates is $25 per individual wash unit.

Permit terms and certificates

  • Permits are valid for one year from the date of issue. Registration certificates are valid for the term of the permit.
  • Permits and registration certificates are non-transferable.
  • All motor vehicles and trailers used to transport cosmetic cleaning rigs must be registered.
  • Registration numbers must be permanently and visibly displayed on each side of all vehicles registered under the permit. Numbers must be a minimum of three (3) inches in height in a color contrasting to their background.
  • Registration certificates must also be placed in a visible location.

Changes in business and/or vehicles

Immediately contact Environmental Quality staff in the event:

  • any management changes are made to your business during the time the permit is in effect, or
  • a vehicle registered under your permit is sold or otherwise disposed of.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we have a permit?

In 1993, Environmental Management tested 560 sites within the city limits. Teams discovered detergents in over 50% of these sites making detergents the most frequently encountered pollutant in the city. Cosmetic cleaning is a significant source of these detergents and the EPA required the city to show a decrease in the pollutants at the 560 sites the city, therefore specific regulations for cosmetic cleaning were developed. The City of Fort Worth’s TPDES Permit requires regulation of discharges. This permit prohibits the discharge of pollutants into the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4). Due to the nature of the chemicals and compounds contained in the wash water produced from this activity, the city requires all commercial users have a permit and to agree to establish Best Management Practices (BMPs) before engaging in this activity. 

When did the "No Off-Property Discharge" regulation go into effect?

It has been illegal to discharge any type of wastewater off-property in Fort Worth since the turn of the century. However, the regulations had not been heavily enforced until recently so many cosmetic cleaners were under the mistaken impression that it was legal for them to discharge their wash water to the storm drain.

What type of operation is regulated by the permit?

Under the ordinance, mobile commercial cosmetic cleaning means “power washing, steam cleaning, and any other mobile cosmetic cleaning operation, of vehicles and/or exterior surfaces, engaged in for commercial purposes.” Facilities which use their own employees for power washing are not regulated. However, they still must adhere to the prohibitions of the stormwater ordinance regarding discharges to the storm sewer.

Who sets the fees for the permits?

The City Council sets all fees for all programs run in the city. 

Why do I have to pay a fee?

The city is allowed by law to cover all administrative costs of a specific program by charging a fee. The fee cannot be used just to make money for the Department. Your fee pays for all of the paperwork, computer data, sticker costs and labor needed to run this permit program.

Why do I need to put the numbers and stickers on my rig?

When an inspector drives by and sees you in operation they are going to stop and observe your set up and determine if you are holding a valid permit. If the inspector can see your registration numbers and sticker on your rig, then they will not have to interrupt you and cause you to lose valuable work time by having you dig through your truck looking for your paperwork. In fact, the only time you should have to talk to an inspector is when you have a question.

I sometimes pull the spray rig out of my truck and use it as my private vehicle. Do I have to put numbers and stickers on the outside of my truck? Or I paid several hundred dollars for a custom paint job on my truck and trailer. Do I have to put these stickers and numbers on and ruin the look of my rig?

The answer to this is no. We do not want anyone to ruin a great paint job or make their vehicle look strictly like  a business truck. You can place the numbers and stickers anywhere you wish as long as they are visible. For instance, you could place them on the water tank or somewhere on the side of the spray rig. You could also place them on some sort of placard that could be removed when you are not using your truck for business purposes.

Will private citizens washing cars in their driveways be required to obtain a permit? After all, their wash water is entering the streets and storm drains.

The EPA has exempted residential car washing from the stormwater rules so private citizens do not need any sort of permit. However, the city does recognize this activity as another source of detergents that enter our waterways and encourages residents to consider alternative car washing methods. The Environmental Management and the Water Department distribute this information through brochures, newspaper articles, water bill inserts, programs to neighborhood associations, classroom lectures and a host of other public education activities.

I use biodegradable detergents. Why can't I discharge these to the storm drain?

The term “biodegradable” simply means that the product will not harm bacteria in the sewage treatment plant, and that it breaks down faster than more conventional products. A biodegradable detergent can cause a fish kill in a creek just as fast as any other type of detergent. We do appreciate the use of biodegradable products because they are much gentler on the treatment plant when you properly dispose of them to the sanitary sewer.

Do I need to test my water if I am not using a recycling rig?

No. However, all limitations that are associated with discharges to the sanitary sewer do apply to you and you could be fined by the Water Department for exceeding these limitations. You should always be aware of what you are discharging to the sanitary sewer and take all necessary precautions needed to keep your discharge as clean as possible. 

Do I need to supply a map of my discharge points if I don't use a wash water recycling unit?

No. This is only required of those using recycling units because the Water Department must have a method of monitoring these points to comply with EPA regulations.

May I wash a parking lot or gas station with cold (or hot) water only and discharge it into the storm drain?

Probably not. Even though the ordinance states that you can discharge to the storm drain if you don’t use detergents, degreasers, etc., you will probably be washing oil, grease, metals and dirt off property which will violate the ordinance. This exemption was designed for cosmetic cleaners washing objects such as sidewalks, headstones, walls and other things that are unlikely to be affected by the normal pollutants. Remember, it is not just the chemicals you use; it is also the pollutants you wash off that are banned from the storm drain system. 

Is dirt considered a pollutant?

Dirt itself is not considered a true pollutant. However, the State of Texas does have a numerical standard for discharges of dirt to waterways. This standard is known as Total Suspended Solids (TSS). So even if you are not washing pollutants off property and you are allowed to discharge to the storm drain, be aware that too much dirt will put you in violation of the TSS Standard and you could be fined by the city and the state. 

How do I access the sanitary sewer line to properly dispose of my wash water?

You can access the line through a clean out stub (where the plumber sends the drain snake), a sink, a toilet or some floor drains. Be aware that most floor drains located outside go to the storm sewer rather than the sanitary sewer, so be sure you know how things are plumbed before discharging to floor drains. If there is a car wash or some sort of sand or grit trap on the property, discharge into those as they will help clean your wash water before it enters the pipe. Never open a manhole. Opening manholes is not only extremely dangerous; it is also against the law. 

Download Cosmetic Cleaner FAQ sheet.(PDF, 440KB) (versión en español(PDF, 450KB))

Contact Information

Environmental Services Department
Environmental Quality Division - for cosmetic cleaner info or permit inquiries
Monday - Friday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 

In-Person Applications
Monday - Friday: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

  • Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods
    818 Missouri Avenue
    Fort Worth, TX 76104
  • Phone: 817-392-1234