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We All Win When You Bring in Household Hazardous Materials

Common household materials can be hazardous when not handled or disposed of properly. When you choose to bring in your leftover items like cleaning products and gardening supplies, you’re helping everyone in our community win.

Making a drop off at your Regional Collection Center is as easy as looking up your location and collecting any unwanted items from around your home. Find out where to bring it in!

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 household products really that dangerous? I use them every day.

Common household products like cleaners make chores easier but they can also pose a threat to public health, safety, and the environment if not disposed of properly. The cleaners in your home have the same chemicals found in industrial factories, just in smaller amounts. Cleaners contain hazardous chemicals that can cause health concerns such as skin irritations, aggravation of respiratory diseases, and even 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 household materials than adults. For children, the impacts can be more severe as their systems have not yet fully developed. In fact, hazardous household products are the leading cause of poisonings in children.

How can I tell if a household product is hazardous?

Labels on household products considered hazardous may 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

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

Flammable

  • Flammable products burn easily.
  • 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.”
  • Examples: Paint, automotive products, thinners, and other solvents

Corrosive

  • Corrosive products can eat through materials.
  • Look for phrases on the product label like “causes severe burns on contact” and “can burn eyes, skin or throat.”
  • Examples: Acid, oven cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and automotive batteries

Reactive

  • 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 safely handle household products that may be considered hazardous?

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)

How Do I Choose the Correct Household Product?

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 hazardous if not handled correctly. Product labels not only contain signal words relating to their hazardous properties but also their use, storage and disposal recommendations.

When purchasing potentially hazardous products for use at home, follow these simple guidelines:

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.

Know Your Signal Words

Many product labels 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 and look for the following words:

  • 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.

The most important time to read the label is before you buy a product. Consider 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 instead? Are there any restrictions to consider, such as avoiding using the 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, is inhaled, or swallowed? Does the label give enough information to prepare for and respond to these accidents?

It’s important to 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 exposure to hazardous household products.

How Can I Replace Household Chemicals with Less Hazardous or Green Alternatives?

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 and safer while helping protect the environment.

If your primary desire is to use less toxic, non-hazardous products, here are some tips:

Choose Better Products:

  • Avoid products 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.

Avoid These:

  • Aerosol sprays. Aerosols cause air pollution through the use of air propellants such as Isopropanol and can pose disposal issues when empty. Instead, choose solid or gel products or pump sprays.
  • 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

Things to Think About

  • 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.

Avoid:

  • Storing hazardous home products for an extended amount of time. Remember: more is not always better. Storing these products 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.

All of us have hazardous products like cleaners, oils or aerosols in our homes that require special care when using, storing or disposing of them. These products may pose serious fire, health or environmental hazards. To minimize risks associated with these products, read and follow product labels.

When Using Hazardous Products at Home

Always

  • 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.
  • Follow safety precautions listed on the label. Labels may recommend wearing gloves, goggles, or using the product with ventilation.
  • Look for first aid instructions on the label; they may vary for each product according to their ingredients.
  • Put cleaning products away immediately after using the amount needed for the 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.

Avoid:

  • Mixing 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.
  • Reusing an empty household cleaning product container for another purpose. Many hazardous home products look like sports drinks or sodas 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 Hazardous Products in Your Home

Always

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

Avoid:

  • Storing cleaning products in a container that once contained a food or beverage. A child may mistakenly eat or drink it. Many hazardous home products look similar to sports drinks or soft drinks. Even a small amount can pose significant risks.
  • Storing cleaning products near food products as they could spill or leak and contaminate food.
  • Storing 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)

People across the state can properly dispose of these materials at a collection of facilities called Regional Collection Centers (RCCs). RCC services are free to residents within their service area. Services for eligible businesses are available at a small fee.

Common household products can contain many of the chemical types found in industrial and commercial hazardous waste. Though individually they are less concentrated, when gathered together in the trash, collection vehicles or the landfill, these products can be as harmful as industrial and commercial grade chemical waste. Proper disposal is critical in protecting our health, the safety of sanitation workers, and our environment, including fish and wildlife as well as our drinking water resources.

To find out how you can properly dispose of hazardous items you can:

  • Locate your nearest regional collection center 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 hazardous materials into ditches, pour them down drains or sewers, or place them 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 hazardous household items after I drop them off at my local collection center?

The employees at your Regional Collection Center (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 for disposal by a licensed hazardous waste contractor.

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

DNR Contact

Kathleen Hennings
515-725-8359
Kathleen.Hennings@dnr.iowa.gov

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Rechargeable batteries are becoming more common and are found in a variety of items in our households.

Although rechargeable batteries last longer than conventional batteries they eventually lose power, and when they cannot be recharged, they need special handling. Due to the presence of corrosive chemicals, toxins such as mercury and lead, and charged electrodes, all batteries pose hazards and risk of fire, but the biggest risk lies with rechargeable batteries. 

Rechargeable batteries should not be placed in the trash and should never be tossed in your recycling bin. When an item is labeled "recyclable", that simply means it can be recycled in some way; it doesn't mean that it can be put in your recycling bin. Rechargeable, Lithium Ion batteries can be recycled, but only at specified locations.

To find your nearest facility contact your local solid waste agency, or Regional Collection Center.


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