Sometimes cleaning products must be cleaned out, too. What’s the best way to clean up a cleaning mess?
You might assume that cleaning products need to be disposed of with unused paint, oil, and other toxic or volatile items through your local hazardous waste collection program. The truth is, in most cases, household cleaning products don’t need special treatment.
You do need to follow instructions, but doing so should be easy. Let’s look at your options.
Use It Up or Give It Away
The best and easiest option for dealing with unused cleaning products is simply to use them up. Sometimes this isn’t possible, though — perhaps you’re moving a long distance and can’t take the cleaners with you. In such cases, your best bet is to give unused cleaning products away to a local charity, church, or homeless shelter. You can make a big difference in the lives of people in need by donating your usable products like dishwasher detergent, surface cleaners, and bleach.
Also, let your friends and neighbors know what you want to give away. Chances are, someone will be happy to take the products off your hands. Make sure that all items are in their original containers so that they are handled correctly.
If you can’t find an organization that will take your products and no one you know needs them, try a community reuse site like Freecycle.org or Nextdoor.com.
Read the Label for Proper Disposal
Still can’t find anyone who wants your household cleaners? Typically, cleaning products can be disposed of just like other normal household waste. But before you dispose of them, be sure to read the label to see if there are any specific disposal instructions. For example, many antibacterial cleaning products contain triclosan, which could contribute to the antibiotic resistance of bacteria, so it should not be poured down your drain. (Editor’s note: Triclosan was banned from household soap products in the U.S. in 2016.)
If the manufacturer doesn’t provide ingredient information, the American Cleaning Institute suggests that you consider how you typically use the product to help you make the best disposal choice. For example, if you have extra laundry detergent or liquid disinfectant, it is generally safe to pour it down the drain with running water.
Because these products are water soluble and usually mixed with water when used for cleaning anyway, your municipality will treat these cleaners the same way they would if you used them for cleaning. But don’t pour too much cleaning material down the drain at once if the cleaner isn’t in liquid form. Powder can clog your drain, so pour it slowly with the water running.
One commonly asked question about disposing of cleaning products down the drain is whether they will harm a septic tank. In almost all cases, the answer is “no.” Septic systems commonly used in homes can process water-soluble cleaning products.
If you have solid household cleaners or wipes, you can safely dispose of them in your trash. For other types of cleaners, like furniture polish and oven cleaners, check with your local waste disposal facility for any special instructions. Some products may be considered hazardous household waste, which requires special handling.
Always Recycle (and Precycle)
Once you’ve disposed of your extra cleaning products, it’s time to recycle those containers. Most household cleaning products come in containers that should be easy to recycle in your curbside bin. Because local rules vary widely, please contact your local recycling service if you have any doubts about how to recycle these items:
- Common plastics used for cleaning product containers are PET and HDPE (commonly labeled as plastic #1 and #2), which are some of the easiest plastics to recycle.
- Aerosol cans, which are often used to hold spray disinfectants, glass cleaners, and furniture cleaners, are accepted by a growing number of local recycling programs.
- Cardboard boxes like those used to hold powdered detergent for the dishwasher or clothes washer can easily be recycled with other paper products.
Please make sure all product is rinsed or shaken free of the container before recycling.
You can also further reduce waste by precycling — purchasing products that are in containers that are easy to recycle. Also, choose products in recycled packaging and consider selecting cleaners that use less packaging, like concentrated detergents. By selecting easy-to-recycle or concentrated products when you make your purchases, you help reduce waste at the source — and that’s the best option of all.
Originally published on June 10, 2014, this article was updated in October 2022.