How to Recycle Brake Fluid

As with other hazardous materials, green recycling methods must be used to dispose of brake fluid responsibly.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

How to Recycle Brake Fluid
Recycling Brake Fluid / Ecolife / Sander Tamm

An Overview On Recycling Brake Fluid

Whether you like to tinker with auto repairs at home or are taking your vehicle in for a fluid flush, you may have already considered the damage that auto fluids – oil, transmission fluid, coolant, antifreeze, power steering fluid, and brake fluid alike – have on the environment. If not, you’re in for an education!

Why brake fluid recycling is a, good, green thing to do

Brake fluid has some properties that put it in the class of household hazardous waste (HHW):

  • Toxicity: Because brake fluid is alcohol-based and contains solvents that can form glycols, it is toxic when ingested by you, your children, your pets, or other wildlife.
  • Flammability: As with other auto fluids, brake fluid is flammable and should therefore be handled with care.
  • Heavy metals: Used brake fluid is often contaminated with heavy metals and other solvents that make it even more dangerous to human and environmental health.

Because of these toxic characteristics, it is important that you never pour brake fluid down the sink or toilet, onto the ground in your yard, in the garbage, or down the sewer drain or septic tank. Recycling brake fluid is a much greener disposal method by far.

Reduce brake fluid waste

As with most recycling issues, precycling is the best way to minimize the amount of recycling you have to do, and brake fluid is no different. To cut the amount of brake fluid disposal work you have to:

  • Limit quantities: Buy only as much as you need to get the job done; any more and it may spoil (it will absorb moisture over time, rendering it useless) before you can use it. Choose 8-ounce bottles instead of quart-sized bottles.
  • Change when necessary: Be sure that you change your brake fluid only when necessary in order to limit unnecessary waste.
  • Reuse: Sometimes you can reuse brake fluid as a cleaner or stripper for other auto repairs and home renovation projects (exercise caution, though, as you don’t want it to end up down the drain).
  • Don’t mix: Whatever you do, don’t mix your used brake fluid with other car fluids as this may result in the creation of hazardous waste that is unrecyclable.

How to recycle brake fluid

To recycle brake fluid, recyclers will most likely mix it with other fluids to create alternative fuels which are then used in other applications. So when you’re stuck with used brake fluid and in need of a recycling solution, there are several things you can do. But first, prepare it for transportation to the recycling center by sealing it in a jar with a secure lid. Then try out these recycling options:

  • HHW collection: Many communities now have either periodical or year-round HHW collection sites where you can drop off everything from unused paint to pesticides to auto fluids.
  • Your local auto shop: If you’ve got a good relationship with your local auto repair shop, they may be willing to take your used auto fluids for recycling (sometimes for a small fee).
  • Landfill options: Some solid waste management authorities handle HHW by collecting it at the dump sites directly. Contact your local sanitation office to find out if they have such a program.

Recycling brake fluid at home

If you can’t find a local HHW collection site in your area, you may try this safe home disposal method instead (as a last resort):

  • Catch it: When bleeding brakes, position a jar beneath your vehicle to catch the brake fluid.
  • Dry it: Next, pour the used brake fluid into a pan of kitty litter so that it can evaporate over several days. Due to the high toxicity of brake fluid, be sure to keep the pan away from pets and children.
  • Toss it: Finally, once it has completely dried, pour the kitty litter into a container, seal it up, and then safely put it in your trash can.