The garage is often the most convenient place to keep your cleaning supplies for long periods. However, the chemicals found in many of them can pose a threat when they are not stored correctly; where and how you put away household cleaning products will determine whether they have the potential to cause harm.
The number one tip to remember when storing cleaning supplies in the garage is to keep incompatible cleaners away from one another to avoid the risk of chemical reactions. You should also keep cleaning products out of reach from children and pets for their safety.
Failure to adhere to these essential safety tips can result in fire hazards, explosions, and the release of toxic chemicals and fumes. However, this can all be avoided by properly storing your cleaning supplies in the garage.
Identifying Toxic Cleaning Supplies
All cleaning supplies will have a warning label that specifies their toxicity. It will be displayed prominently on the outside of the substance’s container.
Hazardous household cleaning products will fall within two different classifications, noted by the label:
- Danger: Highly toxic; even an amount as little as a teaspoon can be fatal (Examples: drain cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, oven cleaner)
- Warning/Caution: Moderate to low toxicity; a teaspoon to a pint is required to be fatal (Examples: liquid laundry products)
If you feel that the warning/instruction label has not provided you with enough information about the product, you are encouraged to look online for the solution’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Professionals must use these resources often, as they do contain lots of useful information on the product’s chemistry. Take, for example, the MSDS for Clorox Bleach.
The MSDS data should include:
- Human health impacts
- Details on flammability
- Recommended storage conditions
- How to clean up and dispose of the chemical in the event of a spill
- How to handle human exposure
Cleaning Supplies that Don’t Belong in the Garage
Several cleaners shouldn’t be stored in your garage for a variety of reasons. These products are often susceptible to extreme temperature swings, such as those typically seen in unheated garages. Flammable, corrosive, and toxic chemicals are also dangerous when they are allowed to be stored together.
The following are specific cleaning supplies you should try to avoid keeping in your garage year-round:
Liquid Cleaners (During Summer or Winter)
It is highly recommended that you don’t store liquid cleaners in your garage during the summer or winter when they will more likely be exposed to extreme temperatures; this includes household cleaners such as Windex.
You don’t want to store these cleaners in your garage during these times of year because the rapid temperature changes may impact the containers, which are not really built to handle extreme temperatures. If a cleaner becomes partially frozen, it also will not hold the same cleaning properties as it did before.
Note: Flammable or combustion products are acceptable to be stored in the garage during summer and winter, as these are chemicals that you otherwise do not want to introduce to your home anyway.
Household Bleach (Summer or Hot Conditions)
This should be prefaced by saying that there is nothing inherently dangerous about storing household bleach in your garage. The big thing that many people don’t necessarily realize is that bleach actually has a shelf life. The term “shelf life” refers to the fact that the bleach will become ineffective after a certain period.
The standard household bleach solution has a shelf life of 12 months. This shelf life becomes reduced dramatically once the chemical is exposed to extreme temperatures. Household bleach should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated location where the temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you were to store bleach at a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, then it would only have a shelf life of 3 months. Even in ideal storage conditions, you will need to replace your bleach at least once per year.
Keep these stats in mind as you reach to the back of your shelf for a container of bleach that has been there for an extended time; you should be especially mindful of the shelf life of bleach if you aim to use it for disinfection purposes.
It is suggested that you avoid using and storing aerosol products in your garage as much as you can. These types of cleaners contain fine particles that can be inhaled and accumulate in the lungs. You are especially encouraged to avoid these if you have a history of upper-respiratory issues.
Alternatively, you can use pump spray products. Although pump spray products do also produce a mist, these are not inhaled as easily as aerosols. An example of a pump spray cleaner is this Lemi Shine Everyday Cleaner.
Cleaning Supplies You Can Store in Your Garage
Some chemicals can safely be stored in the garage, provided that precautions mentioned later in this article are taken. The cleaning products stored in the garage should not be susceptible to changing temperatures or humidity levels.
