close-up of colorful paints in open paint cans

Attention, Freecyclers. You may be missing out on one of the best options to pick up free products: your local household hazardous waste (HHW) product exchange room.

The name doesn’t sound very glamorous, which is why many are nicknamed swap shops. The basic premise is that community members bring in their HHW for disposal, and the city offers partially used products for free pick-up instead of paying to dispose of them.

Before we get into all the cool stuff you can take, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Not every city offers a product exchange room. Some cities may collect HHW from local residents but not allow people to pick up used products. You’ll need to research your area to see if swap shops are available.
  2. These products are in many cases opened and/or used. While the HHW facility staff will inspect products before putting them on the shelves, buyer beware.
  3. While most swap shops offer products free of charge, some will charge a fee for products like paint. Call the facility to verify if products are free.
  4. Most HHW facilities in the U.S. are restricted to local residents because tax money funds the disposal. This means you may have to show identification proving city residency to use the swap shop.

Now that we have that out of the way, here are five useful products you can get at no cost (or low cost) at your local product exchange room.

1. Paint

By far the most common material that residents drop off at the HHW facility is paint, so every swap shop will have some on the shelf. Most communities will mix together cans of paint to produce a full 5-gallon can. In Gilbert, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix), you can take home up to 25 gallons of paint per visit, which is enough to paint the inside of your house several times. You can also pick up other paint products, like stains, varnish, and paint thinners.

Fun fact: Many communities use dropped-off paint to cover up graffiti.

2. Household Cleaners

If you aren’t making your own cleaners, why not pick up some free glass cleaner, stain remover, or bleach products? These products will be put on the shelf in their original packaging, so you know exactly what you’re getting. You might even find some laundry detergent if you’re lucky.

Fun fact: Unlike paint, household cleaners cannot be recycled, and they also don’t expire.

3. Beauty Products

Don’t freak out, but many beauty products — including nail polish, hair color, and hair spray — qualify as household hazardous waste. This means they are all candidates you may find at the swap shop.

Fun fact: Nail polish was originally inspired by automotive paint and some brands still contain the carcinogen formaldehyde, so think twice before biting on those manicured nails.

4. Automotive Fluids

While you’re unlikely to find any motor oil at the swap shop (most motor oil brought to HHW facilities is from a do-it-yourself oil change and not something that can be resold), there’s bound to be antifreeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and/or windshield wiper fluid available. Especially during the hot summer, engine coolant (antifreeze) is a helpful product to have available in the garage.

Fun fact: The color of engine coolant actually matters. If your car is using orange coolant, don’t pick up green coolant and mix it in or you could cause engine damage.

5. Garden Products

There are a variety of chemicals sold (fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, etc.) intended for use in the garden. These products are usually not cheap and you have to buy more than you need. Many of them, as well as fertilizer, may be available at your local HHW product exchange room.

Fun fact: You can avoid using toxic pesticides by using integrated pest management methods, such as introducing beneficial insects.

Originally published on July 26, 2017, this article was updated in July 2021.

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.