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Guidelines for Disposing of Rags Properly
What is to be done with old rags? Were they used for cleaning hazardous material? Are they saturated with engine fluid from the last oil change? Rags have many uses at home or work. Homeowners use rags for cleaning inside and outside of their homes. Green followers reuse old clothes and sheets to make cleaning cloths. Offices and schools use paper towels for quick cleanups and disposal. Rags are even used in a painting technique called rag painting! Rags dipped in paint are used to update decors and walls. Crafters use clean rags to make rugs, dolls, and quilts.
Sometimes cleaning rags are used to clean toxins like motor oil, chemicals, some paints, paint thinners and acetone. To avoid fires and health hazards, rags with solvents cannot go into regular trash cans. Disposing of these rags is tricky because there are state and local guidelines to be followed. Here are some tips for proper rag disposal:
- Determine if selected paints or cleaning products used with rags qualify as a hazard. If so, store these rags in a well-ventilated container like a “drum, pails, or red safety can." The container needs to be fire proof and carry a hazardous warning label.
- Contact local government to get rules for local hazardous disposal guidelines.
- Transport hazardous rags according to U.S. Department of Transportation rules.
Rag disposal guidelines vary from state to state. In New York State for example, there is an exception to cloth disposal. Cloth and clothes sent to a professional laundry for cleaning do not have to follow hazardous guidelines or DOT rules. These guidelines also apply to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy.
Prepare for the disposal of rags with hazardous materials by checking the product’s MSDS sheet. A Material Safety Data Sheet provides handling procedures for substances. It is primarily used in the workplace and for emergency responders. MSDS sheets information include: “physical data, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage disposal, and spill/leak procedures." MSDS sheet can be found online, from businesses that use the products, and from distributers.
Homeowners using chemicals or solvents can refer to the U.S. Household Products Database of Materials. This service allows homeowners to learn about ingredients in home products. It also lists the manufacturer of a product and offers nontoxic alternatives. Online tutorials provide tips to understand hazardous material information.
To avoid the work of the disposal of hazardous rags, consider switching to nonhazardous chemicals when possible. Look for nontoxic alternatives like low VOC paint or green cleaning products. Using safer products with rags to make the disposal process easier. These rags can be tossed in the garbage. When rags are used to clean toxic products, following safety precautions reduces the risk of accidents and fire.
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Contaminated Rags & Towels Disposal Guidance (Cloth & Paper). Rutgers University. Retrieved from http://rehs.rutgers.edu/pdf_files/Cont-Rags-Guide-3-16-09.pdf , April 11, 2011.
Excerpts from USEPA Letter on Laundered Rags and Soiled Clothing. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved from http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/73180.html, April 11, 2011.
The MSDS Faq. ILPI. Retrieved from http://www.ilpi.com/msds/faq/parta.html.