How to Dispose of Engine Oil

The main functions of engine oil are to reduce friction and wear on moving parts and to clean the engine of sludge and varnish (detergents). It also neutralizes acids that originate from fuel, improves the sealing of piston rings, and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.

Getting rid of old motor oil can seem like a lot of work, but with a few tools, you can safely and easily dispose of any extra oil without disposing of it in the garbage or environment. Since engine oil is considered toxic waste, it’s important that you dispose of it properly; never dump your oil outside, in a garbage can, or down a drain, as this can cause enormous environmental damage.

Why Should You Properly Dispose of Engine Oil?

properly dispose of engine oil

It is very important that you properly recycle engine oil instead of just throwing it away randomly. There are a lot of problems that come if oil is not disposed of properly.

If you have dealt with oil, you’ll know how sticky oil can be. It sticks to everything it comes into contact with. The amount of oil involved in just one oil change has the potential to affect up to a million gallons of water.

Pouring your used oil into the gutter, down a storm drain, or anywhere else it shouldn’t go can contaminate bodies of water like lakes, oceans, and rivers. It can also harm or kill the animals and plants that are around these places.

In fact, it’s illegal to dispose of your used motor oil incorrectly, so insisting on doing so could carry serious implications. You may be fined, face jail time, or be held responsible for any clean-up costs.

How Can I Safely Dispose of Engine Oil?

Because of the environmental risks and health hazards that oil presents, used engine oil recycling is the law in most cities and states.

Before you dispose of used engine oil, remember that it can be recycled and refined multiple times and still be used for a variety of purposes.

Here are steps on how to recycle your oil.

1. Capture the Oil

The key to responsible oil recycling is ensuring you capture it all. Lay down a tarp or plastic sheet underneath your work area. Then position a container on top of your tarp and underneath your engine to catch the oil as it drains.

Some oil may end up on the ground. Absorb it with kitty litter (or an oil-absorbent powder), sweep it up, and clean it with a degreaser to help remove the oil stain.

2. Drain the Filter

Oil filters can also be recycled, and most states won’t allow you to toss an undrained oil filter in the trash.

Make sure you include your oil filter in your efforts! Start by puncturing a small hole in the dome of your filter and allowing it to drain thoroughly into your drip pan along with the rest of the oil you’ve collected. Then seal the filter with a plastic bag. Even after you’ve drained it, it could contain many ounces of residual oil and can be recycled as well.

SEE: How to Dispose of Tires

3. Prepare the Oil for Transport

When you’re done, you may need to transfer your oil from your drip pan to another container for storage and transportation, but it’s important to select one that’s appropriate. Don’t use milk cartons, empty juice containers, or any other random container you may have lying around the house. 

If you happen to have the original container the oil came in, you should use that. Otherwise, you’ll want to use something made of polyethylene or another plastic deemed suitable for the purpose. Also, some oil pans are made such that they can be sealed shut. These pans make it easy to contain and transport used oil.

Motor oil that’s been mixed with other fluids (either accidentally or purposefully) isn’t recyclable, so take care not to let yours mingle with washer fluid, gasoline, or any other liquid (water included). Make sure your storage container has never been used to store other fluids at any point, no matter how long ago it may have been.

In case the container isn’t tightly sealed, wrap containers in plastic trash bags. Getting the motor oil smell out of the upholstery in a car is a difficult task that should be avoided at all costs.

4. Storing Used Oil

Once your used oil has been properly contained, keep your container in a place that’s cool, stays dry, and where it won’t be disturbed before you have a chance to hand it off to a recycling facility or other suitable facility.

SEE: How to Dispose of Car Batteries

5. Take Your Oil to the Right Location

Now that you’ve got your used engine oil and your oil filter, where do you take it? Fortunately, many auto parts stores and some service stations will accept used engine oil and oil filters for recycling. Call ahead to find out what your local shop will accept.

Also, depending on where you live, you may be able to turn your used engine oil in through your city’s curbside recycling program. If your city does allow for this, make sure you carefully research packaging requirements and protocol.

Do not simply toss a container of used engine oil into your standard recycling bin. If curbside recycling for engine oil isn’t possible in your city, you’ll need to make plans to drop it off yourself at a participating recycling center.

You can also visit a local gas station and ask about oil recycling services. Many accept old oil for free, while others charge a fee. Check the fees for the gas stations in your area and find the most reasonable price. You can call ahead to ask the gas stations if they repurpose oil. Remember to ask them what their requirements are in terms of oil quality.

If you’re stuck, try Earth911 to find a service station or recycling center near you. Note that not all places that accept used engine oil will also accept used oil filters, so call ahead and verify if they accept it.

How Does Motor Oil Recycling Work?

recycle engine oil

Engine oil that has been contaminated can be processed into lubricants and fuel oils by the petrochemical and refining industries. Additionally, old oil filters include recyclable scrap metal that may be sent to steel makers as raw material.

So how does one recycle used motor oil? For usage in heavy-duty diesel engines, automobiles, and other internal combustion engines, as well as gear oils and hydraulic fluids, re-refined oil must adhere to the same stringent compounding, refining, and performance standards as virgin oil.

Re-refined oil passes all necessary tests, is equal to virgin oil, and in some cases, even outperforms virgin oil, according to comprehensive field research and laboratory testing.

The same customers and businesses that use regular oil may use re-refined oil since they are typically converted used oil into fresh, high-quality lubricating oil. Refined oil is available for use by car owners, mechanics, and other mechanical maintenance businesses. Fleet maintenance facilities that utilize a lot of oil can arrange to close the loop by reusing the old oil that they send to be refined.

SEE: How to Dispose of Muriatic Acid

Final Word

Changing your own oil may not always be enjoyable, but it is fulfilling and worthwhile. DIY projects such as changing your own oil promote self-reliance and extra peace of mind that the job was well done. One of the often-overlooked aspects of changing your own oil is properly disposing of the used engine oil. These steps should not be a hassle disposing of your own oil.

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