When managing household hazardous products, there are two basic principles to keep in mind:
UWhenever possible, use up a product or donate it to someone who can. In many cases, even products that have been stored for a few years can still be safely used according to label directions. In addition, some wastes can be regenerated or recycled, such as used motor oils, solvents and car batteries.
UBuy the smallest amount of material needed to get the job done. Better yet, substitute a hazardous product with a less-hazardous alternative.
Handling your household wastes
Even old bleach can be used according to label directions as a cleaning agent and disinfectant. If you can't use it, see if a neighbor can. Never mix bleach with ammonia or with acidic products such as some drain, toilet bowl and metal cleaners. Toxic fumes (strong enough to be fatal) will result.
CLEANERS AND POLISHES
Cleaners and polishes (rug, floor and oven cleaners; furniture polish) should be used up whenever possible. Seal empty containers and dispose of them with the rest of your garbage.
Disinfectants contain strong chemicals, so use them up according to label instructions and with caution.
Acids (hydrochloric, muriatic, sulfuric) and alkalines or caustics (ammonia, lye) are typically the main ingredients in cleaning compounds and drain openers. Use these materials up according to label directions whenever possible. These products are usually usable even when a few years old. However, be sure not to mix products together or dangerous fumes could result.
Be sure to empty aerosol containers completely before disposing with other trash to prevent an explosion hazard. If the can still has some product in it, remove the propellant by turning the can upside down and pushing the nozzle. Check if your local recycling program accepts aerosol cans. Purchase products in nonaerosol forms (pump spray, roll-on or liquid).
Used antifreeze can be diluted thoroughly with water and poured down the sanitary-sewer drain. Do not pour antifreeze into an outdoor storm sewer, where it may go directly to a waterway without treatment. Animals and children are attracted to the sweet taste of antifreeze, so store or dispose of it where they won't be tempted to drink it.
Avoid buying more than you can use within a year, and store in a cool dry place.
Mercury is highly toxic and can be absorbed through the skin. You should remember two important things: Do not touch mercury and do not throw mercury in the garbage. If you have spilled mercury by breaking a thermometer, wear gloves and collect the small drops with a wet paper towel or cotton ball. Place the debris in a zip-top bag and dispose in the trash. (There is no better disposal option for thermometers). For larger amounts of mercury, your local high school or university laboratory or local dentist may be interested in taking it. Otherwise you can send mercury to a recycler. Ohio EPA maintains a list of mercury recyclers; however, all of these are out of state. Contact your local solid-waste management district office for additional ideas on locating mercury recyclers.
Use pesticides and herbicides according to label directions. Avoid disposal whenever possible. If you can't use the material, see if a neighbor or local garden club can. Also, never reuse the containers. Empty containers should be rinsed three times in water. Then spray the rinse water on your lawn or garden. Contact your Ohio State University Extension Office or the Ohio Department of Agriculture for information on handling large amounts of pesticides that can't be used.
Small amounts of paint can be hardened by taking the lid off the can and adding sand or cat litter. Once the paint is solid, you can put it in the trash. Paint that is still usable should be donated to a neighbor, school, theater group or community organization in your area.
You can clean used solvents (paint thinner, turpentine, varnish, stripper) by allowing the paint or dirt particles to settle out in a glass container. Gently pour the cleared solvent into another container to use again and discard the sludge in the trash. Do not dump onto soil, or down sewers, drains or the toilet. Large amounts of solvents (more than 10 gallons) should be taken to a recycler. Contact your local solid-waste management district office for ideas on finding outlets for your solvents.
Take old car batteries to a retailer. Check your yellow pages under "Batteries" for stores that sell new batteries and take used batteries to be recycled.
Butane, propane or other pressurized gas cylinders should not be disposed of with other refuse because of the serious explosion hazard. Contact a retailer (under "Gas" in the yellow pages) to have the cylinder refilled or disposed of properly. If you are sure a cylinder is completely empty, is no longer under pressure and can't be reused, then it can be disposed of in the trash.
