Safer Alternatives

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are more than 75,000 registered household chemicals, and only a fraction has been tested for human health effects. Improper use and disposal of these chemicals can have a negative effect on our health and the environment. In the US, we generate 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste (HHW), and the average home accumulates as much as 300 pounds of HHW annually. Check out these tips for reducing HHW in your home.

Read Labels: Reading labels can tell you a lot about the product and its possible health effects. Watch for signal words like caution, warning, danger, poison, flammable, corrosive, & toxic.

Use Cleaners Safely: Do not mix cleaners, especially ones with chlorine or bleach. Always use cleaners for their intended purpose and never forget test a formula first. Wear gloves while using cleaners to prevent chemicals from touching your skin. If you do make your own cleaners, remember to label the containers clearly.

Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste Properly: Keep household hazardous waste out of drains, storm sewers, trash containers, and off of the ground. Bring old and unwanted cleaners to an HHW Collection Center to be properly disposed of for free.

Go Reusable: Remember to stock your cleaning kit with reusable and washable cleaning supplies such as rags, sponges, and spray bottles. An old cut up shirt works well too!

Use green alternatives. They are easy to make and cost much less than their hazardous counterparts.

Green Alternatives for Cleaning Products

  • Bleach-based cleaner

    • Use non-chlorine dry bleach or washing soda
    • Use hydrogen peroxide-based liquid bleaches
    • Use products that don’t contain chlorine
  • All-purpose cleaner

    • Mix 1/2 cup vinegar in 1-quart warm water
  • Scouring powder

    • Dissolve baking soda in hot water
  • Dish cleaner

    • Use vegetable oil-based soaps and detergents for handwashing
    • Choose dishwashing detergents with low or no phosphates
    • Use only 1/2 the recommended amount
  • Disinfectant

    • White vinegar
    • Mix 1/2 cup borax in 1-gallon water
    • Keep surfaces dry to prevent bacteria growth
  • Drain opener

    • Use a plunger or metal snake
    • Pour 1/2 cup baking soda followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar down the drain, cover and let sit for 5 minutes
    • Pour 2 quarts boiling water down the drain to flush.
    • Pour boiling water down drain twice a week to prevent clogs
  • Floor polish

    • To clean vinyl tile and linoleum, mix 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup washing soda in 1-gallon warm water
    • To clean wood floors, damp mop with mild vegetables oil soap and dry immediately
    • For painted or varnished wood floors, mix 1 tsp washing soda and 1-gallon hot water, then rinse and dry
  • Furniture polish

    • Polish unvarnished wood with almond, walnut or olive oil
    • Polish varnished wood with a mild vegetable oil soap
    • Use linseed oil to revitalize old furniture
    • To remove watermarks from wood, rub toothpaste on spot and polish with a soft cloth
  • Glass and window cleaner

    • Mix 1/2 cup vinegar with 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap in 1-gallon warm water
    • Mix lemon juice with warm water
  • Laundry detergent

    • Use liquid detergents and laundry soap that don’t contain phosphates or chlorine
  • Oven cleaner

    • Mix 2 tbs liquid dish soap and 2 cups warm water; apply and let sit for 20 min; scrub
    • Use baking soda, salt, and water
    • Use non-chlorinated scouring powder
    • Avoid aerosol oven cleaners
    • Use oven liners to catch drips
  • Rug and upholstery cleaner

    • Sprinkle baking soda on rug and vacuum
    • Use soap-based, non-aerosol rug shampoo
    • Pour club soda on spill and blot
    • Clean up spills immediately
  • Shoe polish

    • Use polish that does not contain trichloroethylene, methylchloride, and/or nitrobenzene
  • Spot remover

    • Use professional WET-cleaning service
    • Immediately use water or club soda
    • Soak in cornmeal, water, and lemon juice
    • Scrub spot with toothpaste
  • Silver and copper polish

    • Soak silver in 1-quart warm water with 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp salt and a small piece of aluminum foil
    • Pour vinegar and salt over copper and rub
  • Toilet bowl cleaner

    • Mix 1/2 cup borax and 1-gallon water to clean and deodorize. Let 1 cup borax sit in the bowl overnight.
    • Coat stains in a bowl with a paste of lemon juice and borax. Let sit for 20 minutes, then scrub.

