Frequent Questions About Implementing the Regulations for Solvent-Contaminated Wipes
These frequent questions (FQs) are intended for entities that generate, accumulate, clean, and/or dispose solvent-contaminated wipes in the United States. The frequent questions describe how solvent-contaminated wipes must be managed under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste regulations.
On this page:
- How does U.S. EPA regulate solvent-contaminated wipes under the RCRA hazardous waste regulations?
- Questions About the Definition of Solvent-Contaminated Wipe
- Questions About Accumulation
- Questions About No Free Liquids
- Questions About Transportation, Laundering, and Disposal
- Questions About State Policies and Regulations
How does U.S. EPA regulate solvent-contaminated wipes under the RCRA hazardous waste regulations?
Under the Solvent-Contaminated Wipes Rule (also known as the “Wipes Rule”), solvent-contaminated wipes sent for cleaning or disposal are conditionally excluded from hazardous waste regulation. As long as the solvent-contaminated wipes meet the conditions of the exclusions, they are not considered hazardous waste under the RCRA.
Specifically, solvent-contaminated wipes sent for cleaning (i.e., laundering or dry cleaning) are excluded from solid waste regulation under Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 261.4(a)(26), known as the “reusable wipes exclusion.” Solvent-contaminated wipes sent for disposal (i.e., landfilling or incineration) are excluded from hazardous waste regulation under 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(18), known as the “disposable wipes exclusion.” Note, however, that the wipes sent for disposal continue to be considered solid wastes.
Solvent-contaminated wipes must be managed according to certain conditions, including record keeping, closed containers, labeling, an accumulation time limit, and no free liquids at the point of being sent for cleaning or disposal. These conditions are listed in 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(26) and 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(18). You may also refer to the Summary Chart of the rule as well.
Please note that the Wipes Rule applies only in RCRA-authorized states that have adopted the exclusion and states where EPA administers the RCRA program. EPA maintains a list of where the Wipes Rule is effective on its website.
In addition, state agencies may have more stringent requirements than the federal government, so it is important to also check your specific state regulations. Links to the state waste programs can be found here. Facilities handling solvent-contaminated wipes also may be subject to other federal and state laws and regulations, including those covering worker safety and transportation. See also the FQs below about transportation and state policies.
Definition of Solvent-Contaminated Wipe
- What is a wipe?
A “wipe” is defined in the regulations as a woven or non-woven shop towel, rag, pad, or swab made of wood pulp, fabric, cotton, polyester blends, or other material. (40 CFR section 260.10)
- Is a mattress a wipe? Is a mop a wipe? Is a floor mat a wipe? Is personal protective equipment a wipe?
No, EPA does not consider mattresses, mops, floor mats, and personal protective equipment to be wipes and thus these materials are not eligible for the wipe rule exclusions.
In the preamble to the rule, EPA states that items such as uniforms or personal protective equipment do not meet the common sense definition of ‘wipe.’ (Volume 78 of the Federal Register or FR page 46462, July 31, 2013) Additionally, in the Response to Comments document to the rule (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2003-0004), EPA stated that other materials such as sponges, personal protective equipment, gloves, aprons, chemical suits and other personal devices, shirts, coveralls, work uniforms, floor mats, and mop heads are not included in the rule. This is because the Wipes Rule was based on a risk analysis of solvent-contaminated wipes and the conditions in the rule were developed after extensive study of the management practices specific to solvent-contaminated wipes, and thus it was beyond the scope of the rulemaking to include other types of materials.
- Is a paper towel a wipe?
Yes, EPA considers paper towels to be wipes and thus solvent-contaminated paper towels are eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions.
- What is a solvent-contaminated wipe?
A “solvent-contaminated wipe” (found in 40 CFR section 260.10) means a wipe that, after use or after cleaning up a spill, either
- contains one or more of the F001 through F005 solvents listed in 40 CFR section 261.31 or the corresponding P- or U- listed solvents found in 40 CFR section 261.33;
- exhibits a hazardous characteristic found in 40 CFR part 261 subpart C when that characteristic results from a solvent listed in 40 CFR part 261; and/or
- exhibits only the hazardous waste characteristic of ignitability found in 40 CFR section 261.21 due to the presence of one or more solvents that are not listed in 40 CFR part 261.
