Pollution Prevention Guides for 
Auto Body Shops - Fact Sheet 15

Shop Towels

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 benefits include:

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.

Shop Towels
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.

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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.

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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).

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4) Do you keep towels that have come in contact with hazardous fluids separate from towels that have not?

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.

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Montana State University Extension Service
Pollution Prevention Program Taylor Hall Bozeman, Montana 59717
(406) 994-3451
funded by
The United States Environmental Protection Agency
(Fact Sheet 15 of 18)

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