How to Clean up a Small Gasoline Spill

by Richard Rowe
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You don't have to be the Deepwater Horizon to experience a little fuel spill issue from time to time, and you don't need Greenpeace to clean it up. Gasoline is incredibly nasty stuff if it gets into the wrong places, in particular places where fish swim or pets drink. But you can borrow a bit from your pets' supply closet to keep the spill contained before anything untoward happens to man or beast.

What Not to Do

First, do not simply wash the gasoline away with a hose, and scrub the pavement with dish detergent. Gas and water don't mix, and surfactants only lift the gasoline molecules from the ground and keep the suspended for a little while. Take this approach an all you're doing is spreading the spill out to a much larger area, coating everything the water touches with a thin film of gasoline. Not only is that both an immediate and lingering fire danger, you'll create a very slippery surface for quite some time. Also, gasoline does not get along well with living things.

Containment and Absorption

Your immediate response should be the same as with any petroleum spill: containment. Plastic bags, garbage can lids, a shovel -- even a nearby water hose can make a make a good improvised dam while you or an assistant run inside to raid the pet pantry. You'll need clay-based "clumping" cat litter, preferably the kind with baking soda if you want the smell to go away quickly. When you have the cat litter, simply pour it all over the spill in a layer at least 1/2 inch thick. Add more as need be, and use a flat-nosed shovel or rake to mix it in. You can use a broom if need be, but you run the risk of soaking it with gasoline and making it a fire hazard later. Throw a bit of sand down over the spill area afterward to soak up any residual gas.


When the kitty litter has absorbed the gasoline, shovel it into a heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, and then double-bag it. You can take it to your local fire department for disposal, or you can dispose of it at a recycling facility equipped to dispose of hazardous waste. Don't simply throw it in a dumpster, either; treat the bag with the hazardous waste as directed by the attendant so it can be properly treated through incineration or thermal treatment.

Gas Spills in Cars

It's nearly impossible to put a gallon of fresh-bought lawnmower gas in your trunk without spilling any. The kitty litter trick can work here too, and baking soda or powdered charcoal can help get rid of the smell. But don't do it in place. Depending on how much you spilled, the gas may have soaked completely through the mat, and is sitting in a puddle between the mat and the metal of the trunk floor. It might even have gone down into the spare tire well. Pull the mat out, and set it on a thick layer of kitty litter and baking soda or charcoal spread out in your driveway. Then heap more of the absorbent mixture in a thick layer on top, and let it sit for at least a day.

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