Safe Smart Solutions

Young girl reaching for HHMs under the sink

Change Our Ways, Change Our World

There are six easy steps you can take to properly manage HHMs and change your world.

DNR Contact

Kathleen Hennings
Household Hazardous Materials

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What are HHMs / Importance of Proper Disposal - Iowa DNR; - Iowa DNR (4:42)
Household hazardous materials (HHMs) are found in nearly every home, under every sink, in closets, basements and garages. Consequently, nearly every household in the state generates household hazardous waste. These materials are likely to end up in local solid waste facilities or in municipal sewer systems, septic tanks or even released directly into the environment unless steps are taken to manage this waste independently from other household wastes.

Are HHMs really that dangerous? I use them every day.
HHMs make chores easier but they also pose a threat to public health, safety and the environment. Cleaning products can pollute the environment if used or disposed of improperly. The cleaners in your home have the same chemicals found in industrial factories, just smaller amounts. Cleaners contain hazardous chemicals that can cause health concerns such as skin irritations, aggravation of respiratory diseases, and cancer. Health effects caused by hazardous waste can be acute (sudden or immediate onset of severe symptoms) or chronic (gradual onset of symptoms occurring through repeated exposures over an extended period of time).

Children are of special concern, as they are often more susceptible to the toxins in HHMs than adults and the impacts more severe as their systems have not yet fully developed. Exposures may impair immune and reproductive systems and interrupt physical and mental development. HHMs are the leading cause of poisonings in children.

How can I tell if a product is a HHM?
Labels on household products considered hazardous contain one of the following signal words: Warning, Caution, Danger, Poison. Signal words appear because household products have one or more of the following characteristics:


  • Toxic products are poisonous or cause long-term illness.
  • Pesticides, paint thinners, many automotive products and some cleaners are toxic.
  • Look for phrases on the product label like harmful or fatal if swallowed or use only in a well-ventilated area (This means that fumes from the product are toxic).


  • Flammable products burn easily. Paint, automotive products, thinners and other solvents are the most flammable household products.
  • Look for words or phrases on the product label like: do not use near heat or flame, combustible and do not smoke while using this product.


  • Corrosive products can eat through materials: acid is one example. Oven cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and automotive batteries are common corrosive products.
  • Look for phrases on the product label like causes severe burns on contact and can burn eyes, skin or throat.


  • Reactive materials can spontaneously ignite or create poisonous vapors when mixed with other products. For that reason, household products should never be mixed.
  • Some reactive materials can explode when exposed to heat, air and water or when shaken. 

How can I handle Household Hazardous Materials Safely?
Information on handling specific products can be found on the product label. Labels will tell you what the product is for, how to use it, proper storage, the risks you are exposed to, and what to do if you have an accident.

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Proper Purchasing, Usage & Storage - Iowa DNR; - Iowa DNR (5:31)
Products we commonly use for the maintenance of our homes and vehicles can make our jobs easier but many of these materials are also considered a household hazardous material. Product labels contain signal words relating to their hazardous properties as well as use, storage and disposal recommendations.

Children, seniors and pets can be particularly sensitive to household chemicals. Repeated exposures during use and storage of large amounts of unwanted HHMs can have negative impacts on health and safety. In response to customer demand and environmental responsibility many companies are now producing cleaners with natural ingredients such as coconut and lemon oil, glycerine and ethanol. Nontoxic alternatives are not only as effective and easy to use as their commercial counterparts, but are also safer. Using less toxic or nature-based household products can help keep your home healthier, safer and helps protect the environment.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow when purchasing HHMs:
Read the Label 
The label should tell you what the product is for, how to use it, the risks you are exposed to, and what to do if there is an accident. Product labels are required to list certain words to alert the consumer if a product is considered hazardous including Danger, Poison, Caution and Warning.
The most important time to read the label is before you buy a product; think of the following questions while you are reading:
  • What is this product for? Does it do just one job, or can I use it for several tasks? Will something else I already have do the job? Are there any restrictions, such as avoid using product around plastic, metal, or fabric?
  • How do I use it? Is the product ready-to-use, or do I mix it with water? How can I mix the product safely? How much will I need to do the job?
  • How hazardous is the product? All product labels are required to contain signal words to inform the consumer if the product has hazardous properties. The easiest way to determine if a product is considered hazardous is to read the label.
  • What do I do if I have an accident? Does the label say what to do if the product contacts skin, or is inhaled or swallowed? Does the label give enough information to prepare for and respond to these accidents?
Have the Iowa Poison Control Center hotline number (1-800-222-1222) within easy reach should you ever need it. The Iowa Poison Control Center reports that the number one cause of accidental poisonings in children is HHMs.

Consider a Less Hazardous or Green Alternative
Now that you have read the label, a quick look at several products will help you find the right and safest product that will do the job. Manufacturers of HHM products are beginning to also offer product lines that are less toxic and nature based to address the desires of their customers. If your primary desire is to use less toxic or non-HHM products, here are some tips:
  • Avoid products, if possible, that have labels that say any of the following: Caution, Warning, Danger or Poison. Choose a product labeled Caution over Warning; avoid products labeled Danger or Poison which signify that a product is capable of causing serious damage or injury to your health.
  • Buy the least hazardous product needed to get the job done. For instance, it is better for health and environmental reasons to use oven cleaner labeled No Caustic Fumes or No Lye.
  • Choose products with label statements such as: non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, non-petroleum-based, free of ammonia, phosphates, dye or perfume, readily biodegradable, and non-fuming.
  • Look for natural plant based cleaners that will do the job you need. Not all natural cleaners are created equal and many still contain hazardous materials, so read the label for a listing of ingredients and look for the signal words.

