Household Chemicals

Household Chemicals

While high profile chemical spills such as the recent release of industrial compounds in the Elk River in West Virginia get all the attention, the cumulative effects of individual use of household chemicals can be important determinants of local water quality. How big is this issue? The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that more than 100,000 pounds of household hazardous wastes are dumped in trash cans annually. Fortunately, there are many practical steps for reducing the types and amounts of pollutants you contribute.

General Rules for Household Chemical Use

  1. Use the least toxic option.
  2. Use the minimum amount needed to do the job
  3. Store all chemicals safely
  4. Dispose of chemicals properly.
Household chemical containers

Specific Steps

Be aware that many chemicals commonly used around the home are toxic. Select less-toxic alternatives. Use non-toxic substitutes wherever possible.
Buy chemicals only in the amount you expect to use and apply them only as directed. More is not better.
Seek out cleaning products that are non-toxic. Read the product label or make your own effective cleaners, which frequently cost less. 
Use low-phosphate or phosphate-free detergents and cleaning products.
Use water-based products whenever possible.
Choose unscented products when they are available.
Decrease the frequency of oven cleaning. Bake food in appropriate containers, or put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch spills.
Reduce the need for pesticides in and around your home. Create physical barriers by plugging holes and closing screens. Clean regularly with a small amount of nontoxic cleaner. This discourages vermin such as ants (by disrupting their scent trails), and gets rid of food odors attractive to mice and moisture that lures cockroaches. Wiping up spills immediately has the added benefit of reducing staining.
Dispose of household pesticides properly. Do not indiscriminately spray pesticides, either indoors or outdoors, where a pest problem has not been identified. Dispose of excess pesticides at hazardous-waste collection centers.
Keep surfaces dry to reduce the need for disinfectants. Bacteria, mildew, and mold cannot live without moisture.
Detour rodents. Keep bird-feeding areas clean. Elevate compost piles or enclose them with ½ inch wire mesh. Feed pets at regular times and remove uneaten food. Store pet food, bird seed and trash in secure metal, ceramic, glass or heavy-duty plastic containers. Remove possible nesting sites by clearing clutter, especially cardboard boxes, from inside and outside. Move stored items such as firewood and garbage cans away from the house.
Recycle household materials properly, including consumer electronics which can release heavy metals and other chemicals into the environment.
Dispose of household waste responsibly. Toxic chemicals should never be flushed down the toilet or sink, or poured on the ground or down a storm drain. Pouring chemicals down the drain could disrupt your septic system or contaminate treatment plant sludge. Never pour unwanted chemicals on the ground. Soil cannot purify many chemicals and they could eventually contaminate runoff. Read the label for instructions on how to safely dispose of toxic products and their containers once empty. Call your landfill or recycling center to learn about Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Days where you can leave your toxic products.
Dispose of pharmaceuticals and personal care products properly. Never flush them down the toilet. The best way to dispose of these items is through “take-back” programs where drugs are returned to a facility that can dispose of them properly. Contact your local landfill or recycling center to learn about pharmaceutical take back programs.


NYS Department of Environmental Conservation “Managing and Disposing of Household Hazardous Waste”