Disposing oily rags

Oil-based paints, stains and varnishes are often used for home improvement projects. It is common to use rags to wipe up spills or clean brushes. But wet rags can ignite on their own. They can start a fire if not handled carefully. The same is true of the liquids themselves.

How can rags start a fire?

The oils commonly used in oil-based paints and stains release heat as they dry. If the heat is not released in the air, it builds up. That is why a pile of oily rags can be dangerous. As the rags dry, the heat is trapped. The heat builds up and finally causes a fire. Be aware that this does not happen with water-based finishes.

How can liquids start a fire?

Vapours from flammable and combustible liquids can ignite, causing a fire. There are many commonly used flammable liquids. Gasoline, lacquers and nail polish are just a few examples. There are many commonly used combustible liquids. Paint thinner, kerosene, and oil-based paints and stains are some examples. 

Rags wet with paint and stain

  • Never leave cleaning rags in a pile. At the end of the day, take the rags outside to dry.
  • Hang the rags outside or spread them on the ground. Weigh them down. Do this so they do not blow away. Make sure they are not in a pile. Keep them away from buildings.
  • Put dried rags in a metal container. Make sure the cover is tight. Fill the container with a water and detergent solution. This will break down the oils. 
  • Keep containers of oily rags in a cool place. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Keep them away from other heat sources.
  • On waste collection day, put the container into your black waste cart for disposal or bring to the Enviroservice Station (a fee may apply). 

Liquids that can catch fire

  • Flammable and combustible liquids should not be used near an open flame. Do not smoke when working with these liquids.
  • If you spill liquids on your clothing, remove your clothing and place it outside to dry. Once dry, clothing can be laundered.
  • Keep liquids in their original containers. Keep them tightly capped or sealed. Never store the liquids in glass containers.
  • Bring liquids to the Enviroservice Station for proper disposal.

Gasoline

  • Use gasoline only as motor fuel. Never use it as a cleaner. Never use it to break down grease. Never bring gasoline indoors, even in small amounts. 
  • Store gasoline ONLY in a container that is sold for that purpose. Make sure the container is tightly capped when not in use. NEVER store gasoline containers in a basement or in the occupied space of a building. Keep them in an outbuilding, a detached garage or a shed outdoors.
Fire prevention and investigation
Phone: 780-449-9651
Email: Fireprevention@strathcona.ca

Last updated: Friday, October 25, 2019
Page ID: 50536