Illustration by Dominique Blaskovich

Illustration by Dominique Blaskovich

Do you pour unused product down the sink or throw it in the trash? If you pour liquid nail products down the sink, they may eventually end up in a river or ocean, poisoning plants and wildlife. Throwing liquids in the trash is not the answer either. If a container leaks, which it eventually will, product can seep into groundwater supplies and contaminate tap water.

So what do you do with unused nail products? To find out, NAILS spoke to chemical waste specialists, chemists, federal and state EPA officials, and an industrial hygienist with Cal OSHA. They all told us what not to do with unused product, but admittedly, finding out the right way to dispose of it was much more difficult.


Never pour nail products in the sink or flush them down the toilet. Waste water from your sink and toilet goes through a local treatment plant where it is generally treated for bacteria. Water treatment plants are not set up to filter out chemicals that aren’t supposed to be in the water in the first place. These chemicals can poison plants and wildlife and they can get into crops that may eventually end up on your table.

Throwing liquid nail products in the trash is just as problematic, even if they are sealed in their original container, because the container may break, deteriorate, or leak. If it does, the product can leach through the soil into a groundwater supply, which is where many communities get their tap water.

Environmental concerns aside, throwing flammable chemicals such as acrylic monomer, nail polish remover, and the like in the trash can cause salons other problems. Doug Schoon, a chemist and owner of Chemical Awareness Training Service (Newport Beach, Calif.), relates a story about a salon whose trash can exploded because someone flicked a barely lit cigarette into the container where the salon had thrown away chemicals.


Any hazardous material requires special care and careful disposal. Acrylic monomer, polish remover, nail polish, disinfectant, and most other products used in the salon are considered hazardous. If you’re not sure whether a product is hazardous, look at Section 1, Number 2 on the MSDS where it says “Hazardous Material.” If the blank says Yes, you cannot pour the product down the drain or put it in the trash. Proper disposal instructions should be listed in section 7 on the MSDS.

However, says Scott Hanrahan, a chemist for Forsythe Cosmetic Group (Lawrence, N.Y.), MSDS are directed at both large and small users in different geographic areas. Since disposal regulations vary depending on the amount of waste and the state you’re in, these instructions often say, “Dispose of in accordance with state and local regulations.”

If you just want to get rid of a small amount of liquid monomer from your dappen dish, you can mix it with some acrylic powder and make a small, hard ball of product. When the ball hardens, throw it in the trash. Don’t mix more than a dappen dish of product at a time, cautions Schoon, because you could get a reaction with larger amounts that could result in smoking product, toxic fumes, or even a fire,

For larger amounts of product and liquid, disposal becomes a problem. EPA regulations make disposal hazardous materials complex and costly. Most hazardous waste generators use the services of waste management companies to pick up the materials and either recycle or dispose of them. For small users such as salons, this is impractical. Waste management companies charge a lot and won’t even pick up small amounts. According to one Azusa, Calif., waste management company, a salon would need to have a minimum of 27 gallons of product for the company to pick up, and it would cost a minimum of $400, depending on the material. Not only can expenses like this drive your salon out of business, but you have the added problem of figuring out how to store the product while you’re accumulating 27 gallons. And, remember, you can’t just empty all hazardous liquids into a container. Nail polish, polish remover, liquid monomer, etc. would all have to be stored separately.

The waste disposal needs of small businesses are why some cities have started “hazardous waste days,” designated days when residents can bring small amounts of hazardous materials to a specified fixed place for the city to collect and dispose of, says Schoon. This is the easiest and most economical way for small users like salons to dispose of old product. Many cities will collect the materials for free or a nominal fee.

To find out if your city has a hazardous waste day, call your local fire department or city hall. If they don’t have one, ask who to talk to about starting one. In the meantime, check with other nearby cities to see if they have one.



Most salons have been pouring product down sinks or throwing it in the trash for years without anyone complaining, so it’s easy to say that the amount of hazardous material you throw away is so small that it doesn’t matter. But if every salon continues to carelessly throw away hazardous waste each month, the chemicals will continue to accumulate and be set free in the environment. So even if no else is, hold yourself responsible and explore environmentally sound options.

You take cautions to protect yourself from exposure while you’re in the salon, be sure you use as much caution to prevent your own – and others’ – exposure outside the salon.




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