How To Properly Dispose Of Used Motor Oil

One thing that prevents many would-be shade tree mechanics from changing oil at home is the problem of getting rid of the used motor oil. This isn’t as big of a problem as you might think.

Draining motor oil

So how do you properly dispose of used motor oil? Used motor oil can be properly disposed of in a couple of ways but most commonly and responsibly is to take your used oil to a recycling center. According to the “Used Oil Collection Act”, any retailer of automotive oil that is not a collection center must inform the public of the importance of proper collection and disposal of used DIYer oil and the toll-free number for used oil information.

What You Can’t Do With Used Motor Oil

As a responsible and law-abiding Shadetree Mechanic there are a few things you cannot do with your used motor oil. The “Used Oil Collection Act” refers to these in section 7 as “Prohibited Acts” that are actually classified as a misdemeanor and can come with stiff fines enforced by municipal, county, or state officials.

You cannot intentionally discharge used oil into sewers, drainage systems, septic tanks, surface waters, ground waters, water courses, or marine waters. You can’t dispose of used oil in any landfill. You also cannot utilize used oil for road oiling, dust control, weed abatement, or similar uses which have the potential to cause harm to the environment.

As a self-proclaimed “Green Freak” I would hope the things this Act prohibits wouldn’t be anything you would do anyway. We must do our part in taking care of the planet in every way we can through sustainable and even regenerative practices.

How Bad Is Oil For The Environment

The truth is it’s not as bad as you might think when disposed of and used properly but can be very harmful when handled poorly. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, used motor oil taken to a recycling center can be re-refined into new oil, processed into fuel oils, and used as raw materials for the petroleum industry.

Actually, recycled oil is better for the environment in a couple of different ways than refining the original crude oil. Motor oil is completely reusable because it doesn’t really wear out it just gets dirty, so cleaning or refining the oil contributes to preserving a valuable resource. Also, less energy is used to produce a gallon of re-refined base stock than a base stock from crude oil.

The reality is though that a lot of oil does get improperly disposed of and ends up contaminating waterways and can result in pollution of drinking water sources with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. So let’s do our part and get rid of it the right way.

Oil Pollution

Collecting Used Motor Oil

When collecting your used motor oil it is important to catch it in a way that results in a minimum amount of spillage. After all, what ends up in your driveway, garage floor, or even soaked in rags will probably not end up in a safe place.

Make sure the pan you are catching the oil in is large enough to hold all the oil that is being drained and a large enough diameter to make catching the fluctuating stream from the oil pan easy.

Another couple of features that are convenient to have on the catch pan is a pour spout and handles to make transferring the oil to a container easier and safer.

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Last update on 2024-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Options For Disposing Of Motor Oil


This is the most common option and the one most Shadetree mechanics will use. There are many places that take used motor oil. Retailers such as Autozone, O’Reillys, and Walmart are common recycling centers.

Find the Used Oil Recycling Center nearest you by going to Earth 911 and entering your zip code. I live in a small town in Indiana and found 5 recycling centers within 5 miles of my house and 10 more within 20 miles.

Oil Burning Furnace

According to oil-fired furnaces and boilers are viable options to use renewable fuels to heat your home and or garage workspace. These are efficient and clean furnaces like these waste oil heaters made by EnergyLogic.

These furnaces can be pretty expensive but if you have enough used oil it can result in significant savings in heating costs over the years.

Also, it’s good to know that it doesn’t have to be your oil burning furnace you are supplying oil for. The garage at my local County Highway Department uses an oil burning furnace and will come and pick up my 55-gallon barrel of used oil from me and bring me a new clean barrel to fill again. This saves me a lot of hassle and supplies them with free heat, Win/Win!

Lubricant For Other Things

This may be a stretch and even a little obvious but sometimes things just need to be lubricated with a little oil, like a bolt or a hinge or a garage door track. Well, you can use a little bit of your used motor oil for jobs like this. Just be careful not to overdo it and make a mess and potential environmental hazard.

Storing and Transporting Used Motor Oil

When it comes to storing your used motor oil until you decide to dispose of it there are a few things you need to consider to make sure you are handling things properly.

Clean Oil In A Clean Container

According to the EPA, the oil must not be mixed with anything that can contaminate it if it’s to be recycled. This means the oil will need to be collected and stored in a clean container while it’s in your possession.

Make Sure It’s Labeled

Garages can get a little messy and out of order when you are busy so it can be helpful to label the used motor oil containers to always know what’s in them. I will confess that more than once I found a container in my garage and wasn’t sure what I put in it until I had to pour a little out and check.

Secure Container

You will want to make sure the container you choose to put your used motor oil in is sealed tightly so it doesn’t spill in your garage or in transport to where you take it.

Able to Handle

If you are able to handle 55-gallon drums of used oil and transport them to a place that will receive them then it may be fine to use them for storage. However, most Shadetree mechanics won’t be able to easily do this, so it makes sense to put the oil in containers of 5 gallons or less to be able to handle them easily.

How To Properly Dispose of Used Oil Filters

Because oil filters will have oil in them no matter how well you drain them they should be carefully and properly disposed of as well. In most cases, the same places that take used motor oil will also take the oil filters. You can refer to the same link at Earth 911 to find the nearest recycling center to take your used oil filters.

Reduce Waste By Buying Oil In Bulk Amounts

Have you ever noticed how impossible it seems to get all the motor oil out of a quart or gallon container of oil? Also, the amount of plastic laying around when you get done with an oil change is kind of amazing. I think there is enough unnecessary waste in the world and if you have an opportunity to cut back on a little of it you should.

Buying oil in bulk amounts can reduce quite a bit of this waste but it only makes sense if you need that much oil. Generally, you can save a lot of money buying your oil in this way also.

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Last update on 2024-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you do go with buying oil in a 55-gallon drum you will need a pump to get the oil out in a safe and efficient manner. There are a few options when it comes to barrel oil pumps. You can go with a manual pump style or manual crank type. However, many mechanics prefer an electric or pneumatic pump to make the job easier and quicker.

Last update on 2024-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

I hope you found this article helpful and you now know how to properly dispose of your used motor oil. So what are you doing on the internet? Get in the garage and change some oil.