Green Team: Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)



We all use household cleaners, solvents and detergents. Most household shelves are filled with toxic substances. Ordinary household cleaners and solvents contain materials that can pollute our air and water systems. These materials contain acids, volatile organic compounds (VOC), lye, and other toxic chemicals. The release of these toxic chemicals into our environment can cause air pollution, as well as soil and groundwater damage. Contaminating our air and water can threaten human health and other organisms living in our environment.

Most household hazardous products can fit into four categories:

  1. Automotive Products: motor oil, brake and transmission fluid, antifreeze and car batteries, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, car wax with solvent and windshield wiper fluid
  2. Home Improvement Products: paint, varnish, stain, paint thinner, paint stripper, caulk, adhesives, primer, rust remover, turpentine, mineral spirits and glues
  3. Household Cleaners: drain cleaners, oven cleaners, toilet cleaners, spot removers, silver polishes, furniture polishes, window cleaners, bleach, dyes, tub and tile cleaner, and ammonia
  4. Pesticides: insecticide and insect repellent, weed killer, rat and mouse poison, pet spray and dip, flea collars, mothballs, ant/roach killer, garden fungicides, slug poison, wood preservative and banned pesticides.


Given all the possible harm household hazardous waste can cause, it is important to make sure your hazardous products are safely stored.

 Here are some tips for properly storing HHW:

  1. Follow any storage directions on the label. Volatile products belong in a well-ventilated area. Flammable products should be stored in cooler temperatures. Corrosive products give off vapors that can corrode nearby metal objects.
  2. Keep these products out of the reach of children and animals. Even if you don’t have kids or pets, it’s better to be on the safe side. Keep your local poison control phone number handy, in case any accidents happen.
  3. Avoid transferring the contents of a hazardous product to a different container. If the container is leaking or corroding, make sure the new container is comparable and clearly labeled with the hazardous material.
  4. Avoid storing hazardous products near food to avoid contamination.
  5. Also avoid storing HHW near sources of heat or flames. Keep the same guidelines for rags used to spread hazardous products.
  6. Store incompatible products separately. Keep corrosive products away from flammable ones.
  7. Keep containers dry to prevent corrosion.
  8. Know the whereabouts of any flammable contents in your home, and know how to extinguish them if need be.
  9. Keep hazardous products in separate containers instead of combining them to save space. It is NEVER a good idea to mix chemicals, especially ones with which you are unfamiliar. Mixing even small amounts of chemicals can have disastrous results.


For many hazardous products, like common household cleaners, you can find a more natural alternative.  Here are a few do-it-yourself ways to clean-up at home with products that might be in your kitchen right now.

Freshen up. Make your own air freshener using 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups hot water. Pour the mix into a spray bottle and spritz away to remove odors. Note that while white vinegar has a slight scent while wet, when dries, it leaves no odor.

Boost detergent. To reduce the amount of laundry detergent you need to use, add baking soda or washing soda. These minerals soften the water, which increases the detergent’s power. For liquid detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda at the beginning of the wash. For powdered detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda during the rinse cycle.

Get squeaky-clean. Just add 3 tablespoons vinegar per 1 quart water in a spray bottle and you’ve got a safe, eco-friendly window cleaner. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well.

Lift stains and spots. Cream of tartar lifts stains from sinks and tubs, and removes spots from aluminum pans.  Cream of tartar is a mild alternative to chlorine bleach that can be used for stain removal and mild bleaching and killing germs.

Cut grime and grease. Use baking soda to clean up in the kitchen. For a “soft-scrub” for countertops, mix baking soda and liquid soap to until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don’t have to be perfect. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly. To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well (gloves are recommended as washing soda may irritate skin).

Try borax in the bathroom.  Borax is a water softener and sanitizer. For a good all-purpose bathroom sanitizer, mix 2 teaspoons of borax, 4 tablespoons of vinegar, and 3 to 4 cups of hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture. To clean your toilet bowl, pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax.

Play it safe. Whether you’re using commercial or homemade cleaners, it’s important to follow safety precautions. Avoid splashing household cleaners on your skin or in your face and check labels to see if respiratory masks, rubber gloves, goggles, or other protective measures are recommended. People with heart or lung disease and pregnant women should try to avoid products that contain chemical solvents. And since contact lenses can absorb vapors and hold them against the eye, causing irritation or eye damage, anyone who normally wears contacts should remove them and put on eyeglasses before handling such products. If you find that the cleaners you’re using irritate your nose, eyes and/or lungs, follow your instincts and stop using them. Finally, be sure to clearly label containers of homemade cleaners, and keep all cleaners out of reach of children and pets.