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How To: Dispose of Mineral Spirits Safely

dispose of mineral spirits

If you’re painting with oil-based paints occasionally like I am, you’ll need to know how to dispose of mineral spirits properly. Unlike latex and water-based paints which can be cleaned up with water, an oil-based paint needs a solvent like mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean your brushes, equipment, and any spills.

But mineral spirits can be expensive, and disposal is a cumbersome process. You can’t just pour them down the drain like dirty water. In this post, I’ll show you how to safely dispose of mineral spirits. As a bonus, I’ll also show you how I reuse mineral spirits over and over again to save both money and the planet.

Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner

These two are so similar it’s often hard to tell the difference, but paint thinner is essentially mineral spirits in a less refined form. Paint thinner costs a bit less because it requires less refinement, but that lack of refinement means you get more smelly VOCs than with mineral spirits.

Both mineral spirits and paint thinner are made from petroleum, but there are other solvents like turpentine which is another type of paint thinner made from the terpenes naturally extracted from pine trees.

The most refined versions of mineral spirits are labeled as “Odorless Mineral Spirits”, but in my experience they are definitely not odorless, simply less odor-full. If you choose to use turpentine or paint thinner make sure you have plenty of ventilation or work outdoors. Odorless mineral spirits anre a good choice if you are working indoors. Any of these solvents can be treated interchangeably of each other for the topics covered in this post.

Disposing of Mineral Spirits

To start you cannot pour mineral spirits down any drain. It can cause damage to drain line and wildlife and is not allowed in any storm drain or sewer drain. So where can it go? Used mineral spirits should be collected in safe container (I’ll describe the options in the next section) and then disposed of at your local hazardous waste collection points.

Most counties or cities have specific facilities (usually connected to a landfill) that will collect hazardous wastes like oil-based paint, motor oil, and mineral spirits. There’s usually a small fee related to how much you bring for drop off so be prepared to pay something.

Most collection points also have specific days that they allow drop off so it’s best to check your local waste collection websites or call so you don’t waste a trip to the landfill.

What Containers Can I Store Mineral Spirits In?

Can you just fill up a bunch of Solo cups and swing by the landfill? Ummm, no.

According to OSHA mineral spirits and other solvents only have a few safe options for storage. The safest option is to always store mineral spirits in the container it came in with the lid tightly attached. If that isn’t possible then storing mineral spirits in a metal or glass container (with a lid) will usually suffice.

Solvents like mineral spirits can dissolve some plastics so putting them into any plastic container is major faux pas. Yes, there are some specific types of plastics that are okay with solvents, but unless you are a chemist I suggest you stick with metal or glass containers.

Once the container is full you can seal it and bring it to the hazardous waste disposal facility in your area.

Can You Throw Away Rags With Mineral Spirits?

If you are using rags or paper towels to clean up mineral spirits these pose a fire danger if not handled properly. Solvents like mineral spirits have a very low flash point and the fumes from them are even more dangerous so keeping them away from ignition and heat sources is imperative.

These rags cannot be balled up and thrown in the trash. You have a couple options for disposing mineral spirits soaked rags.

  1. Lay they out flat to dry not in direct sunlight. Once they are completely dry they can be disposed of in the trash
  2. Place them in a sealed metal container filled with water and dispose of the container at the hazardous waste facility when full

Reusing Mineral Spirits

Did you know you reuse mineral spirits over and over again? You absolutely can! When I learned this trick my restoration company started saving hundreds of dollars every year on solvents and disposal fees. Here’s how you can do it:

Once you’re finished cleaning your brushes, pour the used mineral spirits into a metal paint can, always keeping the lid on tightly between uses. I keep doing this over the days or weeks until I’ve filled up the can full of dirty spirits. Then seal it up and forget about it for a week or so. You can start a second can in the meantime for the dirty spirits you use so you don’t disturb this first can.

It will take a week or two for the bucket to work its magic, but if you let it sit undisturbed for a while, all the paint solids will settle to the bottom and the fresh clean spirits will be left on top.

Once you open the bucket, you can pour off the clean spirits into a fresh bucket and leave the “slop” at the bottom. Voilà! You have almost an entire gallon of free mineral spirits! This batch of spirits will not be as clean and fresh as the ones that come out of a fresh can, but I use them for everything other than my final brush rinse which I use fresh spirits for.

