Perhaps this is not bicycle specific since this could happen with any petroleum-based oil, but since the specific oil I spilled is chain oil I'm asking here.

I have a plastic box that I keep all of my bike-related stuff in (hex keys, extra reflectors, bearings, lubes, degreaser, etc...). I pulled it down the other day and my bottle of rock n' roll gold lube (presumably) had been leaking and spilled all throughout the box. I understand that I shouldn't be mindlessly washing this stuff down the drain, but I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to clean it.

Is it indeed bad to wash petroleum-based oils down the drain? Is it safe to wipe down the surfaces with a paper towel and dispose of that? What is the best way to go about cleaning this?

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    I wouldn't hesitate to wipe with a paper towel and then dispose of the towel in municipal waste. Mar 12, 2021 at 20:14
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    If you are worried about pouring it down the drain, think about what happens to it when you put it on your chain - the solvents evaporate and the residual eventually falls off on the trail. Environmental effect of using it as intended cannot be any better than disposing of it.
    – mattnz
    Mar 12, 2021 at 22:40
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    @mattnz I disagree -- dripping on the trail is MUCH better for the environment, since it gets weathered and slowly decomposed in place without being directly carried to local waterways. In the Seattle area, there has long been a mysterious issue of certain fish being killed when runoff from roads is washed directly into waterways (via gutters, drains and culverts). Finally, experiments revealed that the culprit is a component of auto tire rubber; however, if the runoff goes first through a dirt area with plants, the water coming out no longer hurts the fish when it reaches the waterway.
    – Armand
    Mar 12, 2021 at 23:56
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    +1 for keeping it in a plastic box (aka a Bund) you did exactly the right thing before the spill too.
    – Criggie
    Mar 13, 2021 at 2:27
  • @Armand - but what happened to the worms?
    – mattnz
    Mar 13, 2021 at 22:33

1 Answer 1


Getting the oil into either a container or solid material like paper towel or cloth will prevent it from spreading. It should then be treated as "household hazardous waste". It is toxic to many creatures (like us if swallowed!) and so it is actually illegal to put it down the drain in most places in the US at least. Bigger cities/counties in the US usually have household hazardous waste disposal centers/procedures for safely disposing things like paint, oil, solvents and other chemicals, batteries and so forth. They will have instructions on how to "package" it, label it, and where to bring it or set it out for pickup.

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    Also, many auto parts stores or local mechanics dispose of hazardous waste regularly, and they may accept hazardous wastes like oils for disposal. I think that best practice would be for the user to soak the oil up in rags, put them in a sealed bag or container, and then give them to your mechanic.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Mar 12, 2021 at 21:58
  • Yes, good point! My local auto parts store takes liquid motor oil and lead-acid batteries. Sadly with the proliferation of rules, they don't take anything else, but both the city and county have household hazardous waste collection drop off locations that take just about everything else.
    – Armand
    Mar 12, 2021 at 23:50

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