How to Safely Dispose of Staining Rags & Staining Materials

Many DIY projects often require using Oil Based Products. 

Whether its a wood conditioner, stain, primer, paint, topcoat, mineral spirits, the list is endless when it comes to oil based goods in our workshop.

Saving money by doing work around the house or shop yourself is a great idea, but remember there are always certain things to be aware of when starting any new project. 

Staying safe while doing projects is important. We generally start with the proper eyewear, mask, gloves, boots and clothing, but did you know the dangers can go farther than that?  

Oil Based Products are highly flammable as they release heat as they are drying.

To avoid any fires or explosions in your home or workshop, ensure to dispose of staining materials safely after use. 

You will want to ensure you are working in a well ventilated area as the chemicals from oil-based products can be toxic and very strong.

This blog will review the reasons why and how to properly dispose of rag & materials used for staining.


Why does this happen?

Stain rags or materials used left lying around after using an oil based product can result in a fire or explosion. This happens more frequently than you may know. Spontaneous combustion is a hazard that can result from the unsafe disposal of stain rags/materials… but one might wonder how this happens in the first place. 

A good number of oil-based stains, or polishes can heat up spontaneously when left to dry especially when piled onto other materials (in a trash can, a bunch of rags piled together). When the rags/materials that were used with these oils are piled on top of each other, or left out in the sun, the heat from the materials can get trapped between each other resulting in a fire. 

The absence of sunlight would often not reduce the possibility of this occurring since oxidation will take place without it. 

Depending on the specific type of oil you used, the process of overheating may occur after a short period or take a few days. The temperature of the environment and how clumped together the rags/materials, are some factors that determine how long before overheating occurs. 

One option is to switch to water-based products to reduce the possibility of this hazard occurring. Alternatively, you can learn how to dispose of the oil based materials safely. 


How to properly dispose of rags used for staining

An easy way to dispose of staining rags safely is to have them covered in cool water in a metal container (old paint can) and hammer the lid shut. The water and air-tight container will prevent oxygen in the air from coming in contact with the chemicals in the rags and causing combustion. 

Submerge in Water:

  • Get an empty old metal container with a firm seal and place the rag carefully inside it. If you have an old metal paint container around, this should work perfectly as your wood stain rags disposal.
  • Pour some cold water into the container and ensure it reaches the brim so the rags are fully submerged. If the material the rags are made from makes it difficult to submerge in water, consider placing a  weighted object over the rags before filling with water. Place the lid over the container and ensure that it closes firmly.
  • Since this process is only a temporary storage option, the next step would be to take the metal can to an approved hazardous waste disposal facility. 

Leave out flat to Dry:

Another route to take to dispose staining rags safely is to dry them first before disposal. With this method, you need to ensure the materials are laid out in a spot with no sun or heat and are placed on something that is non-flammable and away from other hazardous materials 

  • Begin by spreading out the rags or hanging them separately in a well-ventilated area outdoors. The area should be free from the sun and placed on any non-combustible surface. (ceramic, cement, concrete, etc).
  • Depending on the material of the rag, you may have to leave it to dry out for a few days or more. Continue to check until the rag is completely dry and hard to the touch and has lost most of the odor. 
  • Never add staining rags to your compost.
  • Local hazardous waste disposal facilities often have guidelines for getting rid of hazardous waste once your materials are fully dry. Contact your local facility to follow their protocols for hazardous waste drop offs. 


Should I try to re-use my staining rags? 

You may be tempted to wash oily rags and reuse them to avoid contributing to waste. While this is a commendable intent, washing stained rags would do more harm than good. Avoid washing materials that are covered in Oil Based Products. 

Re-using rags would mean you have to wash them first, and this process releases the toxic chemicals into your laundry machine & water systems. Washed rags get really hard/stiff, making them very difficult or near impossible to re-use. 


The takeaway

It is important to know how to dispose of oil stain rags, brushes or materials safely as oil based products are highly flammable if not handled properly. Here are some important guidelines to remember to practice safe disposal of stain rags:

  • Do not pile rags OR materials on top of each other when they are wet with product
  • Do not throw your materials into a trash can until they have fully dried (could be up to 3 days) 
  • Drying rags indoors is a dangerous practice. Choose an airy area outdoors instead, away from the sun or anything flammable. 
  • In the event of the rags igniting and causing a fire, cover them with sand or dirt and uncover only when you are certain the fire is out. Indoor fires caused by stained rags overheating can be quenched using an extinguisher or calling the fire department.


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