Avoid buying more than you can use in six months and store in a cool dry place. Gas less than one year old can be safely used as fuel in your car, lawnmower or snow blower, etc., when first strained through a paint filter and then mixed with at least an equal amount of fresh gasoline. For older gasoline or gas/oil mixes, look under "Oils-Waste" in the yellow pages for a company that will take residential material.
USED MOTOR OIL
Motor oil is easily recycled. Contact your local solid-waste management district office to obtain information about the recycling outlet nearest you, or call local service stations and ask if they will accept your used oil. A convenient way to hold oil for recycling is to funnel it into a cleaned, old plastic milk jug or gallon container.
Less toxic alternatives
Products and their alternatives:
DRAIN CLEANERS: Pour boiling water down the drain. Use a plunger or a plumber's "snake."
CHLORINE BLEACH: Baking soda and water, Borax, or natural sunlight (you must use bleach as a disinfectant.)
PAINTS AND SOLVENTS: Use water-based (latex, acrylic) paint if possible.
PAINT REMOVER/STRIPPER: Heat guns may be used for removing many paints, but only in well-ventilated areas. Avoid using them for lead-based paints.
PESTICIDES: Learn which insects are beneficial in managing pests. Keep your lawn and garden weed-free. Remove and destroy infected plants. Refer to an organic gardening book.
HOUSEPLANT INSECTICIDE: Spray soapy water on leaves, then rub infested leaves with cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol.
HERBICIDES: Hand pull weeds or mulch generously. Cover garden with plastic in the fall to prevent weed germination. Also, use biological controls such as lady bugs or praying mantises.
OVEN CLEANERS: Use baking soda for scouring. For baked on grease, heat oven to 200 degrees, turn off and leave 1/4 cup ammonia in a dish in the oven for several hours to loosen. Then scrub with baking soda. Save the ammonia to be used again.
FURNITURE POLISH: Make a nontoxic polish by melting 1 tablespoon Carnauba Wax into 2 cups mineral oil. For lemon oil polish: Dissolve 1 teaspoon lemon oil into 1 pint mineral oil.
SPOT REMOVER: Immediately soak in water, lemon juice, club soda, or corn meal and water.
SILVER CLEANER: Soak silver in 1 quart warm water with 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and a small piece of aluminum foil.
WINDOW CLEANER: Use a pump spray container filled with 2 tablespoons vinegar in 1 quart water (label and date container), or rub newspaper on the glass.
TOILET BOWL CLEANER: Use toilet brush and baking soda, mild detergent or 1/2 cup bleach.
MOTHBALLS: Use cedar chests or place cedar chips around clothes.
ROACH SPRAY: Cut hedge apples (Osage oranges) in half and place in the basement, in the cabinets or under the house to repel roaches. Mix equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar and sprinkle in the infested area.
Safety and management
If saving material for a collection event, keep in the original container. If necessary, store the original container in a second leak-proof container that is labeled and dated. Keep out of reach of children and pets and away from open flames and sources of heat.
UBuy and use less-hazardous substitutes whenever possible.
UBuy only what you need.
UWear gloves and protective clothing to prevent skin contact.
UHandle the substance gently, especially if you don't know what it is.
UFollow directions carefully when using any hazardous products.
UKeep hazardous substances out of the reach of children and pets and away from heat sources or open flame.
UAlways read labels before you buy a product to be sure it will meet your needs.
UKeep labels on all your containers.
UTry to find someone else to use your unwanted material, but be sure you know what you have and inform them fully.
UUse nonaerosol products in reusable containers.
UMix materials or wastes together.
UDispose of large quantities of any toxic materials in a septic system.
UBury or burn containers of leftover materials.
UDispose of materials into the storm sewer.
UBreathe fumes from toxic materials.
UBuy aerosols. Use pump sprays instead.
These alternatives to commercial cleaning products:
Uare less polluting to manufacture.
Uare less likely, in some cases, to cause injury if accidentally ingested.
Udon't cause indoor air pollution in your home.
Uare generally less expensive than commercial products.
Ucan reduce waste from packaging.
Uare simple and effective and have been used for generations.
Ucan help you save space in your cupboards and closets.
