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Good housekeeping

Below are suggestions to make sure household products are disposed of in a way that keeps them out of the storm drains and creeks. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District also maintains a list of household hazardous wastes and resources for proper disposal and a pocket guide for the kitchen, workshop, or garage

Some of the most common household hazardous wastes to keep away from the drain are:

  • Motor Oil: One quart of motor oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water
  • Oil-Based Paints
  • Varnishes and Glue
  • Fluorescent Light Bulbs
  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides

Get in touch with your local community or solid waste management district for proper recycle/disposal information.

Stormwater management

When rain water hits hard surfaces, such as driveways and rooftops, it rushes quickly over them to nearby waterways, storm drains, or ditches. As it flows, it picks up pollutants that are not treated, and carries them to the nearest creek or lake.

Here are a few tips to reduce the volume of polluted stormwater coming off your property:

Keep leaves, grass clippings, fertilizers, soaps, litter and harmful chemicals away from streets, ditches, storm drains and waterways. These waste products feed our waterways with added nutrients and toxins that contribute to harmful algae growth and kill fish.

Be sure that roof gutters and downspouts empty onto the grass or landscaped area where rainwater can soak slowly into the ground or into a covered rain barrel to be used later for watering plants. Downspouts on many homes are connected directly the storm sewer system. Disconnecting those downspouts reduces the amount of water entering the system and reduces the amount of pollutants that get to the creeks, streams and lakes.

Downspouts must be disconnected safely to protect people and property. Because sites vary, downspout disconnection is not a recommended option in every situation. Be sure to check with the your local building department and drainage codes to ensure downspout disconnection is permitted and will not impact other property owners.

  • The point of discharge from the downspout should be a minimum of 2 feet from a basement or a foundation wall or alley property line and 5 feet from all other property lines.
  • Splash block or other erosion control measures should be implemented to ensure discharge is distributed as sheet flow away from the building.
  • The discharge water should flow parallel to or away from the nearest property line.
  • The discharge water should not discharge directly to a street, roadside ditch, alley or other public way or water body.
  • The discharge water shall not create icy conditions on pedestrian walkways within or adjacent to your property’s lot lines.

If these criteria cannot be met on your property you may want to reconsider disconnection.

Bag pet waste and place it in the trash. Pet waste contains harmful bacterial pollutants which endanger our creeks and lakes and our ability to use them. When water (i.e. rain, hose water, sprinklers, etc.) comes in contact with pet waste the resulting water runoff contains high concentrations of bacteria, parasites, and viruses. When this runoff makes its way to ditches and storm drains these pollutants get washed into our recreational creeks and Lake Erie. See the Good Morning Cleveland video on "Pick Up Poop" or PUP (Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District's campaign to pick up pet waste).

Winter practices

In the winter, the frozen soil conditions do not allow water to soak into the ground to filter out pollutants. When the snow melts the pollutants are quickly carried to our gutters, ditches, rivers, and Lake Erie.

Here are a couple of tips homeowners can use to prevent pollution throughout the winter months.

Use an alternative to standard ice melting salt. Potassium Acetate (KA) is an alternative to salt for melting ice and is just as effective yet less harmful to plants and trees. While KA is not a feasible alternative for de-icing extensive amounts of roadway due to its cost, it is a feasible alternative to de-ice front walkways or driveways. This is readily available at the local hardware store.

No Garage Rinsing: While it is tempting to take out the hose and spray the gray sludge and salt off of the car and out of the garage on a relatively warm winter day, this is not a good idea. Residue left from de-icing materials, oil, gas, and a plethora of other pollutants ooze from the car and often end up on the garage floor. Instead, take the car to a car wash and sweep the garage and properly dispose of the waste.

From driveways to waterways

The best way to reduce water pollution, of course, is to prevent it. Around the home, the driveway is a good place to start. Take our cars for instance. Vehicle fluids such as oil, gas, antifreeze and brake fluids are among the nation’s leading water polluters. Here are some easy steps to reduce these pollutants.