Solvent-contaminated wipes that contain listed hazardous waste other than solvents, or exhibit the characteristic of toxicity, corrosivity, or reactivity due to contaminants other than solvents, are not eligible for the wipe rule exclusions at 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(26) and 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(18).
- Are wipes contaminated with listed solvents eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions?
Wipes contaminated with solvents listed under hazardous waste numbers or “hazardous waste codes” F001 through F005 are eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions (40 CFR part 261 subpart D).
Listed solvents that are typically used and found on contaminated wipes include: Acetone Benzene n-Butyl alcohol Chlorobenzene Creosols Cyclohexanone ortho-Dichlorobenzene Ethyl acetate Ethyl benzene 2-Ethoxyethanol Isobutanol Methanol Methyl ethyl ketone Methyl isobutyl ketone Methylene chloride Tetrachloroethylene Toluene 1,1,2-Trichloroethane Trichloroethylene* Xylenes * Wipes contaminated with trichloroethylene are only eligible for the exclusion at 40 CFR 261.4(a)(26) for solvent-contaminated wipes being sent for cleaning. These wipes are not eligible for the exclusion at 40 CFR 261.4(b)(18) for solvent-contaminated wipes being sent for disposal, based on EPA’s risk analysis.
- What about the other ten solvents listed in F001 through F005?
The other ten listed solvents in F001 through F005 are not widely used on wipes. Five of the solvents are ozone-depleting or present other serious hazards and are, therefore, banned or restricted from use. The other five solvents may have been used on wipes in the past; however, EPA’s research found that these solvents are currently not used or are used only in very limited quantities in conjunction with wipes but they are eligible for the exclusions. (78 FR 46452, July 31, 2013)
- What about wipes contaminated with listed solvents that also exhibit the RCRA hazardous waste Toxicity Characteristic? Are these wipes eligible for the exclusions?
There are six solvents listed under F001 through F005 in 40 CFR section 261.31 that are also listed on EPA’s Toxicity Characteristic found in 40 CFR section 261.24. This includes: Benzene (F003 and D018), Chlorobenzene (F002 and D021), Creosols (F004 and D023, D024, and D025), Methyl ethyl ketone (F005 and D035), Tetrachloroethylene (F001/F002 and D039), and Trichloroethylene (F001/F002 and D040).
Wipes contaminated with these six solvents are eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions. The one exception is that wipes contaminated with trichloroethylene are only eligible for the reusable wipes exclusion at 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(26). Wipes contaminated with trichloroethylene are not eligible for the disposable wipes exclusion at 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(18), based on EPA’s risk analysis.
- What about wipes contaminated with solvents that are listed as commercial chemical products on the P- or U-list? Are these wipes eligible for the rule?
Some solvents are listed under both F001 through F005 in 40 CFR section 261.31 and on the P- or U-list in 40 CFR section 261.33. For example, tetrachloroethylene is listed as F001 or F002 and is also listed on the U-list as U210. Wipes contaminated with solvents listed under F001 through F005 that also appear on the P- or U-list in 40 CFR section 261.33 are eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusion.
Wipes contaminated with solvents that appear on the P- or U-list but are not also listed under F001 through F005 are eligible for the Wipe Rule exclusions provided that they only exhibit the characteristic of ignitability, and do not exhibit the characteristic of reactivity, corrosivity, or toxicity.
For example, chloroform is listed on the U-list (hazardous waste code U044) at 40 CFR section 261.33 but is also listed under EPA’s Toxicity Characteristic (hazardous waste code D022) at 40 CFR section 261.24. Thus, a wipe that exhibits the hazardous characteristic of toxicity for chloroform is not eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions.
