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How to Dispose of Essential Oils — Full Safety Guide

Whether you’re using essential oils for relaxation, skincare, or their therapeutic benefits, you should know how to properly dispose of these potent elixirs once their magic has been fully unleashed. While essential oils are natural, they’re also highly concentrated, so improper disposal can have harmful consequences for the environment and your health. 

In this article, we’ll explore how to dispose of essential oils safely. We’ll delve into recycling the bottles and getting rid of the oils without any harm. We’ll also suggest some alternatives for leftover essential oils. 

Now, let’s learn how to bid farewell to these aromatic wonders in a way that protects both our planet and ourselves.

Environmental Impact of Improper Disposal

Disposing of essential oils the wrong way can have bad consequences for the environment and your health. Here are the main concerns you should know about:

  • Water Pollution: Essential oils don’t dissolve in water, so they can contaminate it if you simply pour them down the drain. What’s more, their high concentrations can hurt aquatic organisms. And frankly, water pollution stats are bad as they are.
  • Soil Contamination: If you don’t dilute or prepare properly your essential oils before adding them to your compost, you risk contaminating the soil and affecting its fertility. 
  • Air Quality: Most essential oils contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can contribute to air pollution. If you burn them, they can hurt your indoor air quality and expose you to health risks. Still, they’re generally safe to use, as long as you dilute them and follow the guidelines. 
  • Accumulation in Landfills: Any bottle or container that isn’t properly recycled contributes to the pile of garbage in landfills which contributes to our global environmental problems.

As long as you follow the best practices for proper disposal below, you can minimize the harm essential oils can do. 

Can You Put Essential Oils Down the Sink?

No, it’s not a good idea to do that. Just like putting olive oil down the sink, essential oils can cause plumbing problems. They can leave residue on your pipes, which can accumulate over time and lead to clogging. Also, essential oils don’t dissolve in water, so they can disrupt the natural ecosystem. 

So, let’s learn how to get rid of them without any consequences.

How to Dispose of Essential Oils Safely

There are two steps to consider when disposing of essential oils — the container and the oil itself. You can read on to find the best practices on each below.

What’s the Condition of the Essential Oil?

The condition of your essential oils affects their potency, stability, and environmental impact. Here’s why it matters:

  • Unused or Unopened Essential Oils: These will generally be in good condition, so consider gifting or donating them. This way, you’ll prevent unnecessary waste, and the oils will be used rather than discarded.
  • Diluted or Expired Essential Oils: These require proper disposal as they’re not as effective or safe to use. Diluted ones will be less potent, while expired essential oils could lead to skin irritation.

Before you learn how to dispose of fragrance oils that are expired, you should know how to handle their containers. Read on to find out.

How to Recycle Essential Oil Bottles

The first step in recycling essential oil bottles is to check the bottle for recycling symbols. If you see recyclable glass or plastic signs, you can follow these steps:

  • Clean the Bottles: You have to clean the bottles thoroughly before recycling them. Empty them, remove the labels, and wash them well to remove any residue.
  • Remove the Caps and Droppers: These parts are usually made of different materials, so you’d help out the sorting process by separating them.

After that, all you have to do is put the empty and clean bottle parts in the right recycling bin. 

essential oil natural evaporation

Top 3 Ways to Dispose of Essential Oils

Depending on the quality and condition of your leftover oil, you can use one of the following methods to dispose of it responsibly:

  • Natural Evaporation: This is the best method for unused, diluted, or close to expiry date oils. If there’s not much left of the essential oil (and you don’t have a cat that likes to break things), you can allow it to evaporate naturally. Open the bottle and place it somewhere in a ventilated room without direct sunlight. The oil will evaporate into the air over time. 
  • Dilution With a Carrier Oil: If you have a lot of oil left, it’s best to dilute it with almond or olive oil. That will reduce the potency of the oil. Then, you can use this mixture for moisturizing your skin or making DIY candles or soaps.  
  • Mixing With Cat Litter or Sawdust: If you want to simply throw away the oil, it’s best to solidify it first by mixing it with cat litter, sawdust, or baking soda.

No matter your choice, please don’t pour the essential oils down the drain to avoid plumbing issues. 

Alternative Uses for Leftover Essential Oils

Whenever possible, we encourage our readers to reuse rather than recycle. This way, you reduce waste and give your creativity more room for action. Here’s what else you can do with leftover essential oils:

  • Scented Sachets or Potpourri: You can add a few drops of essential oils to fabric sachets or dried flowers. This makes a nice decor, or you can put them in drawers for a pleasant smell. The best oils for this are lavender, rose, or citrus.
  • DIY Cleaning Solutions: Eucalyptus, tea tree, and lemon tree oils have antibacterial and antifungal properties, so they could be wonderful natural ingredients for a DIY cleaning solution made up of water, vinegar, and a mild detergent. 
  • Room Fresheners & Hair Products: You can make your own room fresheners by adding the leftover essential oil to a spray bottle filled with water. Then, you can spritz this around the house for a pleasant aroma, or you can use it to moisturize and soften your hair. 
  • DIY Bath and Body Products: Why not add a personal touch to your body scrub, bath salts, or lotions with a few drops of essential oils? 
  • Homemade Candles: Leftover essential oils are great for making scented candles. It’s also a lot easier than it sounds. Mix the oils with melted soy wax or beeswax, add a wick, and pour the mixture into a container. Once solidified, you’ll have customized, aromatic candles.

By choosing one of these alternative uses for essential oils, you’ll reduce waste and enjoy their delightful aroma longer. 

What to Do With Expired Essential Oils

Expired essential oils are less effective and might smell less, but you can still find uses for them. 

For instance, they can turn into air fresheners, or you make DIY cleaning solutions, candles, soaps, or bath products. Also, some essential oils act as natural bug repellents, and they can still be effective even if expired. Examples include eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and citronella oils. Just remember to dilute them before applying them to your skin or spraying them around the room.

Check the section above for more details and ideas.

Can I Use Expired Essential Oils in a Diffuser?

Generally, it’s not a good idea to use expired essential oils in a diffuser. They’ll have less aromatic and therapeutic qualities, which will impact your experience. For instance, you might not notice their usual benefits like relaxation, stress relief, and mood enhancement.

One more thing to consider is oxidation. Expired essential oils might release oxidized compounds into the air that could cause irritation or respiratory discomfort.

For the best diffuser experience, you should use only fresh essential oils. And if you want to keep them fresh for longer, make sure to keep them in a cool, dark place. 


Can I Drop Essential Oils in My Toilet?

No, you shouldn’t drop essential oils in your toilet. That can affect the plumbing system and the wastewater treatment process negatively.

Do Essential Oils Break Down in Water?

Essential oils do not break down easily in water. That’s among the main reasons why you shouldn’t pour them down the drain — you might harm aquatic ecosystems.

How Long Does It Take for Essential Oils to Go Rancid?

On average, essential oils can last for 1-3 years, but some oils, like citrus oils, may have a shorter shelf life. Also, that time will vary depending on the oil quality and how you store it.

Do Essential Oils Decompose?

Essential oils can decompose if exposed to the right light, heat, and air. The main cause behind that is oxidation, which changes the chemical properties of the oils and makes them less effective.

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