AAA Washington: Now is the time to wash that ash off your car

SEATTLE -- Recent falling ash around Puget Sound has raised some concerns about how to handle your car in these unique environmental conditions.

"Ash is really alkaline," says Jennifer Cook with AAA Washington Motor Club. "And that can cause damage to your paint."

The Seattle-area native says she's hardly ever seen conditions like this.

"Since Mount Saint Helens (in May 1980), I can't recall a time we've ever had ash."

The ash from wildfires burning in Washington and Montana dusted cars all over the region: Grays Harbor, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, and Thurston counties since Tuesday.

But firefighters and other experts say you shouldn't simply wipe the ash off your car.

The first reason, fine particulates will get kicked up into the air. The second, it could ruin your car's paint job. South King County Fire says ash is abrasive and will scratch the car's paint if you simply brush the ash off the car. They recommend to thoroughly wash and DRY your car.

Audi Seattle said the car's paint should be good as long as the car "doesn't get wet" from rain or a sprinkler. Small amounts of water can mix with the ash and release chemicals that can damage the paint. And the fact that some light rain might be in the forecast means that you'll want to get that car wash done sooner rather than later. The water can mix with the potassium in the ash to make potassium hydroxide. This can have a similar corrosive effect as drain cleaner. So, the advice from AAA Washington is to not just rinse off the ash-- but wash it all the way off.

While smoky air quality has been slowly improving, a change in the winds coming this weekend will clear our skies even more. The west/southwest winds will blow any wildfire ash away from Puget Sound. Local car wash chain, Brown Bear, says their already busy time of year in early September has seen a surge this week compared to this week last year. They say they've seen a 13% jump due in business due to the wildfire smoke and ash.

There are other issues with the smoke and ash and that's the health of your family. Children, the elderly, and individuals with respiratory illnesses are most at risk of serious health effects. These groups should limit or avoid time outdoors. Pollutants in smoke can cause burning eyes, runny nose, aggravate heart and lung diseases, and aggravate other serious health problems. Please follow medical advice if you have a heart or lung condition.