Solvent disposal

On this page you will find the answers to some frequently asked questions about how to dispose of solvents safely.

What are solvents?

Solvents are chemicals that dissolve other substances. They are used to thin paint, clean paint brushes, remove nail polish, clean machinery, remove grease stains and strip paint.

Why are solvents a hazard?

Household solvents contain the same chemicals as strictly regulated industrial solvents. Many solvents are poisonous when swallowed or absorbed through the skin and lungs and most are flammable.

When solvents are disposed of improperly - in the garbage, on the ground or down the drain - the hazardous chemicals may contaminate lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

Many chemicals found in landfills may contaminate the underground water table, and solvents are a primary concern.

Common household solvents

  • Paint thinners
    Ingredients: Toluene, xylene, mineral spirits, turpentine, petroleum distillates
  • Paint strippers
    Ingredients: Methylene chloride, acetone, trichloroethylene, toluene, xylene
  • Septic tank cleaners
    Ingredients: Methylene chloride, trichloroethylene
  • Degreasers  
    Ingredients: Trichloroethylene, mineral spirits, methylene chloride, carbon tetrachloride, stoddard solvents
  • Spot removers  
    Ingredients: Trichloroethylene, naptha, benzene, toluene, perchloroethylene
  • Nail polish removers  
    Ingredients: Acetone, ethyl acetate
  • Paint removers  
    Ingredients: Toluene, xylene, naptha
  • Rubbing, wood alcohol  
    Ingredients: Isopropanol, methanol
  • Gas-line deicers  
    Ingredients: Methanol, isopropanol

How can I dispose of unused solvents?

Use them up or store them for later use. Be sure to follow the safety instructions. If you cannot use your solvents, give them to someone who can.

Give leftover solvents to:

  • friends, relatives, neighbours
  • graphic art businesses
  • auto shops and spray painters
  • artists
  • furniture and antique refinishing shops
  • painting contractors.

Solvent safety precautions

When using solvents, you should take the following safety precautions:

  • Work in a well ventilated area away from children and pets.
  • Solvents are flammable: work away from sparks, heat and flames.
  • Never smoke while handling solvents.
  • Wear protective clothing if suggested by the product label.
  • Avoid breathing solvent fumes, especially aerosol fumes.

What can I do with solvent that is dirty with paint?

Solvents such as paint thinner that have been used to clean up painting supplies can be easily cleaned and reused. You should however follow the instructions below:

  • Follow the safety instructions listed on the container.
  • Pour the dirty solvent into a transparent container with a good seal and store it until the paint settles to the bottom. This may take several weeks to several months.
  • Carefully pour the clean solvent off the top. This solvent can be reused.
  • Allow the remaining paint sludge to dry completely and place it in a plastic bag in the red lid garbage bin.

What if I can't find a way to use leftover solvent?

Disposal methods for solvents depend on the type and quantity of solvent you have. Follow the disposal instructions listed on the  container for your specific solvent.

You can also take your unused solvents to the household chemical cleanout collection, which is held in the Eurobodalla on an annual basis.

Store the solvent in its original labelled container away from pets and children until this collection occurs.

How can I avoid future solvent disposal problems?

Be a careful consumer and store solvents carefully. You should:

  • make sure the solvent is needed for your project before you buy it. Some non-hazardous alternatives are available
  • buy only the amount you need
  • avoid purchasing solvents in aerosol containers
  • use up leftover solvents before you buy more
  • do not mix solvents together or with other products
  • store leftover solvents carefully in original containers for future use. If stored properly, solvents should stay in good condition for years
  • instead of saving leftover solvents, dispose of them as they are generated. Solvents are easier to dispose of in small quantities.

More information

If you have any questions about hazardous waste, please contact: