NYMPP: Section 1 - Mechanical Activities
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New York Sea Grant's
Marina Pollution Prevention Web Site

Section 1:
Mechanical Activities
- Rags

Potential Environmental Impacts

Contaminated rags or shop towels that are improperly managed may pose fire, health and environmental risks. Minimizing contamination of rags reduces health risks to workers and emissions of volatile organic compounds to the air, improves effluent discharge from industrial laundries if you use launderable rags, decreases liability risks, and saves money by minimizing solvent use.

Best Management Practices

  • Keep oily rags separate from rags that have been contaminated with hazardous materials such as solvents.

  • Use cloth rags which can be recycled by an industrial laundry service.

  • Contract with a permitted industrial laundry service that will pick up soiled rags and deliver clean rags on a regular basis. The laundry service may require you to limit the solvent and other chemical content of the soiled rags because of the limits on their permit to discharge wastewater into the sanitary sewer.

  • Store ignitable rags in NFPA approved, labeled containers until they can be laundered.

  • Reduce the amount of solvent used in cleaning through improved work practices. Use solvents only when absolutely necessary. Use non-VOC cleaners.

  • Remove excess solvent from rags by wringing or pressing excess into coverable container.

Regulatory Issues

  • How used cloth rags are managed depends on what the rags are contaminated with and how much product they contain. If the used rag is:

    • dripping with used oil, manage as used oil. For New York used oil compliance requirements, click here.

    • contaminated with used oil, but not dripping, test for hazardous waste then properly manage. For New York Hazardous Waste compliance requirements, click here, pdf.

    • contaminated with paints or solvents, or other hazardous materials, manage as hazardous waste. For New York Hazardous Waste compliance requirements, click here, pdf.

    • contaminated with other material (or only with mild cleaners or soaps), dispose of in regular trash.

  • If you lease rags and have them laundered, and they are contaminated with hazardous waste, you must manage them as hazardous waste until they are picked up for laundering. However, they do not require a hazardous waste manifest.