How to Dispose of Aerosol Cans the Right Way

The best way to get rid of aerosol cans depends on whether the cans are empty or full.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
how to dispose of aerosol cans the right way


We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

Q: We just moved into a new home, and the previous owners left several old aerosol spray paint cans in the garage. I want to clean out the space, but I don’t think that I should just throw pressurized spray paint cans away. Could you please help me understand how to dispose of aerosol cans?

A: You’re right in questioning whether aerosol cans can simply be thrown away. Aerosol cans are pressurized and include a gaseous propellant, which allows them to spray. Moreover, some aerosol cans include hazardous materials. For these reasons, do not simply place them in a trash can. It is possible for the cans to explode. They could also leak the chemicals they hold, which could potentially cause a harmful reaction if mixed with other nearby chemicals. Continue reading to learn how to dispose of aerosol cans in a safe manner.

Understand your local laws and regulations for aerosol can disposal.

The disposal laws and regulations for aerosol canisters may vary based on where you live. Recently, however, some aerosol cans were added to the EPA’s Universal Waste Regulations. This classification does not apply to aerosol cans that are empty or those that do not contain hazardous waste. Aerosol cans that do meet the criteria for the Universal Waste Regulations must be disposed of following EPA regulations.

The amount of hazardous waste you produce each month will dictate the specific disposal regulations you should follow. While businesses may generate more waste, most individuals will likely fall under the Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs) category. In these instances, the aerosol cans and other hazardous waste material must be brought to an approved hazardous waste treatment or disposal facility.

how to dispose of aerosol cans - empty pesticide cans

Completely empty aerosol cans can be recycled.

You can only recycle aerosol cans if they are completely empty. Keep in mind that you are not able to reuse spray paint cans, so there is no advantage to holding on to these empty cans. However, before you toss empty spray paint cans in your recycling bin, it is important to verify that they are completely empty. To confirm that an aerosol can is indeed empty, shake the can. If you hear any liquid moving around or splashing, then the can is not empty.

If the can is not empty, you can spray out the rest of the contents, if they are not considered hazardous materials. Alternatively, an aerosol puncture station can safely puncture aerosol cans and release the pressure, allowing the empty can to be recycled. Never puncture an aerosol can to empty it at home; it can explode.

Aerosol cans containing hazardous waste must be treated as such.

Throwing hazardous waste in the trash is illegal for businesses. While household waste is technically excluded from hazardous waste regulations, it is still best to take precautions when disposing of aerosol cans that held or still hold a material considered to be hazardous waste. Just as you want to take care when disposing of propane tanks or fire extinguishers, the same is true with aerosol cans holding a hazardous substance.

The safest way to dispose of empty or partially full hazardous waste aerosol cans is to bring them to an approved collection site for hazardous waste. Reach out to your local government if you are unsure where your approved collection site is located. Your community may also hold hazardous waste collection events for spray-paint can disposal and other types of canned aerosol to help individuals properly dispose of these items.

how to dispose of aerosol cans - spray painting wood in garage

Take empty aerosol cans to a metal scrap yard for cash.

Another option for disposing of an empty compressed air can or other types of empty aerosol cans is to bring them to a scrap yard. If the cans you have are aluminum or steel, the scrap yard may purchase them from you. However, you are unlikely to get a significant amount of money for each can, so this is probably only a good idea if you have several cans for disposal. If you have other metal scraps that you’ve been looking to get rid of, you could bring them along with the aerosol cans for a more worthwhile trip.

Proper storage can extend the life of an aerosol can and its contents.

Storage conditions will impact the lifespan of spraying aerosol cans. Consult the suggestions below to help your non-food aerosol cans last longer.

  • Before storing aerosol cans, invert the can and press on the nozzle for a few seconds to clear out the nozzle and drip tube.
  • Always leave the lids on aerosol cans during storage. Doing so helps avoid accidentally damaging the nozzle of the can if it falls off a shelf.
  • The ideal temperature for storing aerosol cans is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Storing the cans in temperatures within this range will help ensure that sufficient propellant remains in the can.

RELATED: 15 Things Never to Leave in a Cold Car