How To Dispose Of White Spirit


White spirit is most commonly used by households as part of do-it-yourself projects like decorating. By far the most common application is to clean paint brushes – it’s particularly useful when you’ve been using oil based paints.

White spirit can be disposed of with other solvents at your local tip. Never pour solvents down the sink or toilet as they contaminate the supply and could pose a risk to animals, people or the environment.

white spirit

As you can see in the image above, there are multiple safety symbols highlighting the hazards posed by white spirit – it’s not very pleasant stuff to deal with!

Typically, we buy white spirit (often also referred to as paint thinner or turps, short for turpentine) in clear plastic bottles, usually in either one or two litre sizes. That’s actually a huge amount of the product, and unless you’re a serial decorator or DIY fanatic, it’s likely to last you years if you’re careful and use no more than required.

White spirit is a very effective tool, especially for cleaning paint brushes. You actually need a surprisingly small amount to get the job done.

Did you know that when you’re using this solvent as a cleaning agent for paint brushes, you can often reuse it over and over rather than disposing of what you’ve used each time? Neither did we until a couple of years ago.

I saw this incredible demonstration by YouTube DIY specialist Charlie White on his channel:

The video is worth a watch to the end, as the demo of ‘cleaning’ the white spirit after cleaning brushes is mind blowing for those of use that had no idea it’s as simple as leaving the paint and thinner to separate.

While that’s not strictly speaking on topic for this page, preventing the need to dispose of the white spirit in the first place may well solve some people’s need to throw it out altogether!

Can You Flush White Spirit Down The Toilet?

White spirit is a chemical, to be precise it’s a petroleum hydrocarbon. It’s a substitute for turpentine, although many people erroneously thing they’re the same thing. From a disposal perspective, it doesn;t really matter. What’s important is that it is disposed of correctly and responsibly.

You cannot flush white spirit down the toilet because it’s a solvent and is insoluble (does not dissolve in water). Like petrol (it’s petroleum based), it can sit floating on the surface of water. Flushing it down the toilet is not allowed because it contaminates the waste water supply, causing environmental risk.

The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are pee, poops and paper, known as the three Ps. That means no tampons, cooking oils and fats, medication or even wallpaper paste should go down the loo.

Can White Spirit Go Down The Sink?

Just like the toilet, waste water drains away into the sewage system. Just because there’s a different sized pipe draining a sink and a toilet, it doesn’t make it acceptable for either to carry solvents away.

White spirit must not be washed away in the sink, as it contaminates the water and poses a risk to wildlife, the environment and even humans after it’s treated and returns to the fresh water supply.

Does White Spirit Damage Pipes?

It’s true to say that white spirit isn’t great for drainage pipework. In particular, solvents can erode rubber joints, making leaks for or between pipes more likely. With that said, the risk is relatively small – the main reason to avoid flushing or washing white spirit away is the hazard it creates in the water.

Can You Put White Spirit In The Bin?

While white spirit in the general waste is less likely to be environmentally harmful than it going down the sink or toilet, it’s not the best way to get rid of unwanted solvents.

Do not put white spirit in the normal bin at home. Return it to the original container carefully, and drop it off at the local tip in the relevant hazardous waste containers.

Can You Put White Spirit In The Washing Machine?

There are lots of old wives tales that people still believe to be true, one of which is using white spirit for stain removal or to stop a washing machine from smelling.

White spirit is not suitable for washing machine use because the waste water goes down the drain, and solvents like these must not go into the waste water system.

What’s more, evidence suggests that there are much better products available for stain removal in clothing and the same goes to neutralise smells and clear gunk build ups from washing machines. These are better options as they create less environmental risk in the water that drains away from the machine after use.

How Do I Know If My Tip Takes White Spirit And Other Chemical Waste?

Most councils have tips that accept chemical waste, because the alternative if that residents might use less responsible methods of disposal as detailed above, and even fly tipping.

While you will be likely to have a tip available in your local authority’s area that will accept and recycle solvents for you, that doesn’t mean every HWRC site will do. It’s best to check your local council’s website for details, as they’ll show which tip will accept your chemical waste.

Also check if a fee applies, most areas want to encourage residents to responsibly deal with their waste, so offer services like this for free.

What Should I Do If My Tip Won’t Accept Solvents?

In the few areas where solvents aren’t accepted, you can contact local chemical disposal companies for help. You can find waste disposal companies in directories like the Yellow Pages if you’ve still got a paper copy from the past, but better still look them up on the internet via Google.

Liam Gifford

I'm Liam. I spent twenty four years on the bins in South Yorkshire and now spend my time on recycling projects. I created this site to use my knowledge of how the rounds work, and what people need to know about getting their wheelie bins emptied every week.

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