Safe disposal of cleaning products

The best way to dispose of a household cleaning product is the way that makes the best environmental and economic sense is to use it up! If you can’t, consider giving the product to a friend or organization that can. Just be sure to keep the product in its original container with the label intact.

Most household cleaning products are designed to go down the drain as part of normal usage. They are then treated by the same systems that treat other wastes from your home.

The key to smart use and disposal of any cleaning product is to read the label and follow the directions. If there are no special disposal instructions on the label, then thinking about how you use the product will help you make the right decision.

For example, water soluble products (those mixed with water for cleaning), such as laundry and dishwashing detergents; multi-surface cleaners; bleaches; disinfectant cleaners; and liquid metal cleaners/polishes, drain openers and toilet bowl cleaners, can be flushed down the drain with running water. Powders should be disposed of in small quantities at a time so they don’t form lumps in the drain. Solid cleaning products, such as bar soaps, toilet bowl cleaners and soap scouring pads, can be safely disposed of in the trash. Remember, just as you shouldn’t mix cleaning products together when using them, you shouldn’t mix unused products during disposal.

For disposal recommendations on other products, such as oven cleaners, crystal drain openers and furniture polishes, call the manufacturer’s toll-free number or check with your local waste disposal facility.

Under typical household use and disposal conditions, it’s safe to dispose of cleaning products down the drain without worry of damage to your septic system (if you have one) because cleaning products won’t eliminate the bacteria that make properly maintained septic tank systems work effectively.

Water-soluble cleaning products are designed to be compatible with a wide variety of wastewater treatment systems. For example, research has shown that a homeowner could pour up to a gallon of laundry bleach or disinfectant into a standard septic tank system in one day and not destroy the septic tank’s bacteria. A gallon of bleach represents more than 15 wash loads per day.

Follow label directions if provided. If there are no directions, think about how you use the product.

  • If it mixes with water, it’s water-soluble. Most liquid, gel and powder water-soluble household cleaning products can be disposed of down the drain with running water just like when you use them.
  • Most solid products (soap scouring pads, sticks, towelettes, etc.) can be placed in the trash.
  • For other products (such as oven cleaners, crystal drain openers and furniture polishes) call the manufacturer’s toll-free number (or write to them) for disposal recommendations, or check with your local waste disposal facility.

For water-soluble household cleaning products:

In the Trash
(aerosols, crystals, disks, pads, pastes, sheets, sticks, towelettes)
Down the Drain
(liquids, powders, gels)
Laundry Products
  • Fabric Softeners
  • Stain Removers
  • Bleaches
  • Detergents
  • Fabric Softeners
  • Pre-soaks, Pre-washes
  • Water Softeners
Dishwashing Products
  • Rinse Agents
  • Automatic and Hand Dishwashing Detergents
  • Film and Spot Removers
  • Rinse Agents
Household Cleaners
  • All-Purpose Cleaners
  • Bathroom Cleaners/Disinfectants
  • Carpet/Upholstery Cleaners
  • Drain Openers
  • Furniture Cleaners
  • Glass Cleaners
  • Oven Cleaners
  • Toilet Bowl Cleaners
  • All-purpose Cleaners/Cleansers
  • Ammonia
  • Baking Soda
  • Borax
  • Carpet Cleaners
  • Disinfectant Cleaners
  • Drain Openers
  • Floor/Furniture Cleaners
  • Glass Cleaners
  • Multi-Surface Cleaners
  • Toilet Bowl Cleaners
  • Tub/Tile/Sink Cleaners
Personal Care Products
  • Hand/Body Soaps
For safety: Wrap containers in paper before disposing in the trash. When disposing of cleaning products, flush with water and do not mix products.Dispose of powders in very small quantities at a time. This will help keep them from forming lumps in the drain pipe.

Proper Disposal of Containers

  • Empty any unused product.
  • Check with your community recycling centre to see what type of plastic, paperboard and metal containers they accept.
  • Refer to local guidelines for recycling plastics, paperboard and aerosol cans (steel and/or aluminum).

Water-soluble household cleaning products (HCP) usually do not fall into the HHW category because they go safely down the drain or in the trash. So, think before you treat them as HHW — you’ll be saving your community money!

Generally, you don’t have to save your household cleaning products for household hazardous waste collection days. Cleaning products do not typically contain ingredients that would harm the environment in the quantities that are disposed of by households. The vast majority of cleaning products are water soluble and are formulated for safe disposal in either municipal or home wastewater treatment systems. Household hazardous waste programs are intended to handle products that may cause a problem if disposed of by common methods, such as down the drain or in the trash.

Cutting Down on Trash

We all want to conserve resources and keep waste to a minimum. It’s called waste reduction, and it means cutting down on excess products and their packages at the source.

The soap and detergent industry has been working hard to conserve resources and reduce waste. We’ve developed such innovations as concentrated products in smaller packages, combination products (providing two functions in one product), refillable containers, and we’re also using recycled materials to make new containers. In fact the industry has become one of the biggest purchasers of recycled plastics, giving new life to the plastics you recycle!

Here’s where you come in.

By buying concentrated products, refills or containers made from recycled materials and recycling your used containers, you’re keeping excess trash out of landfills. It’s partnerships like these that will provide the long-term solutions. And, by working together, we’ll all be doing what’s best for our environment.

A growing cumber of communities also accept empty steel aerosol cans as part of their recycling program. Read the disposal instructions on the can and check with your local recycling coordinator for details.