Pollution Prevention Fact Sheet: Parking Lot and Street Cleaning

download in WordPerfect format here


This management measure involves employing pavement cleaning practices, such as street sweeping on a regular basis, to minimize pollutant export to receiving waters. These cleaning practices are designed to remove sediment, debris, and other pollutants from road and parking lot surfaces that are a potential source of pollution impacting urban waterways (Bannerman, 1999). Although performance monitoring for the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program (NURP) indicted that street sweeping was not very effective in reducing pollutant loads (US EPA, 1983), recent improvements in street sweeper technology have enhanced the ability of present day machines to pick up the fine grained sediment particles that carry a substantial portion of the stormwater pollutant load. Many of today's sweepers can now significantly reduce the amount of street dirt entering streams and rivers, some by significant amounts (Runoff Report, 1998). A debate as to whether this ability to pick up finer particles will improve the overall pollutant removal effectiveness of street sweepers is ongoing, and further research is required to establish the optimal sweeping frequency for pollutant removal and what streets are most appropriate for a sweeping program.


Street sweeping is practiced in most urban areas, often as an aesthetic practice to remove sediment buildup and large debris from curb gutters. In colder climates, street sweeping is used during the spring snowmelt to reduce pollutant loads from road salt and to reduce sand export to receiving waters. Seventy percent of cold climate stormwater experts recommend street sweeping during the spring snowmelt as a pollution prevention measure (Caraco and Claytor, 1997). The frequency and intensity of rainfall for a region are key variables in determining how streets need to be swept to obtain a desired removal efficiency. Other factors that affect a street sweeper's ability to reduce nonpoint pollution include the condition of the street, its geographical location, the operator's skill, the presence of parked cars, and the amount of impervious area devoted to rooftop.

Design Considerations

Arguably the most essential factor in using street sweeping as a pollutant removal practice is to be sure to use the most sophisticated sweepers available. Innovations in sweeper technology have improved the performance of these machines at removing finer sediment particles, especially for machines that use vacuum assisted dry sweeping to remove particulate matter. By using the most sophisticated sweepers in areas with the highest pollutant loads, greater reductions in sediment and accompanied pollutants can be realized. For more information see New Developments in Street Sweeper Technology, Article 121 in The Practice of Watershed Protection.

Another important aspect of street sweeping programs is the ability to regulate parking. The ability to impose parking regulations in densely populated areas and on heavily traveled roads is essential.

The frequency of and location of street sweeping is another consideration for any program. How often and what roads to sweep are determined by the program budget and the level of pollutant removal the program wishes to achieve. Computer modeling in the Pacific Northwest suggest that from the standpoint of pollutant removal, the optimum sweeping frequency appears to be once every week or two (Claytor, 1999). More frequent sweeping operations yielded only a small increment in additional removal. The model also suggests that somewhat higher removal could be obtained on residential streets as opposed to more heavily traveled arterial roads.

Sweeping of parking lots may also be employed at industrial sites. This sweeping involves using brooms to remove small quantities of dry chemicals and solids from areas that are exposed to rainfall or stormwater runoff. While the effectiveness of this practice at pollutant removal is unknown, the sweeping and proper disposal of materials is a reasonably inexpensive method of pollution prevention that requires no special training or equipment.


For street sweeping, the high cost of current sweeper technologies is a large limitation to using this management practice. With costs approaching $200,000 for some of the newer sweeper technologies, stormwater managers with limited budgets must consider the high equipment cost together with the uncertainty about pollutant removal efficiency to decide whether a sweeping program is an attractive management option. The potential inability to restrict parking in urban areas may present another limitation. Additional possible limitations include the need for training for sweeper operators; the inability of current sweeper technology to remove oil and grease; and the lack of solid evidence regarding the level of pollutant removal that can be expected. Proper disposal of swept materials may also be a limitation in some instances.

Maintenance Considerations

Street cleaning programs require a significant investment of capital and a yearly operation and maintenance budget. Sweepers have a useful life of about four years, and proper maintenance can greatly improve sweeping efficiency. Arrangements for disposal of the swept material collected must also be made, as well as accurate tracking of the streets swept and the frequency of sweeping. The operation and maintenance costs for two types of sweepers are included in Table 1.


