Pollution Prevention Guides for
Auto Body Shops - Fact Sheet 15
Disposable and reusable shop towels (includes rags
and wipes) are commonly used in auto body shops to wipe off parts and cleanup spills
and leaks. When used, the towels can take on the character of the fluid they came in contact with. If the
fluid is hazardous, then the towels can become hazardous. Disposable towels that have not been
contaminated with hazardous materials can still be a waste problem: the large volume of waste that ends
up in a solid waste landfill takes up valuable and expensive disposal space.
To reduce towel wastes:
- Avoid using hazardous materials to keep used towels from becoming hazardous waste
(discussed in Section 8 - Automotive Fluids)
- Purchase reusable towels
Reusable Shop Towels
Purchasing reusable cloth shop towels can help you reduce your purchasing and waste disposal costs. The
Reusable towels can be washed by a commercial laundry facility and returned to you to be reused.
Towels contaminated with hazardous materials are typically considered "recycled" by state and federal
regulations and not a hazardous waste as long as they are laundered.
A disadvantage of using reusable towels is that the towels may create a fire or explosion
hazard if they came in
contact with a flammable liquid or are not stored properly in closed containers.
|1) Do you practice good housekeeping?
Good housekeeping practices will reduce the
number of towels needed to clean up your shop.
Use drip trays and pans to keep materials from
reaching the floor. Allow cleaned parts to drip dry
in the parts washer before using them.
|2) Does your shop purchase paper towels?
To reduce waste and save money, use only reusable
rags and wipes provided through a reputable
industrial laundry and adhere to any requirements
of the laundry for reuse.
|3) Do you use hazardous fluids in your shop?
To prevent your shop towels from becoming
potential hazardous waste, avoid hazardous
products such as those that contain chlorinated
compounds or have a low flash point (check the
Material Safety Data Sheet).
|4) Do you keep towels that have come in contact
with hazardous fluids separate from towels that
To help reduce the amount of hazardous waste you
have to dispose of (if you do not launder the
towels), store hazardous waste-contaminated towels
separately. Store soiled towels in closed containers
that are clearly marked "soiled shop towels only."
And, do not pour liquids onto used towels -- this
may create a fire or explosion hazard.
Montana State University Extension Service
Pollution Prevention Program Taylor Hall Bozeman, Montana 59717
The United States Environmental Protection Agency
(Fact Sheet 15 of 18)
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