How to Properly Dispose of Motor Oil

Disposing of used motor oil requires careful attention, but pays dividends for the environment. The bottom line: Recycling is the law.

Any DIYer worth their salt accumulates old oil. Cars, lawn mowers, recreational vehicles and hydraulic systems all produce dirty, used petroleum-based lubricants that must be carefully captured and transported to an approved collection facility.

Why You Must Recycle

Small quantities of motor oil can do quite a bit of damage to the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of water. The EPA also notes that used oil can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that may affect the health of people and wildlife.

Recycled oil actually goes through a re-refining process that makes it suitable for use in vehicles again. In fact, EPA lab testing shows recycled oil can outperform virgin oil in some situations. Reclaiming oil in this way not only keeps the spent oil out of the environment, but significantly reduces the need for new oil. Although it takes 42 gallons of crude oil to produce 2-1/2 quarts of refined virgin motor oil, re-refining creates that same amount of engine-ready product from only one gallon of used oil. Furthermore, re-refining uses far less energy to process.

How to Dispose of Oil

This is the proper process for disposing of old motor oil:

  • Put down a tarp or absorbent paper layer when changing oil to capture any spills.
  • Change the oil and filter in the vehicle, equipment or tool you are servicing.
  • Do your best to avoid contaminating the oil with any other liquids or substances.
  • Puncture the dome of the old oil filter and drain the excess oil from it into your oil pan.
  • Seal the filter in a plastic bag and recycle with the used oil; it will still contain several ounces of oil.
  • Prepare oil for transport using a sealable oil pan, or pour it into a polyethylene container that has not held other liquids. (Empty oil bottles from filling the engine work best.)
  • Transport the containers to a facility that collects used oil.

Where to Bring Used Oil

Counties and municipalities often operate hazardous-waste collection sites where you can bring your used oil for recycling. In addition, where local regulations permit, most auto-parts stores including Advance, Auto Zone, Napa and O’Reilly collect used oil. These collection sites are the only legal places to dispose of used motor oil.