Whether you've just stained your deck or finished building a homemade bookcase, you may find yourself with leftover wood stain. If you do a lot of woodworking or DIY projects, you can just save it and reuse it next time. Otherwise, you'll need to learn how to dispose of wood stain in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.
Do not throw away stain-soaked rags in a trash can with the rest of your household solid waste, as wood stain creates heat as it cures and can lead to the spontaneous combustion of the rags.
Give Away the Leftovers
You may not need your wood stain any more, but someone else might. The best way to dispose of leftover stain is to use it, so try to find someone who can. Talk to a few handy neighbors and see if they need the stain for any upcoming home improvement projects. You can also call local charities and discount building suppliers. Habitat for Humanity, for example, operates ReStore centers that sell donated building supplies inexpensively. They may be willing to take your leftovers.
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Are there no takers? Post a curb alert on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and similar venues advertising your stain for free to anyone who is willing to come and pick it up. It's likely to disappear pretty quickly.
Dry Out Water-Based (Latex) Stain
Water-based stain — sometimes called latex wood stain — is non-flammable, meaning you can dispose of it in the trash can, provided it is completely dried first. However, in some areas such as California, it is not legal to dispose of any type of stain in the garbage. Check with your local waste authority for details specific to your area.
The best way to dry water-based wood stain is to fill the can of leftover stain with cat litter, which speeds the drying process. If there isn't room in the container for much kitty litter, pour the stain into a larger suitable container, then add the litter.
Leave the lid off the stain can and set it in a well-ventilated area to dry out. Once the stain has dried completely, you can discard the can in your household trash (if allowed in your area).
Alternatively, you can "paint" small amounts of leftover stain onto newspaper to air-dry the liquid quickly and then throw the dry newspaper away. You can also use a commercial paint hardener to do the job for you without much effort on your part.
Don't Throw Out Oil-Based Stain
Oil-based stain is highly flammable and is considered to be household hazardous waste in most areas. Therefore, most cities and waste authorities require homeowners to dispose of it at a hazardous waste facility. Because oil-based stain is flammable and releases pollutants as it dries, it cannot be dried out and disposed of in the trash, as can be done with water-based stain.
Contact your city or local waste authority to learn about safe disposal methods for oil-based stain.In many cases, it's best to leave the stain in its original container with the lid securely in place. Drop off the can at the local hazardous waste facility as directed.
Rags soaked with oil-based stain are another matter. If allowed by the local waste authority, you can dry the rags by laying them out in a single layer on a non-combustible surface, such as a concrete driveway or patio; you can also hang them in a single layer on a clothesline. Let the rags dry completely, then place them in an old metal container with a lid, such as an old coffee or paint can, and throw away the can.
Call Your Local Waste Management Company
Most cities and municipalities have hazardous waste facilities designed to help consumers safely dispose of dangerous household materials. Try calling your local hazardous waste disposal facility; they should be able to tell you how and where to dispose of used wood stain. They may ask you to read the label to determine exactly what is in the stain and how to best deal with it, so have the can handy when you make the call.
The waste management authority may also know if there's a local recycling facility that accepts wood stain. Drop-off at a recycling center is similar to that of a hazardous waste facility.