Safe Disposal of Oily or Flammable Rags

As the weather improves, many people find themselves doing more around the house, like staining furniture, flooring or other wooden materials with an oil based stain, varnish or sealer. Often we apply these liquids with a rag or cloth, however, some people may not be aware of the risk that improper disposal of these rags may have.

Storing Flammable RagsIf you have ever used an oil based wood stain, paint or sealer, a polyurethane finish, a varnish or any other finishing product containing high VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds, then it was flammable.

Oily rags have a long history of being a source of fire, because people are not aware that they have the ability to spontaneously combust and catch on fire. For a fire to exist, it needs heat, oxygen and fuel. Oily rags that get folded or balled up and tossed on the floor have the danger of going through a process that starts with oxidation. As the oil is drying on the rag, it produces heat, and air gets trapped in the folds or balled up portions. Heat and oxygen are combined in addition to the rag, which is usually made of combustible cloth that can become a source of fuel. Heat, oxygen and fuel are all that is needed to create a fire, which is why if oily rags that are not disposed of properly can create a fire that people are not prepared for.

The easiest and safest way to dispose of flammable oily or solvent soaked rags is to use this method:

  • Place the rags in an empty metal container that has a tight metal lid such as an empty paint or stain can
  • Fill the container with water until the rags are submerged
  • Place the metal lid tightly over the water soaked formerly combustible rags
  • Take the container to your local hazardous waste disposal center or save it until your local community has a hazardous waste pick up day
  • Please make sure not to dump solvents or paint or anything else like this down your drain or sewer.

Photo Credits: (Can) and Industrial Products Inc (Banner Image).