Chemical Spills in Laboratories

Be prepared with proper training, cleanup supplies and personal protective equipment to manage spills easily and safely.

If you work with chemicals, you will probably have a chemical spill at some point. Your safety, and the safety of others, depends on your assessment and response.

To assess whether you and your fellow researchers are prepared to manage a chemical spill, consider these questions:

Questions to prepare for a chemical spill

Get a spill kit

Labs are required to have a spill kit accessible in their work area. Many safety equipment providers, such as VWR, Grainger and New Pig, offer spill cleanup supplies or kits. Each lab should tailor their kit to their specific operations. A spill kit should include at a minimum the following items:




Spill pads, universal for acid, base, oil, solvents


Box baking soda for neutralizing acids

Brush, dustpan

One snap together dustpan and whisk broom

Plastic bags

Yellow hazardous material heavy duty waste bags

Plastic drum

Reusable plastic drum or container to store kit supplies and hold bagged spill waste


Chemical splash protection goggles

Gloves (impervious)

Silvershield gloves (multi-layer construction, impervious to most chemicals)

Gloves (lightweight)

Powder-free nitrile gloves, various sizes


UW Hazardous Waste labels


The spill kit described above is not sufficient for large spills or mercury spills. For mercury spills, refer to the Mercury Spills Focus Sheet.

If you work with hydrofluoric acid, you will need to have calcium gluconate gel on hand in case of skin exposures. Refer to the Hydrofluoric Acid Focus Sheet for more information.

Stay safe after a chemical spill

When a chemical spills:

  1. Call 911 for any life-threatening emergency.
  2. Use the eye wash or safety shower for 15 minutes if exposed. Remove contaminated clothing.
  3. Evacuate the area by pulling the fire alarm (if there is a risk of exposure or injury).

Cleaning up a chemical spill:

  1. Call the Chemical Spill Line at 206.543.0467 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  2. EH&S is available to consult on chemical spills and emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  3. After normal business hours call 911 on the Seattle Campus. UW Police Department will put you in contact with after-hours EH&S staff.

EH&S can arrange for a hazardous materials spill cleanup contractor at the lab’s expense if the spill is large, involves a risk of exposure or injury, or the cleanup otherwise exceeds your lab’s abilities.

  1. For small spills, use your lab’s chemical spill kit for cleanup.
  2. Follow Biohazardous Spills guidance for spills involving biohazards.

To speak with a medical professional after a spill, call the Employee Health Center at 206.685.1026 to set up an appointment. At Harborview Medical Center call 206.744.3081, and at UW Medical Center call 206.598.4848. After normal business hours, if an employee has a work-related medical injury/illness/exposure, they should seek care at the UW Medicine UW Medical Center or call UWMC Emergency Medical Services at 206.598.4000.

Safely dispose of spill clean-up waste

Waste generated during a chemical spill cleanup is usually a hazardous waste and must be contained, labeled and disposed of properly. Here are a few exceptions:

  • Neutralized acid spills can be soaked up in absorbent material such as paper towels. Follow trash and sink disposal guidelines for proper disposal.
  • Solid and nonhazardous chemicals can be double-bagged, labeled as nonhazardous waste and placed in the trash.

Services available

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Consultation on spill cleanup

  • Hire a spill cleanup contractor

  • Provide training on safe use of chemicals

Frequently asked questions

More information


Spill Advice Contact

(206) 543-0467
Reference Files 
Spill Response Poster
126.63KB (.pdf)
Exposure Response Poster
95.49KB (.pdf)
Mercury Spill Cleanup Sheet
162.61KB (.pdf)
Mercury-Containing Lamps
147.83KB (.pdf)