HWTR Dangerous Materials

My Watershed


Soaps, detergents, and some solvents are referred to as "cleaners."  Simple acids and bases like baking soda and vinegar are often used as cleaners, as well. The general rule of thumb is to use the least-hazardous cleaner for the job.

Some types of cleaning agents, especially many solvents, are dangerous. Spent solvents may often be recycled.  However, any are quite toxic, or even flammable or explosive.  These are generally insoluble in water.

Solvents discusses considerations unique to this class of cleaners.

Less-toxic Alternatives for Dangerous Solvents offers advice on solvent substitution.  

Wash waters and storm water

Some cleaners, like water-soluble soaps and detergents, are relatively safe before use, but become dangerous when they take on contaminants while cleaning. Even fairly benign cleaners can become toxic quickly after washing a car or floor.  These wash waters must be contained and properly managed.

That is, if the wash water becomes dangerous waste, then it must be managed as dangerous waste. 

Polluted runoff must never enter a septic system nor storm sewer. Remember that not all storm drains are marked. Every contaminant that falls or flows onto an unprotected parking lot or into the street can wind up in local surface waters. Help protect water quality by following the Stormwater Best Management Practices.

Stormwater is a page from the Water Quality program that discusses stormwater and that links to the Stormwater Manuals with requirements for business to follow to protect water.

In some areas, some kinds of water wastes, usually with treatment, can be permitted to go down a sink drain to the sewer system.  This would be permitted through the local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) or similar entity. The facility must have a written permit on hand. Carefully maintain any treatment systems on site.

Floor cleaning

Floor-cleaning methods that reduce pollution include using dry sweeping of absorbents for small spills and using floor-washing machines that recirculate and reuse water.  Old floor drains should be plugged.  Using a berm to contain any floor-cleaning water is good sense, as well as a Best Management Practice in many stormwater jurisdictions.  Never allow floor or parking lot pollution to reach storm drains.

Related information

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing is an Ecology site designed for government purchasers, but discussions on labeling and certifications may be of interest.

EPP Bulletin: All Purpose Cleaning Products describes considerations for purchasing cleaning products.