The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Soil Washing

Soil washing can effectively treat soils that are contaminated with different organic and inorganic contaminants. Soil washing has been proven to effectively remove the following contaminants from soil (US EPA 1993):

  • Petroleum and fuel residues
  • Radionuclides
  • Heavy metals
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Pentachlorophenol (PCP)
  • Pesticides
  • Cyanides
  • Creosote
  • Semivolatiles
  • Volatiles


Studies have indicated that soil washing is good to excellent at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and metals from sandy and gravelly soils (Sharma and Reddy 2004). A key factor in determining the applicability of soil washing at a particular site is the grain size distribution of the soils requiring treatment. The lower the silt, clay, and organic material levels, the more effective soil washing will be (soils with higher hydraulic conductivities work best). Soil washing may not be applicable if the contaminants adsorb strongly onto the soil particles, since the washing process is not always able to fully remove the contaminants from the soil surface. This situation would require an additional remediation technique to fully clean the soil. The use of soil washing as a preliminary technique is common, since it is able to reduce the volume of soils requiring treatment. Soil washing tends to be applicable at large sites, and is typically not cost effective unless there is at least 5000 tons of contaminated soil on-site (Sharma and Reddy 2004).

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