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Safe handling of oily towels?

Looking for advice on the best way to dispose of oily paper towels. I'm paranoid about spontaneous combustion. 

Let's say I use a handful of paper towels during a painting session. They have paint and oil in them.  How should I safely dispose of them - or am I being too paranoid?


  • You can use one of those metal fireproof containers. Fill it partially with water and put the towels in there. Better than burning your house down :)

    You can also just use a normal trash bin but dump or spray some water over the towels at the end of the session. I'm not sure if this is 100% effective.. seems like it might be though.
  • edited November 30
    At the end of every painting session I take my handful of used paper towels run them under water until soaked, and place these in a plastic bag and place them in the freezer until trash pick up day, every 2 weeks. Snow and ice in winter work in my favor as well.
  • A metal can with a metal lid and an inch or two of water in the bottom will work as well as one of those expensive "fire proof" cans. An old 2 quart cooking pot with a close fitting metal lid purchased at a garage sale works for me. I even used it to teach people how to use fire extinguishers with burning kerosene in it and showed them how the lid can safely put the fire out too. 
  • The metal cans can result in fires, the idea in a factory type environment is that the fire would be contained and the general environment, say a bunch of machine tools and concrete floors, not be affected by a fire inside a heavy metal container.  Since the containers have heavy lids, they should smother themselves even if a fire breaks out.  This approach would not entirely work in my space.

    If I am worried I put the towels outside, flat, not balled up, and weight them down.  They dry quickly.  But with paints designed to dry over a long period, that still leaves final disposal unresolved.  And paints can also stain outdoor surfaces, where my usual problem to date has been drying oils for woodwork.  And machine oils.

    In terms of best practices, I have inert gasses for welding in my shop, you can put those in a container and throw in what you will, and combustion will not occur.

    Occasionally I am headed out of town, and I need some way of dealing with the rags. I have been knows to place them in the trash at the local park.  Same final pick-up either way.  No question the risk of combustion is real, but I have yet in 40 years of rags had anything catch on fire.  So far no flaming bins at the park either.  Very important not to ball rags up.  Lay them flat.

    Some of the suggestions by others seem like better approaches.  I see demos where people say they are going through a roll of towels per plein air picture.  That seems like a lot of waste.  Sorta cutting down trees as fast as one is painting them.  Bryan Mark Taylor, for instance.
  • I would think about soaking the rags in a non-drying oil like cheap supermarket olive oil which would not dry out or oxidize.
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