Wipes that are contaminated with a solvent that contains an ingredient listed on the P- or U-list but which does not meet the F001 through F005 listing or the P- or U-listing (i.e., it is not a discarded commercial chemical product, off-spec commercial chemical product, container residue, or spill residue thereof) would be eligible for the exclusions provided the wipes exhibit only the characteristic of ignitability. Conversely, if these solvent-contaminated wipes exhibit the characteristic of toxicity, corrosivity, or reactivity, these wipes would not be eligible for the exclusions. (Of course, if a solvent-contaminated wipe does not contain any listed hazardous waste and does not exhibit any hazardous characteristic, it would not be hazardous waste and thus not subject to the hazardous waste regulations.)
- Are wipes that are contaminated with a solvent that is not a listed hazardous waste under RCRA (i.e., not a listed solvent) eligible for the exclusions?
Yes, wipes that are contaminated with a solvent that is not listed under F001 through F005 in 40 CFR section 261.33 are eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions provided the wipes do not exhibit the characteristic of reactivity, corrosivity, or toxicity in 40 CFR part 261. Stated another way, wipes contaminated with a solvent that is not listed under F001 through F005 and that only exhibit the characteristic of ignitability in 40 CFR part 261 are eligible for the exclusions.
- How about wipes that are contaminated with a solvent that is only listed for ignitable, corrosive, or reactive (ICR) properties but the contaminated wipe itself does not exhibit the ignitability, corrosivity, or reactivity characteristic?
Wipes that are contaminated with an ICR‐only listed waste but do not exhibit the ignitability, corrosivity, or reactivity characteristic are not hazardous wastes per 40 CFR section 261.3(g)(1). Thus, these wipes would not need to be managed under the conditions of the Wipes Rule. (66 FR 27266, May 16, 2001)
However, it is the generator’s responsibility to determine whether the solvent-contaminated wipes do exhibit a characteristic (such as ignitability). There is no specific test for ignitable solids so the generator would need to use knowledge and his or her best professional judgment to make that determination. Any free liquids would, of course, need to be managed as hazardous waste if they are themselves ignitable.
- Are wipes contaminated with fuel or oil eligible for the exclusions?
In developing the solvent-contaminated Wipes Rule, EPA only evaluated wipes that were contaminated with solvents listed as hazardous wastes F001 through F005 and conducted a risk analysis tailored to these solvent-contaminated wipes. The solvent-contaminated Wipes Rule thus is not applicable to other wastes, such as wipes contaminated with fuels.
However, solvent-contaminated wipes may be co-contaminated with fuels and still be eligible for the rule’s exclusions provided the fuels are not
- listed hazardous waste and
- the wipes do not exhibit the characteristic of toxicity, corrosivity, or reactivity.
In other words, solvent-contaminated wipes that are co-contaminated with fuels that are not themselves listed hazardous waste and which only exhibit the characteristic of ignitability are eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions.
- Are wipes contaminated with paints that include a listed solvent as an ingredient in the paint eligible for the exclusions?
No. The Wipes Rule is limited to wipes contaminated with solvents as defined in 40 CFR section 260.10. This includes wipes contaminated with solvents that meet the listing under F001 through F005 in 40 CFR section 261.31. Paints that include a solvent chemical as an ingredient would not meet this listing description and thus wipes contaminated with these paints are not eligible for the Wipes Rule exclusions.
- Are unused wipes (such as unused retail products) eligible for the exclusions?
No. Pre-dosed, unused solvent or alcohol-containing wipes or pads (e.g., nail polish remover pads), such as those discarded by the retail industry, would not be eligible for the solvent-contaminated Wipes Rule. This is because these pads, which are unused, would not meet our definition of solvent-contaminated wipe which is specific to wipes that “after use or after cleaning up a spill” contain certain solvents (40 CFR section 260.10). Additionally, EPA’s risk analysis for the rule did not take into account solvent loading from pre-dosed, unused solvent or alcohol-containing pads from the retail industry.
- When is a container considered “closed”?
