Best Practices – Motor Oil

How to recycle motor oil

Choosing to properly recycle motor oils, filters and containers from your car benefits the environment, saves energy and protects water quality.

Choosing to properly recycle motor oils, filters and containers from your car;

  • benefits the environment
  • saves energy
  • protects water quality

Not only is it illegal to dump your used motor oil into a drain or on the ground— used oil from a single change can ruin a million gallons of fresh water—but it is also a huge waste. Motor oil never wears out, making it an ideal product for recycling. However, it does get dirty and needs to be filtered before being reused. It is important to take used oil to the appropriate facility so that it can be recycled in the most beneficial way.

Three simple steps

  1. Cover the area under your car with a plastic tarp to prevent spills or runoff – which could possibly contaminate the soil.
  2. Have a clean, plastic container with a tight lid ready when you change your car’s oil. It’s important to keep the old oil separate from any contaminants. Mixing oil with residue from paint, gasoline, solvents or antifreeze renders it useless for recycling.
  3. Take the container of old oil and the old filter to a recycling center that collects used oil and can handle it properly. Do not put the oil with your curbside recycling or in a recycling collection point. Many automotive service stations and quick lube locations will also take used oil. Remember to also recycle the container the oil came in originally.

Earth911 has a tool for finding nearby recycling centers that will accept used motor oil, oil filters and plastic motor oil containers. Click here to search for a facility near you.

What happens to used motor oil?

Used motor oil can be processed into fuel oils and used as raw materials for the petroleum industry. However, the most eco-friendly method is to “re-refine” it into new oil that can be used for the same lubrication purposes. After the contaminants from use in a vehicle are removed, re-refined oil can actually be better than its original form, making it an excellent recyclable material. One gallon of used motor oil can produce 2.5 quarts of re-refined motor oil of the same, if not better, quality as “virgin” motor oil. In contrast, it takes an entire barrel of crude oil to produce the same amount of virgin motor oil.

How can you conserve motor oil?

The theory that all cars need an oil change at 3,000 miles no longer holds true, thanks to advances in engine technology and improvements in oil formulae. Visit’s Check Your Number calculator to get the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval for your car. Reducing the use of a product is as important as recycling it, so make sure you aren’t changing your oil too often.

About the author

Jennifer Tuohy is a recycling aficionado who writes on eco-friendly subjects for The Home Depot. Her tips on recycling motor oil are designed to give car owners new options for disposing their used oil sustainably.