Paint Rag Etiquette

After I finish cleaning the brushes, I may have some paint rags. Maybe they’ll have a dribble of paint or a brush-wipe of turp on them, maybe both.

What do you do with them?

Which materials do I need to be careful about catching fire?

Thanks for info?


are they red?
If they’re red, then fine you can just wash them, otherwise get some red paint and apply liberaly then wash and dry them.

Then get your canoe and stick it in back of your pickup truck and tie the red rags onto the end where it’s sticking out of the bed so other drivers don’t hit it. Then go fishing.

paint dries…
Paint on a rag will dry and be ok.

A pile of rags w/oil can be a problem/fire hazzard. Soak in a pail of water, or hang to dry. Don’t leave them bunched up in a pile.

Spread them out to dry.
Do not bunch or screw them up as there is a chance they could ignite due to spontaneous combustion.

I burn 'em

– Last Updated: Oct-03-08 7:32 AM EST –

I keep an old-fashioned heavy metal school wastebasket that I got at the dump in my garage for just this purpose. Yup, a little black smoke and toxic fumes result.

I also have a pair of light-weight, tallish "painter's horses" that I've installed those little wire "cup hooks" on the underside of that I sometimes hang the rags on to dry outdoors.

It's the oil-based products you have to worry about. The classic linseed oil/turpentine mix is infamous for starting fires.

tktoo wrote: “… wastebasket that I got at the dump in my garage …”

Glad to hear I’m not the ONLY one with a dump in my garage …


You caught me, it’s true. My wife keeps mentioning that someday she’d like to keep her car in there. She’s persistent, but she obviously doesn’t get it!

your mistake
apparently, you and the wife bought a house with a garage, and that was a mistake. You needed a garage with a house! That’s the only way to fit a car in the place where all the good stuff belongs.


Linseed Oil
That’s the stuff that is always catching fire, right? I knew there was a specific product that is particularly at risk of spontaneous combustion, but couldn’t remember what it was.

I usually just spread the rags to dry. Watco is what had me worried, as I had used a rag to apply some and was sitting at the computer wondering if I had spread out the rag or left it in a lump. House is still standing, so apparently I was okay.

I have never knowingly had any linseed oil in the shop, but maybe it is mixed in with other products, like Watco oil. What is the use of linseed oil?


Linseed oil/turpentine

– Last Updated: Oct-03-08 11:54 AM EST –

Has been used for well over a century as a cheap preservative/protectant for wood that's not painted, especially for porch floors and wooden rain gutters. Any drying oil is a risk. Lubricating oil, while flammable, will not spontaneously combust.

Watco warns against
possible spontaneous combustion. Apparently the drying is an exothermic reaction???

The advice about soaking the rags in water and allowing to dry is the method I use. Never leave an oil-soaked rag crumpled up in a trashcan, unless the can is one of the Factory Mutual-approved fire damping ones.


Spontaneous Combustion
Can’t help chiming in on oily rags and spontaneous combustion.

The rags serve as insulation, holding in the heat of reaction from oxygen reacting with the oil. As the temperature increases from the reaction, the rate of reaction increases, doubling approx every 18 degrees F per the Arrhenius equation/rule of thumb. The heat builds up, the reaction rate increases, and somewhere above 530 F the oils and cotton rags flame up when oxygen is available. Quite impressive in a lab setting. Deadly in oil soaked pipe insulation.

So, I spread my oily rags out to dry, no place for insulated heat to build up. Motor oils are not much problem compared to Tung oil and Linseed oil. Use care. Steve.


– Last Updated: Oct-04-08 10:51 AM EST –

I think I'm supposed to post the safe method of dealing with them, but that isn't what I actually do. Occasionally I will spread them out to dry. From reading the above posts, that seems to be a good thing to do. However, I usually just burn them the driveway or on the lawn. Call it a preemptive strike by someone who is never quite sure what to do.

So next time I get lost in the Arctic…
and the wind is blowing at 35, with drifting snow, and my matches are completely wet, I’ll just pull out a couple of my trusty oily rags, and sit and wait for for a few flames.

I always knew you boy scouts got taught the right way!

How is your training going these days ?



A silly reply
I know of fires started in rubbish bins in the first company I worked for because rags were screwed up & put in them.