Expert tips for the proper way to recycle compressed air cans

Do you have old cans of spray paint, hair spray, or other aerosol products taking up space in your home? While your first instinct might be to toss them right in your trash, the safest way to throw them out depends on whether or not they’re empty. No matter what type of product you’re trying to get rid of, we’ll help you find the right way to dispose of them. Keep reading, and we’ll cover where to recycle or trash any aerosol can when you’re finished using it.

Things You Should Know

  • Put empty non-hazardous aerosol cans, like cooking oil or sunscreen, in your recycling bin or trash can at home if your city or county laws allow it.
  • Check if a scrap yard will take empty aerosol cans if you want to sell them for cash.
  • Take empty cans labeled “hazardous waste,” like spray paint, solvents, and pesticide, and all partially-full cans to a hazardous waste disposal site in your area.
Method 1
Method 1 of 2:

Empty Aerosol Cans

  1. Before you toss out your aerosol can, point the nozzle into a trash bag or cardboard box and press it down. If nothing comes out of the nozzle and it doesn’t appear to be clogged, then can is considered empty and can be disposed of safely.[1]
    • If you're unsure if the nozzle is clogged, try shaking the aerosol can. If you feel any liquid moving around inside the aerosol can, then it’s still partially full and should be disposed of differently.[2]
  2. Recycle or trash the cans if local disposal laws allow it. Look up your city or county with the term “aerosol can disposal” online, or call your area’s waste management facility to find out the regulations. If your area allows recycling for empty aerosol cans, just toss the cans in your bin so they’re picked up with the rest of your recyclables. If they don’t list aerosol cans as recyclable, just throw the empties in with your regular trash.[3]
    • Every city or municipality has different policies on getting rid of aerosol cans.
    • If you do not have single-stream recycling in your area, sort your aerosol cans in with other metal objects, like food and soda cans.
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  3. Some aerosol cans, such as pesticides, solvents, spray paints, and propane canisters, contain hazardous materials that are unsafe for normal trash and recycling collection. Check the aerosol can for hazardous waste warning labels and follow the disposal directions listed on the packaging.[4]
    • Look up the nearest hazardous waste disposal site in your city or county to throw away dangerous substances. Then, just drop the aerosols off there to ensure the residual chemicals are handled properly.
    • Some cities or counties host hazardous waste disposal events a few times a year where you’re able to safely dispose of aerosol cans. Check your city government’s website to see if any events are happening in the near future.
    • If you are unsure whether a specific type of aerosol can is considered hazardous waste, call your town's recycling center and let them know the contents of the can. They’ll tell give you the proper disposal instructions.
  4. Try selling empty aerosol cans to a scrap yard. Since many aerosol cans are made of steel or aluminum, scrap yards may accept them and pay you. Check online for local scrap yards in your area, and contact them directly to see if they’ll take empty aerosol cans. If the scrap company accepts the cans, drop them off whenever it’s convenient to get a little extra spending cash.[5]
    • Selling 1–2 aerosols at a time may only be worth a few cents, but they can start to add up if you have a large collection of empty cans.
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Method 2
Method 2 of 2:

Full or Partially-Full Aerosol Cans

  1. Search for the name of your city or country along with the phrase “hazardous waste collection” to locate the nearest disposal facility to you. Alternatively, check your town’s waste collection site to see if there are any hazardous waste disposal events happening. Take all of your aerosol cans to the safe collection site so the contents inside are properly managed.[6]
    • You may have to pay a small fee for each can you’re throwing away. Contact the hazardous waste disposal site ahead of time to learn more about their policy.
  2. If you’re trying to dispose of spray paint that still has some contents inside, reach out to local artists to see if they want them. Ask your friends and family members if they have any use for other specific aerosol products so they don’t go to waste at a disposal site. You could even check with local businesses to see if they need any of the products.[7]
    • Post your leftover aerosols for free in a social media marketplace or neighborhood group page to see if anyone in the area could use them.
  3. The contents inside aerosol cans are usually good for a few years, so save them if you’re not in a hurry to get rid of them.[8] Continue using the aerosol products until nothing comes out of the sprayer so you’re able to toss the can into your recycling bin or trash can.[9]
    • Avoid trying to puncture the can to empty the contents inside. Since aerosol cans are pressurized, even a small puncture could cause the can to explode and cause serious injuries.[10]
    • Only empty an aerosol can for its intended purpose. Spraying the contents of the can into the air could let out hazardous materials into the environment.
  4. While it may not seem like a big deal to throw away a partially-full can of hairspray or cleaning product in the garbage, they can actually be very dangerous. Since aerosol cans are pressurized, they could explode if they are exposed to high heat or punctures during trash collection. This could even happen in the garbage truck, which could cause injuries.[11]
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Expert Q&A

  • Question
    Where can I dispose of an aerosol can?
    James Guth
    James Guth
    Painting Specialist
    James Guth is the co-owner and founder of Chesapeake Painting Services LLC. With over 20 years of experience, James specializes in exterior and interior painting, drywall, powerwashing, wallpaper, staining, sealing, and carpentry. James holds a BS in Economics and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from Towson University
    James Guth
    Painting Specialist
    Expert Answer
    It depends on what was in the can. If it's non-hazardous and you've completely emptied the can, you may be able to discard it with your regular trash. If it was a hazardous material or oil, you may need to wait for hazardous waste pick up. I would check with your local waste management department for more specific guidelines.
  • Question
    I have a can of expired olive oil spray. It's not empty, it can't be used, and it's not hazardous. How do I dispose?
    Mark Spelman
    Mark Spelman
    Construction Professional
    Mark Spelman is a General Contractor based in Austin, Texas. With over 30 years of construction experience, Mark specializes in constructing interiors, project management, and project estimation. He has been a construction professional since 1987.
    Mark Spelman
    Construction Professional
    Expert Answer
    Olive oil is ok to pour outside. Since it is not hazardous, you can then dispose of the can.
  • Question
    Is "dangerous for the environment" the same as "hazardous"? Can an empty can be disposed of as waste?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    The "dangerous for the environment" refers to the compressed gas that is used in aerosol cans to help propel the contents. "Hazardous" covers a lot of things. But it's just used to inform you that it's a dangerous product if used wrong. Meaning, if there are still any contents in the can and it's compressed/flattened or burned it can explode and cause harm to anyone or anything nearby. Seeing as it's an empty can, I think it can be disposed of as regular waste.
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Warnings

  • Avoid tampering with or altering the aerosol can before you throw it away. Leave the nozzle attached and avoid puncturing it since you could cause the pressure to escape and cause injuries.[12]
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About This Article

James Guth
Co-authored by:
Painting Specialist
This article was co-authored by James Guth and by wikiHow staff writer, Hunter Rising. James Guth is the co-owner and founder of Chesapeake Painting Services LLC. With over 20 years of experience, James specializes in exterior and interior painting, drywall, powerwashing, wallpaper, staining, sealing, and carpentry. James holds a BS in Economics and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from Towson University This article has been viewed 318,547 times.
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Co-authors: 14
Updated: December 6, 2023
Views: 318,547
Article SummaryX

Before you throw away an aerosol can, make sure it's empty by shaking it and listening for liquid or attempting to spray it. Once you’re sure the can is empty, check the can for disposal instructions, such as taking it to a hazardous waste disposal center. If the can doesn’t contain hazardous materials and is recyclable, you can place it with your other recycling products. Alternatively, if the aerosol can is not empty, try to use or donate the remainder of the product. Otherwise, find a hazardous waste collection site, where your can will be properly and safely disposed of. To learn how to get paid for your empty aerosol cans, keep reading!

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