Green Alternatives for Gardening Products

  • Ant repellent

    • Pour a line of cream of tartar, red chili powder, paprika, or dried peppermint at point of entry
    • Seal entry point with caulk
    • Kill visible ants with soapy water or vacuum
    • Remove all sources of food and water
  • Chemical fertilizer

    • use compost, wood ash, peat moss, or fish meal
  • Flea collars and spray

    • Herbal collar, ointment or baths
    • Wash bedding and treat with flea soap or citrus oil product
    • Place eucalyptus leaves near pet’s bed
    • Vacuum twice a week and dispose of vacuum bags in the trash
  • Fungicides

    • Avoid overwatering and keep garden growing areas clean & dry
  • Plant insecticide

    • Remove by hand
    • Release ladybugs for aphids and other soft-body pests
    • Spray with water
    • Mist with soapy water
  • Herbicides and weed killer

    • Pull or hoe weeds
    • Keep grass short
  • Pool chemicals

    • Avoid copper-based algaecides
    • Consider a chlorine generator
  • Roach repellent

    • Place bay leaves around cracks in room
    • Set out a dish of equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar
    • Remove all sources of food and water, and hiding places such as old newspapers and other clutter
    • Use non-toxic roach traps
    • As a last resort, dust boric acid into places where roaches hide
  • Rodent bait

    • Use traps
    • Remove food supply
    • Adopt a cat
  • Snail/slug killer

    • Apply diatomaceous earth (found at pool supply stores) in a 1/2 inch barrier around plants
    • Remove by hand
    • Fill a shallow pan with stale beer and place in the infested area, ensure rim is even with ground level

Green Alternatives for Paint Products

  • Oil-based paint

    • Bring to hazardous waste collection event or PaintCare Partner
    • Use latex or water-based paint
  • Water-based paint (latex)

    • Bring to hazardous waste collection event or PaintCare Partner
    • Avoid spray paint
    • Donate left-over paint to local organizations
    • If there is only a small amount remaining in the can, air dry the paint or mix with an absorbent (sand, kitty litter, sawdust or plaster of paris) to dry, then dispose of in trash without lid
  • Furniture stripper

    • Use sandpaper or a power sander, a heat gun or a paint scraper
    • Scrub with steel wool or emery cloth
    • Use water-soluble paint strippers
  • Stains and varnish

    • Use water-based preservatives
    • Use natural earth-pigment finishes
  • Thinners, solvents, turpentine

    • Hold used solvent or turpentine in a tightly closed jar until paint settles out
    • Pour off clear solvent and reuse
    • Add an absorbent to the remaining sludge, let it dry, then wrap, and dispose of in the trash
    • Use latex and water-based paints
    • Non-chlorinated solvents such as isopropanol, ethanol, acetone, and turpentine are less toxic then chlorinated solvents
    • Bring to hazardous waste collection event or PaintCare Partner
  • Wood preservative

    • Avoid products containing pentachlorophenol (PCP), creosote, tributyltin oxide, or folpet
    • Use water-based wood preservatives
    • Minimize wood contact with soil or high moisture

Green Alternatives for Other Products

  • Air freshener

    • Ventilate with outside air
    • Use sachet or potpourri
    • Scented candles
  • Batteries

    • Use rechargeable batteries
    • Use power cord
    • Buy solar-powered products
  • Lighter fluid

    • Use a metal charcoal starter (10″ tall, hollow, metal cylinder with holes)
  • Mothballs

    • Cedarwood chips
    • Dried lavender flowers

Steps for Toxic Spill or Leaks

  1. Keep the area well ventilated.
  2. Extinguish any open flame or heat source.
  3. Keep children and pets away.
  4. Wear gloves and protective clothing.
  5. Stop the product from spreading by covering the spill with absorbent material (kitty litter, sand, disposable diapers, soil).
  6. Sweep and scoop the absorbent into a container with a lid or into a strong plastic bag. Clean area with soap and rags, put used rags into container as well. Be careful not to wash hazardous materials into the street gutter.
  7. Label the container with the product name, chemical name, and hazard category (flammable, corrosive, etc.). All information should be available on the product’s label.
  8. Dispose of the container as hazardous waste. See disposal section.
  9. If the spill is large and you cannot safely clean it up, contact the Fire Department immediately by dialing 911.

Tips for Accidental Exposure

  • Call the Poison Center at (800) 777-6476 or (213) 222-3212.
  • For a medical emergency call 911.
  • It is helpful to have the container with you for poison identification when you make an emergency call.

Permanent Collection Centers:

To safely get rid of HHW in favor of green alternatives, bring your HHW here for free disposal:

  • Los Angeles County EDCO Recycling and Transfer Environmental Collection Center
    Corner of 28th & California in Signal Hill (Enter on 28th)
    Open Second and Fourth Saturday of each month – 9:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • Gaffey Street S.A.F.E. Center
    1400 N. Gaffey St., San Pedro, CA 90731
    1-800-98-TOXIC (1-800-988-6942)
    Open Saturdays and Sundays only – 9:00 am – 3:00 pm