Washing the car on the street or driveway on a sunny day may seem as American as baseball and apple pie. But car washing detergents are toxic to fish and other aquatic animals and may contain nutrients that cause deadly algae blooms in Lake Erie. The runoff also carries heavy metals, oil and grease that are washed off the vehicle.

Consider taking the car to a commercial car wash, or wash the car on the grass to filter pollutants. Using a nozzle on the hose limits water use and runoff. Do not hose off spilled engine degreaser, tire cleaner, brake fluid, antifreeze or oil on the driveway. Instead, sprinkle cornmeal, sawdust, cat litter over the spill let it soak a few hours, then sweep it up and properly dispose of it.

Fix that leak! Most of us wouldn’t think of pouring a quart of oil in the river or lake. Yet we allow our cars to leak oil, gas, and antifreeze onto our streets, roads, and parking lots and eventually into our waterways.

Using less water

Rain isn’t the only ‘vehicle’ for water pollution. We water our lawns to satisfy our plants, wash our cars, and even spray down our sidewalks and driveways to make them look nice. Too often, we are needlessly using water. The less water we use the less polluted runoff we will be sending to our waterways. Homeowners can reduce water use by:

Putting a spray nozzle on the hose can save hundreds of gallons of water with each use.Using less water inside the house can also improve water quality. The more tap water use, the more treated water that is being adding to our creeks, streams and lakes.

Check out “100 Ways to Conserve Water".

Washing a driveway or sidewalk with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes. Consider using a broom and dust pan.

Check out the Landscaping for Less page for more information on how to reduce landscaping costs and reduce the amount of pollutants getting to the creeks.

Cleaning supplies

These time-honored cleaning recipes rely on the likes of baking soda, borax, vinegar, club soda and lemon juice—products far less harmful to people and the environment than those hazardous household cleaners found in the grocery store today. They can also save you money.

Here are a few of the most effective recipes:

Window Cleaner: ¼ cup vinegar, ½ teaspoon natural dish soap and 2 – 4 cups of water. A good quality squeegee makes the windows streak free. Others swear by 2 tablespoons of Borax for every three cups of water. Still others rely on mixing a tablespoon of lemon juice in 1 quart of water. Wipe dry with a crumpled newspaper.

All purpose cleaner: Mixed together, vinegar and salt make a good surface cleaner. Dissolving four tablespoons of baking soda in a quart of warm water also makes for a good general cleanser, as well as straight baking soda on a damp sponge.

Drain Cleaner: Pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain and follow with ½ cup of vinegar. Cover the opening if possible. Let it sit for a few minutes, then pour a kettle full of boiling water down the drain. This method is not to be used if a commercial drain opener has already been tried. Another option: try pouring a can of soda down the drain.

Disinfectant: Mix ½ cup Borax in a gallon of hot water or dilute vinegar with water and use in a spray bottle and clean.

Decals and adhesives: In one word, vinegar. Saturate a sponge with hot vinegar and squeeze over no slip decals on the bathtub floor. Squeeze behind adhesive-backed hooks to pry them loose. Vinegar also removes decals, stickers and price tags from china, glass and wood. Just paint with coats of white vinegar, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rub off the sticker or decal.

Cleaning and degreasing auto or boat parts: Use commercially sold soy-based or citrus-based cleaners. They are less toxic and they biodegrade.Polishing copper and silver: Use equal amounts of vinegar and salt to clean copper pots and pans. Boil the silver with a teaspoon of salt in a pot with about 3 inches of water and a sheet of aluminum foil for several minutes. Then wipe off tarnish with a clean cloth.

These recipes and other tips are also available in a handy pocket guide “Recipes for a healthy Chagrin River” and “A healthy environment starts at home” from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Clean boating

The small amount of raw sewage, litter and used oil or cleaning products dumped off the boat might not seem like much, but the impact swells when multiplied by the thousands of recreational and commercial boaters who do the same. Being a good skipper means keeping your waters clean and healthy. Check out Ohio’s Clean Boater Program for details on how you can become a Clean Boater.

