How to Recycle or Dispose of Motor Oil

Car mechanic refilling engine oil
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Before you dispose of oil -- from your car's oil change, a boat motor, a motorcycle, or even a chainsaw -- remember that it can be recycled and refined over and over again, and it maintains its quality. A survey commissioned by Valvoline revealed that one-third of Americans don't even realize that used motor oil can be recycled. Among those that do know, a surprising two-thirds of them agree that filing their income tax is easier than recycling used motor oil.

Motor Oil Recycling

Used motor oil recycling is the law in most cities and states. Though the federal government doesn't regulate used motor oil as a hazardous waste, some states do because of the environmental risks and health hazards that oil presents.

In the Valvoline survey noted above, half of Americans thought used motor oil from one oil change would pollute just 100 gallons of fresh water -- in fact, that much oil would pollute one million gallons of fresh water. Once oil gets into a drinking water supply, it's very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to remove.

Major companies also encourage oil recycling, if only because it's better for their bottom line: while it takes about 42 gallons of crude oil to produce 2.5 quarts of motor oil, it takes just one gallon of used motor oil to be refined into the same amount of "new" motor oil. Again, these recycled motor oils - like Valvoline's NextGen or Safety-Kleen's EcoPower oils - meet or exceed industry standards for long-term lubrication.

How to Safely Dispose of Oil

If you're a DIY mechanic, you probably already know how to maintain your car, including changing the oil. Store your used motor oil in a clean, leak-proof container like a plastic milk jug or an empty oil bottle. Make sure the cap is tightly sealed on the container, and store it in a cool, dry place away from heat, sunlight, kids, and pets. Many auto parts stores also sell drip pans that double as used oil receptacles.

Used motor oil can't be recycled if it's mixed with other liquids like antifreeze or brake fluid, so keep other liquids out of your used motor oil.

Oil filters can be recycled, too, and most states won't allow you to toss an undrained oil filter in the trash. If you have a used oil filter, use a screwdriver or other tool to puncture a hole in the dome end of the filter, ideally while it's still warm. Allow the oil filter to drain into the used oil container for several hours.

Where to Dispose of Oil and Oil Filters

Now that you've got your used motor oil and your oil filter, where do you take it? Fortunately, many auto parts stores and some service stations will accept used motor oil and oil filters for recycling. Call ahead to find out what your local shop will accept.

If you're stuck, try the to find a service station or recycling center near you. Note that not all places that accept used motor oil will also accept used oil filters, so call ahead and make sure of who accepts what.