Shop Towel Best Management Practices

Follow these practices to recycle your shop towels so that they do not become dangerous waste:

  1. Use cloth or other durable material shop towels that can be cleaned and used again. Reuse and recycle.

  2. When possible, use non-hazardous or less-hazardous cleaning solvents. Look for solvents that do not contain chlorinated compounds.

  3. Remove free liquids before tossing soiled shop towels in containers. This can be done simply by hand-wringing or pressing while wearing proper protective equipment and clothing. An explosion-proof extractor or centrifuge can remove even more free liquids but MUST be suitable for use with volatile and flammable liquids. Liquids should be collected and reused or, if not directly reused, managed as a dangerous waste.

  4. Do not dispose of solvents by pouring them into containers of used shop towels. Such practices constitute disposal of dangerous waste, subject to full regulation.

  5. For safety reasons, keep incompatible wastes separate (e.g., don’t mix alcohol-soaked rags with rags containing acid). Also, keep dangerous and non-dangerous shop towels segregated.  Ask your recycler for handling information.

  6. Containers of contaminated shop towels must be:

    Space between containers must allow access for emergency equipment in case of fire.

  7. Flammable materials must be managed according to all local fire department standards. Containers must be sufficiently separated from all external sources of ignition. Place legible “No Smoking” signs at all accumulation areas. These areas must meet the minimum property line setback requirements. Container type, color, and labels must also meet local fire department codes.

  8. Make sure that the recycling facility you use (whether onsite or hired out) meets local sewer-discharge limits and other applicable environmental regulations. Do not use recyclers that discharge dangerous wastewaters to a drain field or cleaning solvents directly to the air.

  9. Small-quantity generators should ensure, and medium- and large-quantity generators must ensure that all employees are thoroughly familiar with proper waste handling and emergency procedures relevant to their responsibilities during normal facility operations and emergencies. This training will include the location of all fire extinguishers and fire alarms.  Post the telephone number of the fire department by all telephones.

  10. Used towels may not be accumulated for longer than 180 days before being recycled.

Related information

Solvents addresses handling and best practices for solvent safety

Focus on: Used Shop Towels is an Ecology publication that discusses the Best Management Practices for generators and recyclers.