How to Dispose of Oily Paper Towels

Oily paper towels are an inevitable piece of trash produced when you’re working in the kitchen or even your garage.

No matter how careful you are, you’re going to need some paper towels to wipe up any excess oil, blot your food or even wipe off any small spills.

It can be quite dangerous to leave oily paper towels lying around, especially under the sun or in hot spots around your garage.

That is why you need to know how to dispose of oily paper towels correctly.

Below, we have compiled some easy steps to follow for oily paper towel disposal, along with some frequently asked questions to help you make your way through the process. Let’s have a look.

How to Dispose of Oily Paper Towels

Here are some easy-to-follow and safe ways to dispose of your oily paper towels.

Dry Them Out

Your best option when figuring out how to dispose of oily paper towels is drying them well.

You will need to give the oily paper towel enough time to cure fully. This allows the oxidation process to reach completion and prevents it from creating heat.

Step 1: Layout your oily paper towels in a thin, single layer in an outdoors area.

Be sure not to clump or pile them together as it will stop them from curing well. Your outdoor area should be away from direct sunlight and have ample ventilation.

Spread out your paper towels on a non-combustible surface like concrete. Avoid areas that could increase the chances of fire, like a recently oiled deck.

Useful Tip: If you have an old gas grill lying around your backyard, now is the time to get it out. The grill can serve as the perfect spot to dry out your oily paper towels safely.

It eliminates the chances of a fire outbreak while also keeping your property clean. You won’t need to sit and scrub at the drying spot to remove any oily residue.

Step 2: Let the paper towels dry completely.

This should take about 2 to 3 days but could be longer depending on how drenched they were in oil.

Step 3: Reach out to your trash pick-up service and ask them about the proper way to dispose of your dried-up paper towels.

You can also contact the local hazardous waste disposal center and arrange a pick-up or drop-off at their facility.

Use an Airtight Container

The easiest way to store and dispose of oily paper towels or rags is by soaking them in water and keeping it in a metal container with a tight lid.

Your paper towels will be stored safely in the metal container until you’ve collected enough to take to a waste disposal facility nearby.

Step 1: Find an empty metal container with a tight lid. You can repurpose old paint cans for this too. Place your oily paper towels in the container.

Step 2: Fill up the metal containers with enough water to fully submerge the rags in them.

Then, seal the container tightly by placing the lid over it.

You should make sure that the paper towels are fully submerged in water; otherwise, it can create a fire hazard. A useful tip is to use small stones or another piece of weight to keep the towels submerged.

Step 3: Take the metal container to your local waste disposal center and submit it there.

You can also arrange pick-up from your trash pick-up services, but you’ll need to check beforehand if they offer it.

Quite a few municipalities across the US also host hazardous waste disposal drop-off days, making the most of them.

Important Notice: You should remember never to drain oil or oily water down your kitchen drain!

Some Tips for Additional Safety

Since proper disposal of oily paper towels can take some time, this often leaves your property susceptible to fires due to spontaneous combustion. Here are some extra safety tips you should follow to eliminate any chances of danger to you and your family.

  • The drying process is long and can take a few days to dry out, so you’ll need to be patient and set aside 2-4 days at least.
  • If you’re setting out the oily paper towels to dry on the ground, make sure you place them on a non-combustible surface to prevent fire outbreaks.
  • Some states allow you to burn your oily paper towels once they have dried out. However, you will need to make sure whether your municipality permits it or not.
  • If you decide to create a container to store your oily paper towels, it is much safer to fill it up with water. It eliminates the chances of paper towels catching fire.
  • For these containers, try to opt for a metal one. If you’re unable to find any, an airtight plastic box or a Ziploc bag will work too.

Why You Shouldn’t Try to Recycle or Reuse Oily Paper Towels

With the increasing threat of climate change and global environmental problems, more and more people are trying to incorporate sustainability into their lifestyle.

This includes reducing the trash they produce by either reusing or recycling it.

When it comes to paper towels, people often add them to a compost pile so they can be naturally recycled.

It usually works great for cotton and most other natural fibres; however, your oily paper towels should never be composted.

Firstly, this is because they can’t be washed to remove the oil. This makes reusing impossible. After all, you can’t wipe surfaces or blot fried food using oily paper towels.

Secondly, these paper towels stiffen as they dry out due to the hardening of the resin. This, too, leaves the towels unable to be recycled.

Will Oily Paper Towels Combust?

Although it is extremely rare, oily paper towels do have the potential to combust if not disposed of properly.

In fact, the most common types of spontaneous combustions are ignited due to improper disposal of different oil-soaked substances!

This combustion occurs when the oil in the paper towel is slowly heated up to its ignition point through oxidation.

When it gets to the ignition temperature, the oil (being a flammable liquid) will combust and catch fire which can be incredibly dangerous for you and your family.

Is it Safe to Wash Oily Rags?

While paper towels can’t be washed, things are slightly different when it comes to your oil-soaked rags. It may not be recommended, but you can wash your oily rags using warm soapy water.

If the oil stains are particularly tough, you may need a degreaser to get rid of them properly.

Once washed, hang them outside to dry.

However, you will need to take extra care not to place them near any possible heat sources. These include furnaces, water heaters, and even a direct, harsh beam of sunlight.

Important note: Under no circumstance should oily rage be put in the dryer, even if they have been washed well.

Are Oily Rags Hazardous Waste?

The US EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) doesn’t consider oily rags or paper towels as hazardous waste.

However, these rags shouldn’t have any free-flowing oil or other hazardous contaminating solvents. These contaminants include acetone and methanol.

What Oils Can Spontaneously Combust?

Most carbon-based vegetable and animal oils can undergo spontaneous combustion, even after they’ve been in contact with paper towels. These include;

  • Cooking oil
  • Corn oil
  • Lard
  • Margarine
  • Linseed oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Soybean oil

How Do You Clean Oily Kitchen Towels?

To clean your oily kitchen towels, you will need to create a mixture of lukewarm water and vinegar in equal parts. Soak your kitchen towels in this mixture for 15 to 20 minutes.

Then, sprinkle almost a tablespoon of baking soda over the soaked kitchen towels.

Since both vinegar and baking soda are known for their degreasing properties, they will work together to clean your towels.

Moreover, they’re both excellent odor busters, so your towels won’t have any greasy smell lingering behind them.

If your kitchen towels are white, you can also add bleach while you’re soaking them in the vinegar mixture.

The Final Words

Proper disposal of flammable objects is essential to maintain safety for yourself and your family.

Even though these incidents are few and far between, there is always a chance that your oily paper towels catch fire. Should this happen, it poses a serious risk to everyone on the property.

These fires can spread quickly and result in extensive damage to your home, restaurant, or any other enterprise.

Learning how to dispose of oily paper towels will help you prevent needless waste build-up in your home. By drying them out in a safe space, you prepare them for proper disposal without any threat to the environment.

Additionally, keeping them in airtight, water-filled jars will ensure the right safety protocols are being followed to eliminate the chances of spontaneous combustion.

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