How To Dispose Of Wood Stain

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Maybe you’ve chosen a stain that you don’t like, have stain that’s gone bad, or simply have leftovers from your most recent project. Whatever the reason, follow the tips in this article to safely and responsibly dispose of unwanted or unusable stain, stain containers, and even stain-soaked rags. 

Disposing of Wood Stain

There are several options for disposing of wood stain. Pouring it down the sink isn’t one of them, nor is tossing liquid stain in with your regular garbage for curbside pickup.

Instead, consider donating unwanted stain, turning the stain over to waste management facilities, letting the stain evaporate, using a paint hardener, or drying the stain out and disposing of it in the trash. Keep reading to learn more about each option and decide which one is best for your purposes. 

Newly opened can of gel stain

Mix With Another Stain

Instead of disposing of the wood stain, consider reusing it on a future project. It is possible to make your own color of stain, so you could mix it together.

If there is enough stain left to be useful and the stain has not gone bad, there may be people that can make use of your leftover wood stain. Your friends, neighbors, or members of local social media ‘buy nothing’ groups may be willing to take your extra stain off your hands. 

Organizations such as community theater groups may be able to use stain in construction of their sets and props. Another organization to consider is Habitat for Humanity. This charity accepts donations of surplus building materials, including unused paint and stain. 

Determine the Ingredients

The label of your stain can should list all the ingredients it contains. If you’re lucky, there may even be instructions on how to dispose of the stain.

Since the purpose of disposing of stain properly is to limit the effects it has on people, animals, and the environment, you need to know what kind of threat the substance poses in order to mitigate it. 

Contact Waste Management

Safely disposing of unwanted wood stain is critical to maintaining the health of our environment. Every municipality should have a department dedicated to safe and ecologically responsible disposal of unwanted materials. 

Discarding leftover wood stain is a common problem, so it is highly likely that your village, town, or city has protocols in place for disposing of unwanted stain. These protocols may be clearly listed on a website, or posted at the refuse and recycling center. In some locations, you may need to place a call to the waste management department for advice. 

Dry Out Oil-Based Stains

Oil-based stains only pose a threat when they are in liquid form. Once they are dry, they are safe to dispose of. Below are two methods you can use to safely dry out oil-based stains. 

Use Cat Litter for Small Amounts of Stain

Cat litter is hygroscopic, meaning it quickly and easily absorbs and holds liquids. Any kind of cat litter is acceptable, as long as it is not already saturated.

  1. Pour the cat litter directly into the stain can and mix it using a paint stirrer.
  2. Keep adding more cat litter until no liquid remains in the can.
  3. Then, spread the litter out to dry.
  4. Use cardboard as a base to make cleanup easier.
  5. When the litter is dry, simply sweep it into a trash bag and dispose of it as you would normal refuse
Different types of wood stain cans

Use Newspaper for Larger Amounts of Stain

For cans of stain that are more than half full, consider using newspaper as a cost-effective alternative to cat litter.

  1. Scrunch up sheets of newspaper and stuff them into the can.
  2. Keep adding newspaper and compressing what’s already in the can until all the liquid is absorbed.
  3. Then, dump the newspaper out and let it dry before disposing of it as normal. 

Evaporate or Harden Water-Based Stains

Water-based stains will dry out on their own in a few days, as long as air is circulating around them. If you don’t have the time to wait for that to happen naturally, a commercial hardener is a good alternative. 

Let Evaporation Do the Work for You

Water-based stains do not include a chemical or inorganic solvent. They dry as the water evaporates. Leaving the can open for a few days will allow the water to dissipate into the air, drying out the stain.

If you live somewhere where the cans can be recycled, dump the stain into a disposable, non-recyclable container. Then clean out the container and recycle it. 

Use a Commercial Paint Hardener

Environmentally friendly paint hardener is usually advertised for its ability to solidify latex and acrylic paints, but it works just as well with acrylic stains.

Read the label to understand how much stain the hardener can solidify – usually one packet or container of hardener is good for about two-thirds of a gallon of stain. Mix the hardener with the liquid stain and wait 15 or 20 minutes. This is a better solution than evaporation when you want to dispose of unwanted stain quickly. 

How to Dispose of Empty Stain Containers

If you chose to dry out stain and dispose of the stain-soaked material, you may be wondering what to do with the empty can. Or perhaps you’ve used all the stain, but it still coats the sides of the container.

  1. Remove the top of the stain container and set the stain outdoors to dry in the sunshine.
  2. Once dry, the stain is harmless, and can be disposed of normally. Your locality may have specific instructions about how to dispose of metal cans, or they may request that you place them with your normal trash.
  3. If you have trash collection, it is wise to leave the top off your stain container so that the refuse worker can tell the can is empty and dry. 
Man disposing used rags for staining wood

If you get any of the stain on your hands or arms, make sure to clean the stain off quickly.

Some municipalities designate specific days of the year when hazardous waste, including stain, can be disposed of. You may have to store the empty cans until this date rolls around. Mark the hazardous waste disposal day on your calendar so you don’t miss the opportunity to dispose of your empty stain containers. 

How to Dispose of Wood Stain Soaked Rags

After you’ve cleaned your brushes and paint trays and your stain project is complete, you’re left with the question of what to do with rags soaked with wood stain. Because oil-based stains often contain a solvent that releases heat as they dry, scrunching wet rags up and throwing them in a closed container is a combustion hazard. 

Once the liquid has dried, the danger of spontaneous combustion has passed. To dispose of wood stain soaked rags, simply hang them or lay them flat to dry. When they are completely dry, you can throw them in your normal trash. 

However, even after the stain is dry, they may continue to emit a stinky smell and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs reduce the indoor air quality and have the potential to cause both short and long term health effects. For this reason, it is recommended that you limit your exposure to VOCs by working in well-ventilated areas, outside if possible, and wearing a tightly-fitting respirator type mask. 

To avoid extended exposure to VOCs, dry your rags outdoors. Remove any trash bags containing dried rags from your home as soon as possible. Place them in a trash can, in the garage, or take them immediately to the dump. 


There are many options for getting rid of wood stain. The one you choose depends on whether the stain is oil or water based. Methods of disposal include drying the stain out with cat litter or newspaper, letting it evaporate, or using a commercial hardening substance.

You can also donate the stain to an individual or organization.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.