During accumulation of solvent-contaminated wipes, the container is considered closed when there is complete contact between the fitted lid and the rim. Note, covered, rather than closed, containers are not acceptable.
After accumulation, when the container is full, or when the solvent-contaminated wipes are no longer being accumulated, or when the container is being transported, the container must be sealed with all lids properly and securely affixed to the container and all openings tightly bound or closed sufficiently to prevent leaks and emissions.
The closed container condition in the rule is a performance-based standard and thus, facilities have flexibility in determining how best to meet this standard based on their specific processes. For example, solvent-contaminated wipes can be accumulated in an open-head drum or open top container (e.g., where the entire lid is removable and typically secured with a ring and bolts or a snap ring). The container would be considered closed when the cover makes complete contact between the fitted lid and the rim, even though the rings are not clamped or bolted. A tight seal minimizes emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (however, generators should be aware that the seals on containers can erode because of time and use, and should be checked periodically for wear and replaced as necessary). After accumulation and during transportation, this same container must be sealed in order to meet the closed container standard and thus, the rings must be clamped or bolted to the container. Containers with covers opened by a foot pedal (e.g., flip-top or spring loaded lid) or with a self-closing swinging door could also be appropriate.
Bags can be used, provided they meet the closed container standard. Cardboard boxes would most likely not meet the definition of a closed container because the boxes would not contain free liquids, should they occur.
- Can I use plastic bags to accumulate, transport, and/or dispose of solvent-contaminated wipes? When is a plastic bag considered closed?
The closed container condition in the Wipes Rule is a performance-based standard (78 FR 46456, July 31, 2013) and, thus, facilities have flexibility in determining how best to meet this standard based on their specific processes. Bags can be used, provided they meet the closed container standard. EPA considers bags closed when the neck of the bag is tightly bound and sealed to the extent necessary to keep the solvent-contaminated wipes and associated air emissions inside the container. The bag must be able to contain liquids and must be non-leaking. (Of course, a bag leaving a trail of liquid on the ground does not meet the closed container standard.) These examples of closed containers are consistent with EPA's policy on closed containers (see “Closed Container Guidance: Questions and Answers” Memorandum from Betsy Devlin, USEPA, to RCRA Division Directors, Regions 1-10, November 3, 2011, RCRA Online 14826 (26 pp, 5.21 MB, About PDF).
- Are oil-contaminated and solvent-contaminated wipes eligible for the exclusions?
It depends. Only wipes that are used with solvents are eligible for the rule. Wipes that are not used with solvents -- for example, wipes that are only used with fuels -- are not eligible for the rule and thus, oil-contaminated and solvent-contaminated wipes should not be commingled during accumulation.
Wipes that are contaminated with solvent may also be co-contaminated with oil and are eligible for the exclusions as long as:
- the oil is not listed hazardous waste and
- the wipe only exhibits the characteristic of ignitability (and thus, does not exhibit the characteristic of corrosivity, toxicity, or reactivity).
- Does the Wipes Rule allow for satellite accumulation?
If generators are managing their solvent-contaminated wipes under either exclusion, the satellite accumulation regulations do not apply. While managing solvent-contaminated wipes under the exclusions, generators can accumulate at multiple locations at their facility. However, these multiple locations are not considered satellite accumulation areas.
Under the Wipes Rule, solvent-contaminated wipes must be managed according to the specific conditions in 40 CFR sections 261.4(a)(26) and 261.4(b)(18), which includes a condition that generators must accumulate reusable or disposable wipes for no more than 180 days prior to sending the wipes for cleaning or disposal. This 180‐day clock begins at the start date of accumulation for each container (i.e., the date the first solvent‐contaminated wipe is placed in the container). Generators who choose to manage their solvent‐contaminated wipes as hazardous waste and in compliance with the hazardous waste regulations (i.e., in lieu of managing them under the Wipes Rule exclusions) may, of course, take advantage of the satellite accumulation regulations in 40 CFR section 262.34.
No Free Liquids
- What does EPA consider to be “no free liquids”?