Below are some Best Boater Practices to take out on the water:

Fill fuel tanks upon departing rather than returning, and avoid filling above 90% capacity (listen to the filler pipe). These practices will reduce spills caused by thermal expansion.

Empty sewage into shoreline wastewater facilities, and never throw litter overboard. Not only does litter look bad, it injures or kills aquatic life.Observe “no wake” zones.

Boat wakes contribute to shoreline erosion and stir up bottom sediments that block sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation.

Flush winterizing agents and antifreeze from the engine into a proper receptacle prior to launch each season. Winterize only with the less toxic propylene glycol antifreeze.Use environmentally friendly products on the boat, e.g., non-phosphate detergents, biodegradable products, and a scrub brush.

Secure trash in a garbage receptacle on board and dispose of it properly on shore. If disposing at a marina, follow their recycling rules. NEVER discard fishing line, cigarette butts, fish waste, or any other waste overboard.

More information on best boating practices can be found at or contact Colleen Wellington, Ohio Sea Grant Extension, (419) 609-4120

Septic systems

Nearly one-quarter of all American homes depend on home sewage treatment systems such as septic tanks and leach fields. If not installed or maintained properly, septic systems contaminate groundwater, creeks, and lakes with dangerous disease-causing bacteria.

Septic systems are wastewater treatment systems that collect, treat, and disperse wastewater generated by your home or business. The wastewater is treated onsite, rather than collected and transported to a centralized community wastewater treatment plant.

A typical septic system consists of two main parts: a septic tank and a soil absorption system, also known as a drainfield, leachfield, or disposal field. Underground pipes connect the entire system. New mound systems are starting to become a common alternative to the traditional system when their soil conditions cause slow or fast infiltration, shallow soil cover over fractured or porous bedrock, or a high water table is present. There are three main components to a mound system: (1) a septic tank or pretreatment unit, (2) a dosing or pump chamber, and (3) the elevated mound.

The septic tank is a buried, watertight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow the solids to settle out and the fats, oil, and grease to float to the surface. It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Effluent from the middle layer flows out to the drainfield for further treatment in the soil.

Septic systems can contribute to source water contamination for various reasons including improper location of the system, poor design, faulty construction, incorrect operation, and poor or no maintenance of the system.

As more people migrate further from central cities and occupy homes served by septic systems, proper maintenance is more important than ever. By keeping your onsite system in top working condition, you can save money, increase the value of your home, and also feel good that you’re helping your community both now and for future generations. By following the basic recommendations below, you can help ensure that your system continues to function properly.

(This information was developed by the National Environmental Services Center (NESC) at West Virginia University and is used with their permission. To learn more about services offered by NESC or call toll free 800-624-8301.)

Cleaning the Tank: It is recommended by County Health Districts to pump out septic tanks every three years for a three bedroom home with a 1,000 gallon tank. Smaller tanks should be pumped more often. Many communities and local health departments have mandatory pumping and point of sale inspection requirements. Check with your local community for pump-out requirements.

No Chemicals: Do not use chemicals for cleaning out the tank. They can do more harm than good because chemicals can kill beneficial bacteria that break down raw sewage.

Minimize Flow to the System: Fix dripping faucets and install low-flow, water saving toilets and shower heads to avoid overloading the system. These fixtures, particularly shower heads, are readily available in this area and easy to install.

No Additives: Commercial septic tank additives have been shown to be ineffective and are not recommended.

Distance from Water Bodies: Install new septic systems as far away from water bodies as possible.

No Trash: Do not add grease, diapers, paper, plastics, feminine products and cigarette butts to the system. These materials do not decompose and can clog the system, increasing maintenance needs while threatening area creeks and groundwater.

Get in touch with your local health department for more information about septic system maintenance.

Support for this section provided by Lake Erie Protection Fund and Chagrin River Watershed Partners.


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