How To Dispose of Antifreeze Safely

Updated: Feb. 10, 2023

Antifreeze is essential to maintaining a healthy engine, but disposing of it poses safety issues. Here's the right way to do it.

engine coolantFAMILY HANDYMAN

What Is Antifreeze?

Antifreeze, sometimes called coolant helps engines run at the proper temperature range. It comes in various fluorescent colors, usually bright green or orange. The color indicates its primary chemical and inhibitor ingredients. The different types should never be mixed, and it’s important to use the proper color for your vehicle.

While the specifics vary from one type to another, the primary ingredient in antifreeze is usually ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. Both are toxic, and ethylene glycol particularly so.

Antifreeze smells and tastes sweet, so it’s a serious hazard to children and pets. Even antifreeze labeled as “nontoxic” can be dangerous to smaller bodies. If ingested, antifreeze can cause cramps, convulsions, loss of consciousness and breathing failure. It’s not something you should let puddle on your garage floor or pour down the drain.

If you need to dispose of antifreeze, it isn’t complicated, and can be done free of charge in most areas.

hand holding phone searching where to dispose of antifreeze
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Locate an Appropriate Recycling or Disposal Facility

Before you change out your vehicle’s antifreeze, take a few minutes to research where to take it for recycling or disposal. Search “antifreeze recycling near me” and you’ll find nearby locations.

Be sure to check whether the location accepts used antifreeze, unused antifreeze or both. Used antifreeze has been diluted with water, so the recycling process is slightly different. If it’s coming from your vehicle, it will always be considered used.

draining coolant from a car
Family Handyman

Collect the Old Antifreeze

If you’re recycling unused antifreeze, transport it in its current container. For used antifreeze, you’ll need to drain it from your vehicle and place it in a secure container.

The toxic chemicals in antifreeze can be absorbed through your skin, so always wear gloves when handling it. Antifreeze fumes are rarely dangerous but can cause discomfort. Wear a mask if you’re prone to sinus or lung irritation.

Consult your vehicle’s manual on how to drain the antifreeze. Usually this involves opening the coolant drain plug. Collect the antifreeze in a wide-mouth jug or drain pan that’s large enough to ensure it won’t spill. If in doubt, go with a larger pan than you think you’ll need.

Once you’ve drained the antifreeze, reseal the plug and transfer the liquid to a sealable container.

Parked car in driveway with macro closeup of vehicle leaking fuel on cat litter to prevent damaging pavement and to absorb the gas
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Clean-Up Any Spills Immediately

Even the most careful, conscientious DIYer can sometimes spill some antifreeze. Left on its own, antifreeze will appear to evaporate. But the toxic chemicals remain, smeared across your garage floor or lawn. Over several days or weeks it will break down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it’s much better to take immediate action.

Put an absorbent material like kitty litter, sand or sweeping compound on the spill. All are better than rags or paper towels, which can become saturated quickly. Let the material soak up the antifreeze, then shovel it into a sealable container. Keep children and pets away from the spill area until it’s fully cleaned.

If antifreeze spilled on you, scrub it off. Any chemicals on your clothes will come out with a standard run through the laundry.

Car coolant carafes
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Deliver the Antifreeze to the Appropriate Location

Now that you have the antifreeze in a secure container, you can make the trip to the recycling center.

There’s no real trick to this step, but we do have one tip: Place the jug or container inside a plastic crate or bag in case you have a spill during transport. This is especially true if the antifreeze is inside your vehicle instead of the trunk or truck bed. You don’t want to get antifreeze on your upholstery, then have your kids or pets ride in the back seat.

(right) Republic Services event cordinator Mike Alderson and his crew sorted through hazardous household items brought in by county residents during a recycling event held on 5/31/14, at 44th Street in Minneapolis. Hennepin County and its partner cities
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Recycle if Possible

Antifreeze can be recycled and reused. If you have a choice, recycling is preferred to disposal.

Many recycling centers, service stations, auto parts stores and public landfills accept antifreeze. However, not all locations recycle it. Some take it to a secure disposal site. That’s not as environmentally friendly as recycling, but it’s far better than dumping it down the drain or onto your lawn.

Whether you’re recycling or turning it over for disposal, the drop-off is usually as simple as handing the container to the attendant.