Do Not:

  • Use aerosol sprays. Aerosols cause air pollution through the use of air propellants such as Isopropanol, and can pose disposal issues when empty. Choose solid or gel products or pump sprays.
  • Buy perfumed products. Scented products can add chemicals to the indoor air environment and may be disruptive to children and to people with respiratory ailments or sensitive skin.

Buy Only What You Need and Use It All
Once you have decided on a particular product: 


  • Carefully consider before buying “super” sizes and bundled products. The few cents you save may not be worth the risk of storing unused hazardous products.
  • Thank retailers for providing safer alternatives.
  • Use the entire product you purchase according to manufacturer's directions. If you cannot use the entire product, give remaining product to someone who can use it or take it to your Regional Collection Center for placement in their Swap Shop.

Do Not:

  • Store HHM’s: More is not always better. Storing HHMs can be a health and safety risk, plus they take up space and clutter your home.

Note: It is unlawful to give away or sell open containers of pesticides. Either use the pesticides until gone according to the manufacturer's directions or contact your Regional Collection Center.

Signal Words

All hazardous product labels are required to contain signal words to inform the consumer the product has hazardous properties. The easiest way to determine if a product is considered hazardous is to read the label.
Look for these words on the label:
  • Poison means that a product is highly toxic and can cause injury or death if  ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • Danger means that a product is highly toxic, flammable or corrosive. Products containing the word "Danger" could be poisonous, cause serious damage to skin or eyes, or is easily ignitable.
  • Caution means the product is slightly toxic if swallowed, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes slight eye or skin irritation.
  • Warning indicates the product is moderately toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes moderate eye or skin irritation.
Products that do not contain any of these words on the label are the least hazardous.
All of us have household hazardous materials such as cleaners, oils or aerosols in our homes that require special precautions when using, storing or disposing of them. HHMs may pose serious fire, health or environmental hazards. To minimize risks associated with HHM products, read and follow product labels.

When Using HHMs


  • Follow safety precautions listed on the label. It may recommend wearing gloves, goggles or using the product with ventilation.
  • Read the label for directions on using the product. Use the product only as intended, as it can be dangerous to use a product incorrectly.
  • Look for first aid instructions on the label; they may vary for each product according to their ingredients.
  • Put cleaning products away immediately after removing the amount needed for the cleaning job at hand. This will limit accessibility to young children and pets, and will help prevent accidental spills.
  • Have a plan to handle small spills of household hazardous materials. Keep emergency numbers next to the phone, including the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Properly close all containers.

Do Not:

  • Mix cleaning products. Products which are safe when used alone can sometimes become dangerous if mixed with other products. As an example, avoid mixing products containing liquid household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) with products containing ammonia or acids. Such mixtures can release hazardous gases.
  • Reuse an empty household cleaning product container for another purpose. Many HHMs look like sports drinks or Kool Aid and if stored without a label in a different bottle could be mistaken for a beverage.
  • Use more product than recommended. Follow the product label use guidelines. Using more than the recommended amount will not perform better and may produce harmful fumes.

When Storing HHMs


  • Store all containers out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Store cleaning products in their original containers, keeping the original labels intact.
  • Store HHMs away from heat, flame or sources of ignition in a well ventilated area.
  • Refer to label for storage instructions. Most cleaning products have long shelf lives and can be stored until they can be used.

Do Not:

  • Store cleaning products in a container that once contained a food or beverage. A child may mistakenly eat or drink it. Many HHMs look similar to sports drinks or soft drink type beverages. Even a small amount can pose significant risks.
  • Store cleaning products near food products as they could spill or leak and contaminate food.
  • Store flammable liquids or gasses in the home near heat or spark sources (charcoal lighter or propane cylinders).
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Ease of Proper Disposal - Iowa DNR; - Iowa DNR (5:26)

Proper disposal is provided by a collection of facilities across the state called Regional Collection Centers (RCCs). Their packaging and disposal services are free to residents and eligible businesses pay a small fee. HHMs contain many of the chemical types found in industrial and commercial hazardous waste. Though individually less concentrated, when gathered together in the trash, in collection vehicles or in the landfill, HHMs can be as harmful as industrial and commercial grade chemical waste, which is banned from the landfill. Proper disposal is critical in protecting our health, sanitation worker safety and protection of the environment including fish and wildlife as well as protection of our drinking water resources.


  • Locate your nearest RCC and schedule an appointment to take your hazardous materials for proper disposal and recycling.
  • Contact your local solid waste agency about proper disposal methods.
  • Look for local options for recycling electronic waste, automotive products and fluorescent bulbs.  

Do Not:

  • Dump into ditches, pour down drains or sewers, or place in the trash. Each of these actions has negative consequences.
  • Dumping in ditches releases hazardous chemicals directly into the environment.
  • Pouring down drains and storm sewers has caused explosions in the sewer system. Storm sewers typically empty directly into lakes and streams, creating a path for hazardous chemicals to impact drinking water, recreation and aquatic life.
  • Placing in the trash easily creates the opportunity for incompatible chemicals to mix. Chemical reactions can result in explosions, fires, and toxic fumes causing personal injury and damage to garbage trucks and equipment.

What happens to my HHMs after I bring it in to the RCC?
The employees at the RCC will keep your materials in their original container, sort them by type (corrosive, acid, aerosol), then place them in 55 gallon barrels. These barrels are sealed and stored in an explosive-proof storage unit until they are picked up by a licensed hazardous waste contractor. 

HHM Fact Sheets

This collection of fact sheets lists some common household products; potential hazards, proper disposal options, and safer alternatives, where they exist.

How to dispose of ...
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