Wipes must be managed according to the specific conditions in 40 CFR sections 261.4(a)(26) and 261.4(b)(18) which include the requirement that solvent‐contaminated wipes must contain no free liquids at the point of being sent for cleaning or disposal. “No free liquids” is defined in 40 CFR section 260.10 and means that solvent-contaminated wipes may not contain free liquids and that there is no free liquid in the container holding the wipes.
- How do you test for no free liquids?
“No free liquids” may be determined using the Paint Filter Liquids Test (SW-846, EPA Method 9095B). A link to the test method is included on the solvent-contaminated wipes website. However, the generator of the solvent-contaminated wipes may either use testing or knowledge to determine whether the condition of no free liquids has been met (78 FR 46457, July 31, 2013). This does not mean that generators must conduct this test for every solvent-contaminated wipe. Rather, generators must ensure that if the Paint Filter Liquids Test was performed, the solvent-contaminated wipe would pass.
The “no free liquids” condition is a performance-based standard and, thus, generators may use any of a range of methods to remove solvent from the wipe such as centrifuging, mechanical-wringing, screen bottom drums, microwave technology, and vacuum extractors. To ensure that the solvent-contaminated wipes meet the standard, generators may conduct sampling or use knowledge regarding how much solvent is present in each wipe. Solvent-contaminated wipes that have been subject to advanced solvent extraction processes, such as centrifuges, or any other similarly effective method to remove solvent from the wipes, are likely to meet this standard.
Additionally, generators must document how they are meeting the ‘‘no free liquids’’ condition. "This documentation should include a description of any technologies, methods, sampling, or knowledge that a generator is using to ensure that solvent-contaminated wipes…contain no free liquids." See 78 FR 46457 (for reusable solvent-contaminated wipes); 78 FR 46460 (for disposable solvent-contaminated wipes).
- May absorbents be added to containers of solvent-contaminated wipes?
If absorbents are necessary, this may be a sign that sufficient amounts of free liquids are not being removed prior to the wipes being sent for cleaning or disposal, and the solvent-contaminated wipes may not meet the “no free liquids” condition.
- The rule states that any free liquids found by handling facilities must be removed and managed as hazardous waste. Does the handling facility become a hazardous waste generator at that point?
Yes, the handling facility would have to manage the free liquids as hazardous waste. Depending on the volume and any other wastes generated at the handling facility, the facility could be a conditionally exempt small quantity generator, small quantity generator, or large quantity generator.
EPA explains this in the preamble to the solvent-contaminated Wipes Rule: “In this case, free liquids must be removed from the solvent‐contaminated wipes or containers and must be managed according to the applicable hazardous waste regulations found in 40 CFR parts 260 through 273 and may count towards the handling facility's generator status. EPA does not intend for this provision to require any additional effort beyond that of a handling facility's normal operations and monitoring practices. However, should free liquids be discovered at any point, these free liquids must be managed according to applicable hazardous waste regulations. The handling facility can ship the free liquid off‐site as hazardous waste or can manage them as hazardous waste in an on‐site recovery system.” See 78 FR 46458, July 13, 2013.
- Can I recycle the solvent removed from my wipes? If so, what must I do?
Yes, you may recycle solvent that is removed from the wipes or from the container of wipes. In fact EPA encourages you to do so, provided such activity can be performed safely and in compliance with applicable requirements. Recycling units themselves are generally exempt from RCRA regulation (though one should check with their state environmental agency); generally, solvent that is removed from wipes is subject to RCRA hazardous waste regulation prior to being recycled. Additionally, EPA recently issued the Definition of Solid Waste rule which codifies exclusions from solid and hazardous waste regulation for hazardous secondary material that is reclaimed (80 FR 1694, January 13, 2015). Note that all hazardous secondary material and hazardous waste recycling must be legitimate per the legitimate recycling standard in 40 CFR section 260.43.
Transportation, Laundering, and Disposal
- Under the Wipes Rule exclusions, can solvent-contaminated wipes just be thrown in the trash?
