What are Household Hazardous Materials?

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What are HHMs / Importance of Proper Disposal - Iowa DNR; - Iowa DNR (4:42)

Most cleaning products are HHMs.
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.