Gasoline is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives that it’s easy to forget how hazardous of a compound it can be. Introducing gasoline into the environment can have serious consequences on wildlife. It can affect public health, too, if that gasoline ends up in drains and sewer systems. Knowing how to dispose of old gasoline safely is important.
Old gasoline is rarely a problem in cars and other vehicles, which go through gasoline at a fast enough rate it doesn’t have a chance to go stale before it’s used. You may encounter old gasoline in a car that’s been sitting idle for a few months or more, but if your car is driven regularly it’s not something you should have a problem with.
It’s more common to encounter stale gas in seasonal equipment, like lawnmowers or gas-powered heaters. If you forget to drain the tank before you put it into storage, odds are you’ll have stale gas to dispose of the next time you pull it out.
If you’re wondering what to do with old gas, we have some answers for you. We’ll walk you through what establishments offer gas disposal or recycling services, as well as ways to recondition and reuse gasoline that seems to be beyond its useful life.
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How to tell if gasoline is old
Oxidized fuel—or “stale gas”, as it’s more commonly known—is fairly easy to identify. The smell will usually be your first sign something is wrong. Old gas has a sour smell, almost like rotting fruit or stale alcohol. If you smell anything other than the normal gasoline odor when you put your nose near the gas can, you should dispose of the fuel.
Old gas will also have a different appearance. When gas is viable, it’s clear and flows easily out of the container. Old gas will be cloudy or dark in color and may have clumps floating in it. Get some fresh gas and have it on hand to do a side-by-side comparison if you’re not sure you’ll be able to spot the color change on its own.
If the gas is already inside a lawnmower or other tool, it might be difficult to do the sight and smell test. In that case, your first sign that the gasoline is old will likely be issued with the performance of the tool. You may have difficulty starting your engine, or find that it won’t start at all. The engine may also make a thumping sound as it tries unsuccessfully to turn over.
How to Dispose of Old Gasoline: Step by Step Guide
Different municipalities often have different rules when it comes to the disposal of harmful compounds like gasoline. Before you start, check with your local government to see if they have any specific regulations regarding how to dispose of old gas.
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Aside from regional variations, you can usually follow the steps below to dispose of your old gasoline:
Pour the gasoline into a clear container to check it before you dispose of it. If the gasoline was left outside it may simply have been watered down. You don’t need to know how to dispose of gasoline with water in it because they’ll separate easily, with the gas rising to the top. Let it settle, then carefully pour the gasoline into another container. Pour the water that’s leftover through a rag. This will catch the last traces of gas, making the remaining water safe to pour down the drain. Put the salvaged gasoline back into the engine. You may find it works just fine. If not, continue with step 2.
If the gas is dirty or unusable, empty it into a disposable, gasoline-approved jug for transportation. You can use a funnel to make the pouring easier. Many disposal centers require you to leave the gas can along with the gas, so a cheaper disposable model is often a good way to go.
Determine where you can take the gas to safely recycle or dispose of it. You’ll usually have a few different options:
Recycling centers: Some municipalities offer gasoline recycling through their recycling centers. When this is the case, it’s normally restricted to a few centers, or to a certain day or time of year. Check with your local government for specifics.
Hazardous waste centers: These are also government institutions. The main difference between these and recycling centers is that waste disposal centers don’t repurpose or recycle gasoline. Again, you want to be sure to call ahead, as some centers will only take gas at certain times, while others have a maximum amount they can accept in any given period. You may also need to pay for the disposal service, so be aware of that before you go.
Paid disposal service: In some areas, you can find services that will come and pick up old gasoline right from your home. The fees for these services tend to be pretty steep, so it’s probably not worth it unless you have a lot of old gasoline you need to get rid of.
Community collection events: Some cities hold regular recycling events, designed to encourage citizens to recycle. Check your local community events calendar to see if this is an option in your area, and when the next event will occur.
Local fire department: Some fire departments will dispose of old gasoline. If not, they’ll likely be able to tell you the best option for your region.
Auto garage: Mechanics already have a lot of hazardous fluids to dispose of, like the old oil, transmission fluid, and other fluids they drain out of cars they service. Many shops will happily add your old gas to their waste for free. As with other services, call first to make sure this is something the shop offers before you show up with a gas can in hand.
If you’re not able to take the gas for recycling or disposal right away, secure the lid on the container and store it in a cool, dim place. Make sure it’s out of the reach of any kids or animals in the home—old gas doesn’t burn as readily, but it’s still not safe to drink. As long as the lid is secure, you can safely keep old gasoline in storage indefinitely, so there’s no rush if you can’t get to the disposal right away.