No, the solvent-contaminated wipes as defined in 40 CFR section 260.10 must meet the conditions of the exclusion, which include being in a labeled, closed container with no free liquids.
- May a labeled, closed bag of contaminated wipes that does not contain free liquids be transported to a landfill or municipal waste combustor with other solid waste trash?
Yes, a bag of solvent-contaminated wipes that meets the conditions of the exclusion (i.e., closed, labeled, and contains no free liquids) may be placed into a dumpster and transported to a landfill with other solid waste trash.
- How do Department of Transportation regulations apply to the solvent-contaminated wipes during transport?
Solvent-contaminated wipes must meet applicable U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations under 49 CFR parts 171 through 179 when they are transported.
Solvent-contaminated wipes managed under the Wipes Rule exclusions are not considered RCRA hazardous wastes and thus, would not be considered to fall under DOT hazard class 9 (Miscellaneous Hazardous Material).
- Can solvent-contaminated wipes go to a transfer facility prior to being sent to an off-site laundry, landfill, or incinerator?
Yes, solvent-contaminated wipes may go to a transfer facility en route to an off-site laundry, landfill, or incinerator, provided they meet the conditions of the exclusion, including no free liquids.
- Can I launder solvent-contaminated wipes on-site under the rule?
Yes, solvent-contaminated wipes may be laundered on site, provided the conditions of 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(26) are met. This includes the condition that the laundry or dry cleaner’s discharge, if any, is regulated under sections 301 and 402 or section 307 of the Clean Water Act.
State Policies and Regulations
- Is the solvent-contaminated Wipes Rule effective in all states? Is it effective in my state?
Because the Wipes Rule is less stringent than the previous hazardous waste requirements under RCRA, states that are authorized to implement the RCRA program (which is every state except Iowa and Alaska) have the option of adopting the Wipes Rule or not. States may also create different standards, but they have to be equivalent to the federal regulations. States may also choose to adopt the entire rule, or only adopt certain provisions.
States that have regulations in place for solvent-contaminated wipes that are less stringent than the Wipes Rule were required to adopt requirements that are at least as stringent as the federal requirements by July 1, 2015 (July 1, 2016, if a statutory change is necessary) per 40 CFR section 271.21(e).
EPA encourages all states to adopt the rule in order to help achieve national consistency. See 78 FR 46475, July 13, 2013.
- My state has had a solvent-contaminated wipes policy in place for many years. How does the rule impact that policy?
Many states have been operating under policies articulated through guidance, rather than regulation. EPA issued a policy memorandum in 1994 that deferred determinations and interpretations regarding the regulation of solvent-contaminated wipes to the authorized states and EPA regions. However, EPA subsequently determined that a nationally consistent framework for the proper management of solvent-contaminated wipes would provide the necessary certainty and clarity for the regulated community. Therefore, utilizing sound science and through notice-and-comment rulemaking, EPA was able to establish such a framework with the Wipes Rule.
The Wipes Rule, however, supersedes the 1994 memorandum. In the preamble to the rule, we state that “any states that delineate their program for reusable wipes in guidance documents or interpretive letters will need to promulgate enforceable regulations, as required by 40 CFR section 271.7.” See 78 FR 46480, July 13, 2013.
Thus states with existing policies that are less stringent than the rule likewise had until July 1, 2015, to modify their programs to be at least as stringent as the federal program.
- What if solvent-contaminated wipes are shipped for disposal or laundering to a state that has not adopted the new rule? How do the regulations apply?
If solvent‐contaminated wipes are transported from one state (that has adopted the Wipes Rule exclusions) to another state (that has not adopted the Wipes Rule exclusions and thus manages the wipes as hazardous waste), the wipes would be subject to hazardous waste regulation upon reaching the border of the receiving state. If a shipment of solvent-contaminated wipes is just being transported through a state that has not adopted the exclusion, the transit state’s hazardous waste regulations could apply once the shipment reaches the border of that state. We recommend you contact any transit states through which the solvent-contaminated wipes will be shipped to ascertain their policy about such shipments.