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Dirty Car Rags: How Do You Get Rid of Them?

Car Rag Disposal

Let’s face it, working on your car is a dirty business. Oil, coolant, grease, fuel and other automobile fluids all make for a messy affair. Then there are chemicals: intake cleaner, brake cleaner and fuel system treatments. By the time you complete a job and you’re ready for the road, you’ve accumulated a bunch of dirty car rags from the effort.

Cleaning up is important to be sure, but chemicals can be dangerous, so what do you do with those dirty car rags?

Dangers of Dirty Rags

Toxic, Flammable, DangerousAlmost all automotive chemicals are toxic in one way or another. Engine oil, transmission fluid, gear oils and power steering fluid can cause skin and eye irritation and are linked to skin cancer. Used engine oil is even worse, containing combustion by-products and compounds such as lead, zinc and even arsenic. Ethylene glycol coolant and glycol-based brake fluid are poisonous, but also sweet to the taste, which has sickened and killed wild animals and family pets.

Some chemicals like brake cleaner and intake cleaner dry quickly, but the rags used to clean up might not dry as fast. Considering you might use the same rags to clean up brake fluid and engine oil, what you end up with is a potentially flammable situation. As the chemicals evaporate from your dirty car rags, they can heat up, but if the rags are bunched up, there’s nowhere for the heat to escape — and the result could be spontaneous combustion.

Disposal Options

When it comes to disposing of those dirty rags, you have a few options. Do not dump rags in a heap on the floor — this could trap any heat generated by drying. Simply leaving dirty rags around also invites curious fingers and noses, so start by putting rags somewhere where they won’t be in the open, at least until you can figure out what to do with them. For temporary dirty car rag storage, consider a tool built for the job, such as a small oily rag waste can. The lid automatically closes to keep vapors and air flow to a minimum, reducing the risk of spontaneous combustion and accidental poisoning. Still, storage is just a temporary measure.

Once you have rags to get rid of, you need to dispose of them properly. Don’t simply throw them in the general trash. If the rags are only lightly soiled, you might be able to wash them in hot water and strong detergent. It’s best to have light-to-heavily-soiled rags washed by professionals or taken to your local hazardous waste disposal center.

Whether corrosive or flammable, rag disposal can present a problem. You don’t want a used rag to get in the hands of your child or, even worse, start a small fire. Learning how to dispose of these dirty rags should have a high priority in your DIY auto repair endeavors.

Check out all the tools & equipment available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on disposing of your dirty car rags and other options,, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.


Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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