Disposing of Oily Rags

March 2023

Two wrenches lying on top of a rag with oil stains.

So you’ve just finished painting your house or refinishing furniture. Time to relax, right?

Sure. But if you’re not careful, you could cause a serious fire.

Simply put, rags that contain residue of oil-based paints and stains, paint thinners, varnishes, or polyurethane can spontaneously combust and catch on fire.

Here’s what happens: When oily rags begin to dry, they produce heat. Combined with oxygen they turn into combustible cloths that can quickly cause trouble.

Follow these steps to dispose of oil or gas-soaked rags:

1. Hang them outside to dry in a safe area.

  • Spread them out and do not place them in a pile.

2. Dispose of them properly when they are dry:

  • If you use oily rags regularly — Place them in a special container and have them emptied by a private contractor.
  • If you use them less frequently — Place them in a small, airtight, non-combustible container with a tight-fitting lid such as an old paint can. Cover them with water and an oil breakdown detergent. Then, have them taken on the hazardous waste collection day in your area.
Don’t overlook oily or paint-soaked rags when you’re cleaning up. Thoughtful disposal prevents major disasters from happening.

Source: Mass.gov

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