The best thing is that you can use and reuse the same mineral spirits almost indefinitely. You’ll lose a little to evaporation and some that can’t be safely removed from the slop, but it saves you the time of carting it down to the hazardous waste dump and the money of buying new solvents.

Filtering Mineral Spirits

To speed up the process you can also pour your dirty mineral spirits through coffee filters to get to the clean stuff quicker. Here’s how I do it:

I like to layer 3 standard coffee filters together and put a rubber band around the top of the can to hold them in place. Then, slowly pour the dirty spirits into a can. Depending on how much paint residue is left in the spirits the spirits may drain slowly so be careful not to pour too quickly or you’ll have a mess to clean up.

Once the spirits have drained through you need to dispose of the coffee filters in a metal container with water and put a lid on it just like disposing of dirty rags above.

Now you know how to dispose of mineral spirits safely and how to reuse them to invite and beyond. No longer will you be relegated to only using water-based paints. Go and explore the variety of primers and paints that are now open to you.

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12 thoughts on “How To: Dispose of Mineral Spirits Safely

  1. in order to get the most pure and reliable product, I would suggest using distillation process similar to that is what she used to break crude oil into its various components, including but not limited to, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, xylene, toluene, propane and butane these are all petroleum components. rather than using fractional distillation as in the petroleum industry I would use batch distillation to purify the one compound. Similar to how moonshiners made alcohol. Now I’m not going to teach you how to do this order give you examples or answer questions on how to do it you need to research it yourself. I hope someone find my information helpful and benefits both themselves and environment. I am not responsible for any injuries caused by use or misuse of this information.

  2. After the mineral spirits are poured on, the new underlying tape and the new grip are slid on. After an hour of drying out, the new grip and club are ready to use.

  3. Ijust want to know how to use mineral spirit to clean my hardwood floors safely and how to clean up and dispose of the product.

  4. Use a bigger container maybe twice as big and half fill it with water. Make up a tube with a “U” bend over the top of the container to hang it so that it does not quite reach the water level. Now pour your used mineral spirits in. after a day or two the mineral spirits will be clear and you can siphon it off. All the crud sinks to the bottom. Most parts washers use their cleaners this way.

  5. Perhaps I’m using some really fine coffee filters, but I don’t find that coffee filters work well at all. It seems that the first few drops of mineral spirits go through during the pour, but, all of a sudden, without the filter’s being clogged, the mineral spirits simply stops dripping through. I’m a bit perplexed by this, as coffee, a much thicker substance, goes through with relative ease, at least during the regular coffee-making process. My only counterargument to this is that hot coffee widens the filter pores, allowing for easier passage. Maybe I should heat up the mineral spirits on the stove! (Just kidding, of course.)

    1. Coffee isn’t “thicker” what you mean is vicious. Its also not any more viscious than water, which is only ~28 SSU’s at room temperature versus ~31 SSUs for mineral spirits.

      Also, liquids at higher temperatures become less viscous and water being extremely less viscous near boiling.

      Coffee is just some flavorings diluted in water and nowhere near enough to change the viscosity by any significant amount.

  6. your process is ok unless you are cleaning greasy parts & tools. Then the spirits have dissolved the petroleum greases and is now similar to diesel and can not be reused as effectively.

  7. Solvent is much cheaper bought in bulk. If you don’t mind the smell, kerosene or diesel fuel does an acceptable job.

    I like to use a glass jug for storing used solvent. Put lots of tape on most of it, but leave a ‘viewing window’ so you can see if it has settled yet.

    Affix a permanent funnel to it. Use a funnel that matches a lid from a yogurt or butter tub. Drill the cap to fit the funnel snout.

    Prepare a siphon tube. This should slide through the funnel, and the part in the jar should be made of something stiff. Soft copper pipe works well, if you have a scrap. Use 3 feet of flexible pipe on the other end.

    This way the end of the rigid pipe can be kept an inch above the bottom.

    Another way to do this is to take a flexible tube, and put a cage of wire around he end so the end can’t reach the bottom of the jar. You may have to take the funnel cap off to use this.

  8. Do your pour-off through a funnel with either a coffee filter or a folded paper towel to catch any paint particles that may flow along. I have been using this technique for years.

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