Do I Need a Business License to Operate a Mobile Car Wash?

by Tracey Sandilands; Updated September 26, 2017
Mobile car wash businesses require the same license as car wash facilities.

Most states require a mobile car wash business to hold some sort of official status, such as a business license, operating permit or tax registration. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the occupation under the category of “Cleaners of Vehicles and Equipment.” The BLS recorded 288,110 workers in this category in 2010, earning a median wage of $9.46 per hour.

Business Registration

Before you can apply for a business license, you must register your mobile car wash business’s legal structure. In most states, you can do this by obtaining the necessary forms from the office of your secretary of state. For example, in Nebraska, you must apply for registration and if you choose sole proprietorship, you need only register the business trading name. In New York, however, even sole proprietors are required to register by purchasing a Certificate of Conducting Business as a Sole Proprietor form. The form must be notarized and filed with the county clerk, with a fee of $25.

State Licenses

Most states list mobile car wash under the categories of general dealer or cleaning and janitorial services. In states that classify the occupation as a general dealer, a license is usually required. Where it is classified as a janitorial service, however, licensing requirements are usually more relaxed. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, any person conducting car washing of any description must hold a car wash license. The laws of the City of Orange, California, however, require every business including mobile car wash to hold a Business Tax Certificate for each branch or location of the business. The Certificate costs $46 on application and must be renewed annually to remain valid.

State Permits

State permits for mobile car wash businesses usually apply to the use of chemicals in the car washing and the disposal of wastewater afterwards. In Rhode Island, for example, a mobile car wash business does not require a license but must comply with the statutes on sewer disposal as outlined in the Sewer Use Ordinance of 2006. This statute calls for a mandatory connection for a car wash that reclaims at least 80 percent of wastewater for reuse on the premises if more than one car is washed at a time.

Other Requirements

In California, the state’s laws require any person involved in car washing and polishing for revenue to hold a certificate, and to register with the state Labor Commissioner under Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations. Registration costs $250 plus $50 for each additional branch location, if you have more than one. In Hermon, Maine, a car wash owner was required to obtain a Maine Waste Discharge License from the Environmental Protection Agency for his business.

About the Author

Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.

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