The following cleaning materials are fine to store in a garage:
- Items that are not flammable; if you do store anything flammable in your garage, it should be in small quantities
- Aluminum cleaner/other metal cleaners
- Laundry detergent
- Liquid soap
- Drain cleaner (if the garage is well-ventilated)
- All-purpose cleaning sprays
If your garage’s temperature is regulated by heat and air, this will give you more opportunity to store household cleaners in your garage space. Flammable and corrosive chemicals like pool cleaners should be kept to a minimum since most garages already have flammable materials like gasoline in them.
Tips for Storing Cleaning Supplies in a Garage
As far as the cleaning supplies you can store in the garage: hazardous cleaning chemicals need to be kept in an area where they are not easily accessible by young children or pets. Temperature, moisture, and airflow also need to be considered, as these are all factors that can cause a chemical to become hazardous.
As a general rule-of-thumb, cleaning chemicals should always be stored:
- In a cool, dry place
- Away from heating and cooling events
- At eye level or lower but never the top shelf or the floor
- Away from over-crowded shelves
Below are a few more tips on how you should store cleaning products in your garage:
Toxic Look-Alikes Should Be Out of Reach
Many hazardous household products come in containers or forms that bear an uncanny resemblance to foods and beverages; this makes them particularly dangerous to children who may not be able to distinguish these cleaners from items that you currently have lying in your cupboard.
- Windex: this may be mistaken for a blue sports drink
- Pine-Sol: this may be mistaken for apple juice
Keep these cleaning solutions in a portion of your garage or living space that will not be accessible for children.
Don’t Store Incompatible Chemicals Together
If you look at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any given cleaner, you should be able to find out which types of chemicals are not compatible with each other. To prevent chemical reactions, you should store incompatible materials at least 3 meters (approximately 10 feet) apart.
Here are some chemicals that are incompatible:
- Chlorine and ammonia-based cleaners
- Acetone (used in nail polish remover) and chlorine or hydrogen peroxide
- Rubbing alcohol and bleach
- Vinegar and bleach
- Vinegar and baking soda
Since household cleaners contain diluted versions of these chemicals, you don’t need to worry about keeping this separation distance. However, you should at least make sure that the packaging is airtight and not leaking. These incompatible chemicals could be dangerous if they are allowed to combine due to faulty packaging.
There is a misconception that natural cleaners can be safely combined. Concentrated natural oils can be irritants that lead to allergic reactions. (It’s never a good idea to randomly mix different chemicals anyway.) The best practice is to follow the instructions on the packaging for guidance on which concentrations of oil to use.
Keep Pool Chemicals Away from Fertilizers and Flammables
Pool chemicals contain oxidizers like chlorine; this makes them extremely dangerous to store within the vicinity of fertilizers and flammable chemicals like gasoline, pesticides, paint, and alcohol. The different swimming pool chemicals also need to be kept away in separate containers where there is no risk of various chemical agents combining and reacting.
Ideally, your pool chemicals should be located as far away from fertilizers and flammable solutions as possible (such as an exterior storage shed rather than a garage). Storing them on the opposite side of the garage should be fine, though.
Don’t Keep Flammables in the Open
The storage of flammable cleaners out in the open can quickly become dangerous. This is because your garage is a location where fire hazards can develop; for example, if you have a bench grinder on your work table and use it in the vicinity of flammable products, this can pose a hazard.
Flammable cleaning products include:
You are encouraged to invest in a lockable chemical storage unit for flammable chemicals; this will ensure that children and pets do not get ahold of these dangerous products. It also prevents misuse as anyone who desires to use these cleaning chemicals will need to access a key or code first.
Keep Corrosive Cleaning Chemicals in Cool, Dry Places
The term “corrosive” refers to a chemical that will damage a given material. Cleaners like aluminum brighteners, for example, are corrosive to metal. Other cleaners, like chlorine bleach, are skin irritants and corrosive if ingested.
Chemicals that are strongly corrosive require careful storage. Examples of corrosive cleaners include:
- Toilet bowl cleaners/drain cleaners
- Rust removers
- Wax strippers
- Chlorine bleach
- Mold/Mildew cleaners
- Aluminum cleaner and brightener
Corrosive cleaners, like aluminum brightener, should be stored in cool, dry places and kept away from incompatible materials like alkaline chemicals or otherwise reactive compounds.
