Oil-Soaked Rags

This week’s question comes from Craig. He writes:

“I’m aware of the potential dangers that exist with oily rags used for staining and cleaning with mineral spirits so I’m always careful to dry them out completely before I dispose of them. My question is this: Can you ever reuse these rags for anything or do you always just use them once and throw them away? I’m doing 3 coats of danish oil on a 6 shelf bookcase and I’m going through rags like crazy it seems like such a waste to use them once and toss them. Any advice?”

Hey Craig. Once an oil-soaked rag is dry and hard, its pretty much useless. The dried finish prevents the rag from absorbing anything and you can’t really redissolve the dried finish. But here’s an idea for you: instead of throwing the rags away between projects, try putting them in a ziplock bag between uses. The reason the rags catch fire is because they oxidize and react with the oxygen in the air. So if you put some extra mineral spirits on the rag and place it in a sealed bag, then squeeze out all the air and seal it up, you should be able to reuse the rag numerous times. I always put mine on the concrete floor just in case (you cant be too safe).

Categories: Finishing, Safety


  1. Bob Wingard May 30, 2007

    I tend to use wipe-on fiinishes a lot, and what I normally do is this .. .. .. when concluding a finishing session, I grab the applicator rag in one fist, pull the rubber glove (you ARE wearing gloves, right?)off with the rag still in it .. then, put the rag/glove in your other hand and do likewise. Now, if you wish, you can simply put it in the freezer as is or in a secondary container. When you are ready to use it, just take it out, warm it up for a few minutes, and peel off the old gloves.

  2. Rick Corbitt May 31, 2007

    Many 2nd hand clothing stores will sell big bags of used T-shirts for next to nothing and the money goes to a good cause. I find most of these work pretty well for rags and you don’t feel so badly about using all you need…Rick

  3. Pops May 31, 2007

    Instead of rags I use blue shop towels, kind of like heavy duty paper towels. Be sure to let them dry before putting in garbage. Two weeks ago I didn’t let them dry and noticed smoke comming out of my garbage can. I learned my lesson.

  4. Kendall Taylor July 3, 2014


    Do you think a flammable storage cabinet is necessary or can I just store my linseed oil on a shelf in the house?


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