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How to Properly Dispose of Oil Soaked Rags

Unlike most of…everything I do, this is super serious business. It’s something every rookie (and veteran) DIY’er should know before jumping headfirst into a wood staining project. So here it is: Oil soaked rags can SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST! I kid you not, kid!

After reading extensively about the subject on the internet, I’m a pretty much the leading expert on this now. So let me learn ya somethin…

In order for an oil soaked rag to spontaneously combust, it needs three things: Fuel, oxygen and heat. In this case for DIY and woodworkers, fuel is the stain or oil you use to coat your project, oxygen is EVERYWHERE (you knew that…right?) and heat can come from a number of sources.

Check out this video by ABC news on the subject:

How to Eliminate the Chances of Spontaneous Combustion
Before disposing of the rag, you need to let it cure in a way that doesn’t garner heat. The best way for an oil soaked rag to cure is to spread it out in a single layer away from a direct heat source (i.e. sunlight). The video above gives the example of laying oil soaked rags flat in a shady area of the driveway or submerging them in a water filled metal can. But my preferred method is along the side a metal safety can. The time it takes to cure can vary depending on the type of finish, temperature and humidity.
Once the oil soaked rag has cured, you can then dispose of it in accordance with your local laws. Some people even burn them (careful for toxic fumes if you go that route).

My recommendation, as mentioned above, is to pick up a Justrite Galvanized Steel Safety Can. Allow the oil stained rag to cure by draping it along the outside of the can and once cured, put it in the can until you’re ready dispose of all of your hazardous rags.

What makes this steel safety can so legit, is that the bottom of it is elevated off of the floor so that air can circulate around the bottom of the can (heat can’t collect and moisture can’t build up). When the safety can lid is closed, oil soaked rags are exposed to a limited amount of oxygen, thus eliminating the chances of spontaneous combustion. Oh, and it’s got a foot pedal for ultimate laziness. Believe it!

While even I found myself whining about paying $48 for a metal can, I don’t whine about the peace of mind it brings me after staining all afternoon and having a safe and proper way of disposing my rags that night.

The bottom line is many DIY’ers have no idea that spontaneous combustion with oily rags is even possible. But now that you know, EVERY ONE of you should have one of these things (or similar) in your workshop for you and your family’s own safety. OR another safe method of disposal. It took me four years of DIYing to get one myself because I didn’t know!

It also may not hurt to get a fire extinguisher (with a metal handle) and a place to store your hazardous chemicals. I’m still brainstorming of an affordable way to store my stains and finishes, because that $500 metal box doesn’t just break my budget, it BLOWS IT UP!

If you don’t use a metal safety can, how do you seasoned veterans dispose of your oily rags? Let us know in the comments below!


One stay at home dad (to be) conquers DIY and Diapers

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Rachael McCarty

    This was very informative. I usually toss the rags in a plastic grocery bag and to the trash it goes.I had no idea them stinky suckers combust like that. I am now thinking of a paint locker. I have those all over the place.
    I do very little DIY but, hopefully when I have the big kid toys I will building like no other lol. Thank uou very much for this post.

  2. Lori Jones

    I did too, did not know that those rags would spontaneous combust! So thank you for that!! I would either just set them aside or toss them in the garbage can. So I guess I need to rethink how to dispose of then! Thanks!

    1. Rick

      Crazy right?! I had no idea either! I think it’s definitely worth considering an alternative way of storing/disposing used rags ESPECIALLY for danish oils and the like.

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