Note: You will also notice on the MSDS for acids or bases like an aluminum cleaner that you should add the chemical to an existing supply of water if you are looking to dilute it. Never pour water onto an acid or a base, as this can cause a dangerous reaction to occur. This is also why you need to make sure that you store these chemicals in a place where they will remain cool and dry.
Never Reuse or Mix Old Containers
You should never reuse old containers to hold new cleaners. Even relatively harmless household products can become dangerous if they are allowed to react with the chemicals from a different cleaning solution.
One of the most common examples of this is seen with the potentially-fatal combination of chlorine bleach and ammonia. When these two chemicals are allowed to react, they produce a noxious gas capable of causing an individual to become seriously ill. Death may even occur if the concentration is high enough.
When containers become damaged, the recommendation is to follow the appropriate disposal procedures displayed on the packaging. If you cannot read the instructions, you can always search for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) online.
It is better to be safe than sorry when trying to salvage a broken or damaged container. If it is leaking or not secure, you are encouraged to find an alternative storage device that may be easier to use. Take, for example, this 1-gallon jug with a child-resistant airtight lid.
Protect the Labels
It’s far too easy to always buy the economy-sized packaging because of the impression that you are saving money. But as we’ve seen with bleach and other liquid cleaners, many solutions have a shelf life that renders them less useful after an extended period or when exposed to a non-climate-controlled environment like the garage.
For example, here is how long you can expect some of the most common household cleaning products to last if kept in the garage:
- Dish Soap: 6-8 months
- Castile Soap: 3 years
- Countertop Cleaners: 2 years
- Floor Cleaner: 2 years
- Metal Polish (such as aluminum brightener): 3 years
Some of these durations are long enough for packaging to fade. With time, you may not remember which specific cleaner may be present in a given package. Someone else may mistake it for a different chemical and misuse it.
For this reason, it is recommended that you apply waterproof transparent tape to the label on the packaging so that it does not fall or peel off. You should also consider labeling the packaging with details regarding what is included in the container and when you bought it.
This way, you won’t have to deal with the consequences of inadvertently using a product that has become degraded over time or accidentally misusing a cleaning solution.
Note: You shouldn’t have to worry about this with cleaning supplies that you plan on using up reasonably quickly, but anything that you anticipate being on the shelf for multiple years certainly does have the potential to become forgotten if kept in the garage.
Are There Any Non-Toxic Cleaners?
Alternatively, you can always use a cleaning solution that doesn’t have some of the potentially toxic chemicals you see in some of the cleaning products mentioned in the sections above, especially if you are interested in using cleaners that are not flammable, corrosive, or excessively odorous.
Some examples of safer home alternatives include:
- All-purpose cleaner: liquid soap, borax, vinegar, warm water
- Drain Cleaner: baking soda, vinegar, boiling water
- Grout/Stain Cleaner: a paste made with baking soda and water, or vinegar spray and water
Note: Be sure to refer to the provided instructions when making these solutions; otherwise, the cleaner will not serve its intended purpose.
As you can see from the examples provided, these solutions are made of everyday household items that don’t necessarily come with the unique storage requirements that some of the more hazardous products do.
Homeowners need to be wary of the hidden dangers of household cleaners, which are typically not perceived as serious threats. However, to best avoid these potential hazards, follow these safe storage tips:
- Cleaning supplies should be kept below eye level and in a place where children and pets may not accidentally gain access to them.
- Flammable and corrosive products should not be kept together. One such hazardous combination is pool chemicals and ammonia-based cleaning products.
- Some cleaning products can be mistaken for food or beverage items. Make sure that labels are always clear and adhering correctly to the container.
- Household cleaning products can become dangerous if they are allowed to mix with chemicals they are not compatible with.
- Any container holding cleaning supplies should not be reused, especially if you want to use the original packaging to hold an entirely different product. Instead, invest in an alternative storage method, like professional spray bottles.