We get lots of questions each month and most are specific to certain makes of cars. One set of questions that keep coming up is a more general one, however. Everybody seems to have the same problem: how to get rid of nasty stuff like waste, oil, antifreeze and, above all, oily rags. While we can't give the "perfect" answer, here are some great methods.
Most people know that antifreeze is a poison and that its sweet taste attracts animals to lick any puddles of it that might be on the ground. Therefore, never leave any open containers of antifreeze around. Disposal of the fluid isn't generally a problem if your house drain is connected to a municipal wastewater treatment system. Nearly all of these systems can treat antifreeze out of the wastewater and therefore allow you to pour it down the toilet or sink drain.
Check with your local municipal facility for their recommendations and don't be surprised when they tell you to use the house drain. They will also tell you whether or not there is a local recycling program or whether local gas stations/shops will take it. Editor's Note: Since this article was published in 2002, it has been determined that the best way to get rid of antifreeze is to recycle it. Some gas stations will accept used antifreeze; it's best to call around to see what's available at your location.
What you DON'T want to do with antifreeze is:
Changing oil always leaves the challenge of what to do with the old goo. Obviously, the practice of dumping old oil onto the ground, into storm sewers or anywhere other than environmentally safe places is a no-no, so here are some proper ways to handle the stuff:
Dispose of ATF the same way as you would with oil. It is best to dispose of it separately from engine oil, as many recyclers tend to discard mixed materials. Remember, ATF changes require large amounts of oil, so be sure the container used for disposal can handle amounts up to 3 gallons.
Many cars used ATF as power steering fluid, although some manufacturers formulated their own blend. Disposal of power steering fluid is the same as ATF and can be mixed with discarded ATF.
Most transmissions and rear ends use 90-weight gear oil which is heavy oil mixed with high lubricity additives. It is best to dispose of gear oils separately but they can be mixed with engine oils if there is no alternative. Locations that accept other oils will accept gear oils. Used transmission fluid contains environmentally toxic heavy metals, including lead. The heavy metals in used fluid can cause severe nervous system damage to wildlife and other animals if disposed of improperly.
Brake fluid is a flammable liquid that contains glycols and solvents as well as heavy metals. Brake fluid should be disposed of in separate containers by local county/city hazardous waste handlers or professional household waste collection.
Windshield washer fluids can contain methanol, detergent and water and is therefore toxic. Used washer fluid should be disposed of at local hazardous waste collection stations and not mixed with other automotive fluids.
We all have them. Anybody who works on their cars will accumulate mountains of them in what appears to be a short period of time. Some people leave their oily rags in a corner of the garage, some throw them in a plastic bag and then into the trash and some try to clean them for use later.
None of these ideas is very good, not to mention safe. Piling oily rags in a corner or anywhere else, for that matter, is a bad thing to do. Your local fire department will tell you horror stories about spontaneous combustion fires that occur each year around the country. Putting oily rags into the trash is bad for the environment and can also set off fires in landfills. Washing out oily rags is seldom effective and puts oil into the wastewater system or worse, your septic tank. It also costs money.
Here's a better system. It's based on the fact that most municipal governments have hazardous waste programs in place that will take items like oily rags at certain times of the year or at certain locations. All you need to do is contact your city/county office and find out when/where to go, but what do you do with the rags until they can be disposed of?
Well, if you have one of those fire-resistant rag buckets that commercial shops use, you can put them there. However, most of us don't have one of those. Most of us do have an old drywall compound bucket or other large can with a lid, though, and we all have some water.
All you need to do is fill the container half way with water and pour in a cup or two of powdered or liquid laundry detergent. Mix it thoroughly with the water and then throw in any oily rag whenever it's ready for disposal. Keep the container covered at all times, and when you throw any rags in make sure they are pushed down into the water solution.
This system will not only prevent spontaneous combustion but will also limit greasy odors and, over time, break down the oil and grease through the action of the detergent.