Knowing how to clean up a gas spill is essential if you’re ever doing work that involves an engine. Whether the machine you’re maintaining is a lawnmower, snowblower, chainsaw or car, there’s always the possibility that gas might spill while you’re doing repairs or maintenance. To help you handle this, here’s some guidance on how to clean up a gas spill and minimize damage to surfaces and people.
While your first impulse might be to wash away the gas, hitting that spill with the hose or water is a terrible idea for several reasons. First, gasoline and water don’t mix. If you try to wash away spilled gas from concrete, pavement or any hard surface, you’re only going to spread it out into a larger spill. Second, gas is hazardous, and you don’t want to wash it down the drain.
Depending on the amount of gas spilled, you may be tempted to get out a wet-dry vacuum. Do NOT do this! Gasoline vapors are highly flammable. Most vacuums pull air around (or even through) the electric motor. That’s a recipe for fire at the very least, and for an explosion at worst. Put away the power tools and move on the to the next step.
Make sure you wear safety goggles and gloves while you clean up the spill. Gas is tough on fabrics, so protect your clothes and shoes as much as possible or wear your grubbiest gear so nothing important gets ruined during the cleanup. If possible, open a window and air out the area around the spill to avoid a buildup of fumes.
Soak Up the Spill
Clay-based cat litter is fantastic for absorbing gas, and it can also help remove any lingering odor. Pour it over the spill in a layer at least a half inch thick, and let it soak up the gas. For larger spills, use more litter so you can soak up as much of the gas as possible.
Gas can’t just be thrown in the trash since it’s hazardous waste. Instead, you’ll have to check with your local authorities about how to dispose of it properly. Depending on where you live, there may be a hazardous waste collection facility, or they may have you take it to the fire department. Go with what your town recommends, and when you’re ready to dispose of the gas, scoop the litter into a garbage bag and put that bag into another bag to ensure that nothing leaks out.
For Spills on Fabric
Spills on fabric can be trickier because fabric is more easily damaged. You can still use the cat litter trick to absorb surface gas, but there might still be gasoline trapped between the fabric and the surface beneath, such as the metal interior of your trunk. You may need to pull up the fabric and expose the metal to see where all the gas traveled and make sure there’s nothing left.
Removing the Lingering Smell
Gas has a strong odor, and gas fumes are flammable. Be sure to open your windows and doors, and move the surface with the spill into the open air if you can to help get rid of the smell. Porous surfaces, especially fabrics and wood, will tend to retain the smell of gas longer. Try pouring some white vinegar on a cloth and dabbing the area of the spill to get rid of the smell more quickly.
Accidents happen, but you can make gas spills easier to manage with some basic prevention. Place protective tarps underneath your engine and any gas containers being transported in your vehicle. If a spill does occur, this should make it less likely to cause damage and easier to clean.
Check out all the cleaning products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about how to clean up a gas spill, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy Flickr.
Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.