Uare less likely to harm the environment during and after use.
Recipes and tips
Shopping list: Vinegar, baking soda, cornstarch, salt, borax (toxic if ingested), lemon juice, olive oil, mild liquid soap (not detergent), reusable steel wool (not commercial cleaning pads that contain toxic cleaners), nonchlorine (no sodium hyphochlorite) scouring powder (e.g. Bon Ami), citrus-based cleaning concentrate (e.g. Citra-Solv, Seventh Generation, etc.)
Mix 2 tablespoons baking soda with 1 pint warm water in a spray bottle. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut grease.
Find a combination that works for you, and always keep some ready in a spray bottle. You'll find that weak acids like vinegar and lemon juice are good at cutting grease.
Mix: 1 quart hot water, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil-based soap or vegetable oil-based detergent, 1 teaspoon borax, & amp; 2 tablespoons vinegar.
Note: Vinegar is used here as mild acid to cut grease; borax is used as a water softener, especially good in areas with hard water, to prevent soapy deposits.
Or, mix 1/2 cup vinegar in 1 quart of warm water.
Or, dissolve baking soda in hot water for a general cleaner.
For a soft scrubbing paste, mix some baking soda with enough liquid soap to make a paste. Make only what you need as it dries up quickly.
NO-STREAK GLASS/WINDOW CLEANER
Mix 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1 quart warm water.
Or, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 quart warm water.
Apply with a spray bottle or sponge. Wipe with crumpled newspaper instead of paper towels for lint-free results.
Use one of the following methods:
UMix 1 part vinegar to about 4 parts water. Put into a spray bottle. Spray onto cool oven surface. Scrub the oven clean. Use baking soda or a citrus-based cleaner on stubborn spots.
UMix together in a spray bottle 2 tablespoons liquid soap (not detergent), 2 teaspoons borax and warm water to fill the bottle. Make sure the salts are completely dissolved to avoid clogging the squirting mechanism. Spray on mixture, holding the bottle very close to the oven surface. Leave the solution on for 20 minutes, then scrub with steel wool and a nonchlorine scouring powder.
UOr, use a nonchlorinated scouring powder, like Bon Ami.
UOr, use a baking soda, salt and water paste.
UClean glass oven door with Bon Ami. Use razor blade or spatula for tough spots.
Notes: Avoid aerosol oven cleaners and cleaners containing lye (sodium hydroxide). Avoid chlorinated scouring powders such as Comet and Ajax. Don't use abrasive cleaning materials on self-cleaning ovens. For preventative cleaning, use baking soda dissolved in water.
NONTOXIC TOILET BOWL CLEANER
Pour in 1 cup borax, 1/2 cup white vinegar and leave overnight. Flush to wet the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle the borax around the toilet bowl, then drizzle with vinegar. Leave for several hours before scrubbing with a toilet brush.
For stains in toilet bowl, try a paste of lemon juice and borax. Let sit about 20 min. and scrub with bowl brush.
Notes: Avoid solid toilet-bowl deodorizers that contain paradichloro-benzene -- there is evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals. Some toilet bowl cleaning products contain acids (read labels). If acids are mixed with a cleaner containing chlorine, toxic chlorine gas is released.
TUB AND SINK CLEANER
Use nonchlorinated cleanser (e.g. Bon Ami).
For toughest stains, try a citrus-based cleaner at full strength (undiluted).
Try fine grain wet/dry sandpaper (400 grit) to remove pot marks in porcelain sinks (gentler than common scouring cleansers).
To remove mineral deposits around faucets, cover deposits with strips of paper towels, soaked in vinegar. Let set for 1 hour and clean.
Note: Hard water means the water has a high mineral content (e.g. calcium, magnesium, iron, etc.). This often results in whitish mineral deposits left on faucets, shower doors, drains, windows. Vinegar, a weak acid, can dissolve many of these deposits.
Use hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen in wastewater.
For a fabric rinse, add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the washing machine's rinse cycle. This eliminates the scratchy feel of laundered clothes by rinsing detergent completely from clothes. To brighten clothes, add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle. Reduce the amount of laundry detergent per load by adding 1/2 cup of baking soda or borax to the wash.
