Degreaser Management for Individuals

What are degreasers?

Degreasers are chemicals that are used to clean metal by washing dirt, grease and oil from auto engine parts. A degreaser can be either oil-based or water-based. Oil-based degreasers are usually toxic and flammable. Even small amounts entering surface or groundwater can result in serious pollution. Many oil-based degreasers readily evaporate and contribute to smog or ground level ozone. Water-based cleaners are generally safer for the user and the environment. They are less toxic than oil-based degreasers and small amounts can be broken down in sewage treatment facilities.

How can I tell degreasers apart?

The label on the degreaser containers is unlikely to state whether the cleaner is oil-based or water-based. If the list of the cleaner's ingredients include petroleum or mineral spirits, it is an oil-based degreaser. On the other hand, if water is the first ingredient listed, it is probably a water-based cleaner. If you still have doubts, ask the sales staff in your auto supply store to direct you to the water-based cleaners.

Hints for handling

  • Spent oil-based degreasers can be hazardous. Water-based degreasers can become hazardous depending on what they are used to clean. Spent degreasers of either type should never be disposed of in the trash or poured on the ground.
  • Never pour any type of degreaser down the drain because it could contaminate wells and kill the beneficial bacteria in the septic system or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never dump a degreaser in a storm sewer because it may discharge into streams, ponds, and rivers.
  • Never mix waste degreasing solution with any other degreasers or chemicals because you could be mixing a hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste, making the entire mixture hazardous. This will make disposal more difficult and more expensive.
  • If possible, place the waste in its original container.
  • Use a container made from the same material if the original is unavailable and clearly label the date and identity of the waste.
  • Wrap the container in newspaper or another absorbent material and place it in a cardboard box for transport to a household hazardous waste collection center or wait for a local household hazardous waste collection day


  • If you must use an oil-based degreaser, appropriate protective clothing should be worn. This includes gloves, goggles, and apron.
  • Be sure the work area is properly ventilated.
  • Always use drip trays to eliminate spills in your work area.
  • If you have a spill outside of a drip tray, recover as much of the liquid as possible into a container then use absorbents such as cat litter or rags to clean the rest.

Consider pollution prevention options

Preventing pollution must start before you use any degreaser by considering whether your engine needs to be cleaned. Does the cleanliness of the engine affect the performance of your car? If you determine that the engine does need to be cleaned, decide whether rags, brushes, soap and water can clean it effectively. If not, consider using a water-based degreaser instead of an oil-based degreaser. In some situations an oil-based degreaser may be necessary, but remember, if handled improperly, it can harm the environment.

How to use a degreaser

If you need to use an oil-based degreaser, first wipe the part or parts to be cleaned with a rag or wire bristle brush. This takes off excess grease and dirt, so when the degreaser is used, less is needed. To provide for safer disposal, degrease over a container. Always drain cleaned parts long enough so any excess solvent can be reserved in a drip tray. Reuse the degreaser until its cleaning ability is completely spent. Store the degreaser in an airtight container.

Content Last Updated August 2013