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Since January 1, 1999, Rule 1171 of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) requires that repair and maintenance cleaning operations, including cleaning operations in the auto repair industry, use water-based cleaners instead of the solvents used in the past.

The switch to water-based cleaners has removed an estimated 20 tons of smog-forming compounds from the air we breathe each year.

While use of water-based cleaners leads to better air quality, we must not forget that our water resources must also be kept clean. Improper disposal of water-based cleaners can lead to contamination of the ocean, rivers, and groundwater below us…water we depend on for drinking and survival.

This guide will provide you with valuable information on proper disposal practices to help keep our environment clean.

Just as solvent cleaners require proper disposal, so do water-based cleaners. In order to protect our environment, used water-based cleaners must be disposed of in a responsible manner.

Many water-based cleaners are labeled as non-toxic and bio-degradable as packaged, but once these cleaners have been used, they will contain high levels of oils, grease, metals and solvents.

Most used water-based cleaners qualify as hazardous waste.
Because of the high levels of pollutants, it is illegal to discharge used water-based cleaners into storm drains, gutters, or in the street.
It is illegal to dispose of water-based cleaners into the sewer system unless you have approval from your local sewerage agency.


The recommended method of disposal for used water-based cleaners is hauling by a registered hazardous waste transporter. It is your shop’s responsibility to verify if your waste hauler is a legally registered transporter. Remember to always maintain waste disposal records in your shop.

If Disposing Into the Sewers

It is best to legally haul used cleaner off-site. However, If you are interested in discharging used cleaner into the sewer, contact your local sewerage agency for specific requirements. In general, you will need to …

Here are a few simple steps you can take to maintain your septic system so as to maximize its efficiency, reduce problems and expenses, and provide protection for our beaches and bay.

  1. Remove the oil, grease, metals and solvents from the used cleaner by established techniques.
  2. After treatment, have a lab test the cleaner to determine if it will meet your sewerage agency’s requirements for disposal.
  3. Contact your sewerage agency for permission to discharge.
Your sewerage agency may also require that an Industrial Wastewater Permit be obtained and associated permit fees be paid. Since the used cleaner may be a hazardous waste, you may also be required to obtain a tiered permit from the state if you wish to treat your used cleaner for sewer disposal.

You Can Reduce Costs

  • You can extend the life of your water-based cleaner by using oil skimmers, filters and absorbents.
  • Keep used water-based cleaners separate from other wastewater in your shop. It is easier to dispose of hazardous waste when they are not mixed with other wastes.
  • Operate at the optimal concentration and temperature for your water-based cleaner. Contact trade organizations and vendors on how to get the most from your cleaner.
  • Avoid spot cleaning parts with solvent-based spray cleaners as these cleaners contain very high levels of toxic organics.
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