Hand-washing: Use vegetable oil-based soaps/detergents.
Automatic dishwasher: Automatic-dishwashing detergents have a high level of phosphates. One exception is Seventh Generation brand dishwashing powder.
Use one of the following methods:
UPour one or two handfuls of baking soda followed by 1 cup white vinegar down the drain pipe and cover tightly for one minute. The chemical reaction between the two substances will create pressure in the drain and dislodge the obstruction. Rinse with hot water.
UPour 1 cup salt and 1 cup baking soda followed by lots of hot water.
UPlunge the sink.
UUse a drain snake -- also called a sink auger -- to unclog stubborn drains. Drain snakes can be purchased at hardware stores or ordered online, sometimes for less than the cost of a bottle of chemical drain cleaner. More expensive heavy-duty drain snakes can be rented for less than the cost of a chemical drain cleaner.
URead "Unclogging a Sink Drain," online at DoItYourself.com.
Store clean clothing in airtight containers or sealed bags with cedar blocks, shavings or oil. Place cedar in drawers and closets as well. Inspect any used clothing or furniture carefully for moths or larvae before bringing them into the house, or clean them first. Vigorously shaking clothes will remove larvae and eggs (remember to vacuum well afterwards). And the heat of the dryer will also kill larvae and eggs.
FLOOR OR FURNITURE POLISH
Use one of the following methods:
UUse 1 part lemon to 2 parts olive oil and apply a thin coat. Rub in well with a soft cloth.
UMix three parts olive oil and one part vinegar.
Sprinkle carpet liberally with baking soda. Wait 15 minutes longer, then vacuum. For musty rugs that have been sitting in the attic, leave the baking soda overnight.
Brass: Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup white vinegar with enough flour to make a paste. Apply thickly. Let sit for 15 min-1/2 hr. Rinse thoroughly with water to avoid corrosion.
Copper: Polish with a paste of lemon juice and salt.
Silver: Boil silver 3 minutes in a quart of water containing: 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and a piece of aluminum foil.
Or, rub silver with a baking soda/water paste and a soft cloth; rinse and polish dry.
Or, rub with toothpaste.
Use a toothbrush to clean raised surfaces. Be careful not to scratch surfaces. Be gentle and use a light hand.
Chrome: Wipe with vinegar, rinse with water, then dry. (Good for removing hard-water deposits.)
Or, shine chrome fixtures with baby oil and a soft cloth. (Good for removing soap scum off faucets.)
Stainless steel: Clean and polish with a baking soda/water paste or a cleanser like Bon Ami.
PAPER TOWELS AND RAGS
Crumpled newspaper is a great substitute for paper towels for cleaning windows. If you do use paper towels for cleaning, choose unbleached paper towels with high post-consumer recycled content. Reusable cloth rags work well.
DISPOSAL OF COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS
Get rid of toxic household products stored under your kitchen sink and in your basement -- but don't pour them down the drain or throw them in the trash. Remember that many household products are considered hazardous waste. Contact your local environmental agency or public works department to find out about hazardous waste disposal in your area. You can read about local disposal rules at www.cleanup.org.
Citrus-based cleaners are extremely effective and versatile, as well as environmentally friendly, and are available in most grocery stores. Made from orange peels, these cleaners are nontoxic, petroleum-free and biodegrade rapidly. They also smell great and don't contribute to indoor air pollution.
It's best to buy these cleaners in a concentrate, as it saves money and packaging, and reduces environmental impact associated with shipping the product -- since there's no water to add to weight and bulk. The price for the concentrate will seem high -- about $8 for a 16-ounce bottle -- but each bottle makes eight gallons of cleaner, and the product is ultimately much cheaper than other cleaners.
Numbers to know
Ohio EPA Division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management: (614) 644-2621, for general information on solid-waste management.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Pesticide Regulation Section: (800) 282-1955 (in Ohio) or (614) 728-6383 (in Columbus).
XSources: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Children's Health Environmental Coalition