Street sweeping programs had largely fallen out of favor as a pollutant removal practice following the 1983 NURP report, but improvements in sweeper technology have caused a recent reevaluation of their effectiveness. New studies show that conventional mechanical broom and vacuum-assisted wet sweepers reduce nonpoint pollution by 5 to 30%; and nutrient content by 0 to 15%, but that newer dry vacuum sweepers can reduce nonpoint pollution by 35 to 80%; and nutrients by 15 to 40% for those areas that can be swept (Runoff Report, 1998). While actual reductions in stormwater pollutants have not yet been established, information on the reductions in finer sediment particles that carry a significant portion of the stormwater pollutant load is available. Recent estimates are that the new vacuum assisted dry sweeper might achieve a 50-88% overall reduction in the annual sediment loading for a residential street, depending on sweeping frequency (Bannerman, 1999).

A benefit of high-efficiency street sweeping is that by capturing pollutants before they are made soluble by rainwater, the need for stormwater treatment practices may be reduced. Stormwater treatment practices, such as filtering systems, can be very costly when compared to collecting pollutants before they become soluble. Street sweepers that can show a significant level of sediment removal efficiency may prove to be more cost-effective than certain stormwater treatment practices, especially in more urbanized areas with higher areas of paving.


The largest expenditures for street sweeping programs are in staffing and equipment. The capital cost for a conventional street sweeper is between $60,000 and $120,000. Newer technologies are higher than that, with prices approaching $180,000. The average useful life of a conventional sweeper is about four years, and programs must budget for equipment replacement. Sweeping frequencies will determine equipment life, so programs that sweep more often should expect to have a higher cost of replacement.

If investing in newer technologies, training for operators must be included in operation and maintenance budgets. Costs for public education are small, and mostly deal with the need to obey parking restrictions and litter control. Parking tickets are an effective reminder to obey parking rules, as well as a source of revenue.

Table 1 gives sweeper cost data for two types of sweepers: mechanical and vacuum-assisted. The table shows that while the purchase price of vacuum-assisted sweepers is significantly higher, the operation and maintenance costs are lower.

Table 1. Estimated Costs for Two Types of Street Sweepers
Sweeper Type Life (Years) Purchase Price ($) O&M Cost ($/curb mile) Sources
Mechanical 5 75,000 30 Finley, 1996
SWRPC, 1991
Vacuum-assisted 8 150,000 15 Finley, 1996
Satterfield, 1991

Cost data for two cities in Michigan provides some guidance on the overall cost of a street cleaning program. Table 2 contains a review of the labor, equipment, and material costs for street cleaning for the year 1995 (Ferguson et al., 1997). The average cost for street cleaning was $68 per curb mile and approximately 11 curb miles per day were swept.

Table 2. The Cost of Street Cleaning for Two Cities in Michigan
City Labor Equipment Material and Services Total
Livonia $23,840 $85,630 $5,210 $114,680
Plymouth Township $18,050 $14,550 $280 $32,880


Bannerman, R. 1999. Sweeping Water Clean. American Sweeper Magazine. Huntsville, Al. 7(1).

Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM), et al. 1993. California Storm Water Municipal Best Management Practice Handbook. Stormwater Quality Task Force. Sacramento, CA.

Caraco, D. and R. Claytor. 1997. Stormwater BMP Design Supplement for Cold Climates. Center for Watershed Protection. Ellicott City, MD.

Claytor, R. 1999. "New Developments in Street Sweeper Technology." Center for Watershed Protection. Ellicott City, MD. Watershed Protection Techniques. 3(1).

Finley, S. 1996. Sweeping Works. Pavement Maintenance and Reconstruction. October/November. 16-17 pp.

Ferguson, et al. 1997. Cost Estimating Guidelines: Best Management Practices and Engineered Controls. Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project. Wayne County, MI.

Runoff Report. A Clean Sweep Now Possible. The Terrene Institute, Alexandria, VA. 6(4). July/August 1998.

Satterfield, C. 1996. Enviro Whirl 1 PM-10 Efficiency Study Removing Reentrained Road Dust. Lake, CA.

Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWRPC). 1991. Costs of Urban Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Control Measures. Waukesha, WI.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). 1983. Results of the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program. Vol. 1. Final Report. Office of Water, US EPA. Washington, DC.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). 1992. Storm Water Management for Industrial Activities: Developing Pollution Prevention Plans and Best Management Practices. US EPA, Office of Wastewater Enforcement and Compliance. Washington, DC.