As you can see, it’s a pretty simple process. It all comes down to knowing your options and doing your homework to find out where you can take your old gas (and when). With a little digging, you should be able to find a way to dispose of it for free, even if your city doesn’t offer gasoline recycling.
Just as important as knowing how to dispose of gas correctly is knowing what not to do. We use gas so often that it’s easy to think of it as harmless, but it’s not something that you should handle lightly, even after it’s lost its combustibility to age. There are a few things you shouldn’t do when you have old gasoline:
- Don’t throw old gas in the trash. Not only is this illegal, but it is also a potential hazard. Under the right conditions, even old gasoline can start or contribute to a fire.
- Don’t pour old gasoline down the drain. Harmful chemicals like gasoline become a public health hazard when they enter the water system. This is aside from the damage they can do to the animals and plants around sewage drains. One gallon of gas can pollute as much as 750,000 gallons of water, so don’t delude yourself into thinking a little bit won’t do any harm.
- Don’t store gas cans outdoors. Gas cans are durable, but the plastic models can be punctured and metal cans are susceptible to rust. Leaving old gas outside makes it more likely the cans will leak and seep into the environment. If you don’t have a garage or basement, keep the gasoline in a closet or cabinet away from food. You can wrap it in a plastic bag if you’re worried about odors or leaks.
The penalty for illegally disposing of gas can be steep, and can even include jail time as well as costly fines. Even if you don’t get caught, the toll on the environment can be steep. Disposing of old gasoline safely is worth the small amount of extra effort it entails.
How to dispose of an old gas oil mix
If the oil is the only contaminant in the gas, you may still be able to use it in a small engine. Mix it in with fresh gas in a ratio of 1 to 4 and it should power your engine just fine.
If the gas in the mix is too old to re-use, you can dispose of it the same way you would old gas. The only difference is you may have to dispose of it rather than recycle it. Call your local recycling center to ask if they’ll recycle the mix. If not, any auto mechanic that takes old gas will also dispose of old gas mixed with oil.
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How to Dispose of Old Gasoline, FAQ’s
Q: Can old gasoline be used?
Ans: In some cases, yes. You’ll need to check on how badly degraded it is first. Put a cone-shaped coffee filter into a funnel, then carefully pour the gasoline through it into a clear glass container, like a mason jar. Make sure it’s something you don’t plan to use for food products.
After you’ve filtered the gasoline, let it settle for a couple of minutes then inspect it. If it’s still cloudy or has a sour, rancid odor, it’s beyond useful life and should be disposed of. Otherwise, you can mix this reconditioned gas in with fresh gas, in a ratio of 1 part old to 4 parts fresh. The resulting tank might not work as efficiently, but it will power a lawnmower or a similar piece of equipment.
Q: Does AutoZone take old gas?
Ans: For gasoline disposal, AutoZone is not an option. Auto shops that offer oil changes are more likely to provide the service.
Q: Can you dump old gas on the ground?
Ans: No, you shouldn’t dump gasoline anywhere. In years past, people would dump old gasoline on the ground as a cheap alternative to weed killers. This should give you some indication of the impact gasoline has on the environment. Once it rains, that gasoline is picked up and washed into the water supply, too, so it has further-reaching consequences than the patch of ground you pour it on.
Q: How long does it take gas to go bad?
Ans: If properly stored in a metal tank or tightly sealed plastic container, gasoline lasts up to 6 months on average. Oxidation is the main reason gas degrades since the volatile compounds will evaporate with time. The more you can do to prevent exposure to the air, the longer your gas will last.
Q: Do gas stations dispose of old gas?
Ans: It is not common for gas stations to recycle gas, especially the convenience-oriented chains. Gas stations go through their gasoline quickly enough that they rarely have the need for disposal services. Small local gas stations that also include service and repair shops may offer gas disposal services through that side of their business.
Q: Can I burn old gas?
Ans: Yes, old gasoline will still burn, just not at the level of efficiency required to run an engine. Burning off old gasoline is not a recommended method of disposal, however, as it’s very difficult to do safely in a home environment.
Disposing of gasoline through proper channels is a safe and responsible choice. While it does take a bit more effort to find a disposal service than it does to dump the old gas on the ground, it’s a small price to pay to protect mother earth—and you’ll spare yourself the potential legal ramifications.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the best way to dispose of old gasoline. There are a lot more options out there than you probably realized. No matter where you live or how much old gas you have, someone near you will be willing to take it off your hands.