Is Antifreeze Biodegradable?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: May 7, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

We all need the help of antifreeze during the winter and if you live in a cold area, you might find you get through a lot of it. 

Perhaps this makes you wonder, is antifreeze biodegradable? – find out in this article. 

Antifreeze is biodegradable. Vegetable-based antifreeze or antifreeze made from propylene glycol is better for the environment.

Are you keen to find out more about which antifreeze is best to buy and whether yours has lasting effects on the environment? Then make sure you check out the rest of this article that will explain this topic in more detail.

How Long Does Antifreeze Take to Biodegrade?

Are the winters particularly harsh where you live? Then you might feel like you can get through bottles of antifreeze as if it were going out of fashion. 

But we all want to know how the materials we use affect the environment. So, how long does it take for antifreeze to biodegrade?

Before we answer this question, it is important to know that antifreeze is made up of one of two main compounds. It is either made from ethylene glycol or propylene glycol

These compounds take different amounts of time to biodegrade in the air, water, and in soil. 

Here’s what you should know about biodegrading ethylene glycol:

  • In the air. Ethylene glycol will biodegrade in about 10 days. 
  • In water. Ethylene glycol will biodegrade within several days to a few weeks.
  • In soil. Ethylene glycol will biodegrade within several days to a few weeks.

Some antifreeze is made from propylene glycol. Here’s everything you need to know about how it breaks down:

  • In the air. Propylene glycol will biodegrade within 20-32 hours.
  • In soil. Propylene glycol will biodegrade in about 5 days.

Is Antifreeze Bad for the Environment?

We’ve already spoken about the effects of small quantities of antifreeze in the air, water, and soil. 

But what do we know about large amounts of antifreeze and how it affects the environment? Let’s get savvy on how we should treat antifreeze.

When handling large quantities of antifreeze, you should be careful not to let it leak or spill. You should never dump it. 

This is because antifreeze can contribute to water pollution in groundwater, surface water, and drinking water. Large quantities of it are harmful to marine and aquatic life

Used antifreeze could also pose a risk to the environment. This is because it could now contain levels of contaminants from your car such as trace metals and oils. 

It could also now have a mix of chemical additives. The most common contaminants are lead and benzene.

So what can you do to protect the environment? Here are some tips that will help you to know what to do. 

  • Take precautions so that antifreeze does not spill
  • Do not pour it into drains or sewage systems. Antifreeze is sweet and attracts marine and aquatic life but they should not drink it. It is toxic to them.
  • If you spill some antifreeze, make sure you clean it up immediately
  • If you have a large quantity of antifreeze that you do not want to dispose of correctly. This means taking it to a recycling center or disposing of it via an appropriate waste hauler.

Does Antifreeze Decompose?

Antifreeze is biodegradable and will soon decompose in air, water, and soil. Depending on the type of antifreeze you choose, this process could take a few days to a few weeks. 

Thanks to the help of microorganisms, antifreeze will not take long to decompose into carbon dioxide and water.

Antifreeze made from ethylene glycol is more toxic to humans and wildlife. 

That said, it does a similar amount of damage to the environment as antifreeze made from propylene glycol if it spills in large quantities.

There is, however, a type of antifreeze that is even more biodegradable and ecologically friendly. 

That is a vegetable-based antifreeze. It is made from sustainable refined vegetable extracts and works even better than propylene glycol. It is nontoxic and decomposes quickly. 

To really do the environment a favor, consider swapping your antifreeze to one that is vegetable-based. 

But what can you do if you cannot get hold of this? You can still choose to put the environment first when picking your antifreeze. 

Change from an ethylene glycol based antifreeze to one that is made from propylene glycol to do your part.

Does Antifreeze Breakdown in Soil?

We’ve covered quite a lot of information about the biodegradability of antifreeze. But what can we say about antifreeze in soil? Does it break down? 

The short answer is yes, antifreeze does break down in soil. But how long this process will take depends on the materials the antifreeze was made from. 

Antifreeze is made from one of two materials. They are ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is more toxic than propylene glycol and is not as good for the environment. 

It is cheaper to make so it is more widely sold. But it does not break down as quickly in soil. 

Take a look at the differences in the breakdown time between antifreeze made of ethylene glycol and antifreeze made of propylene glycol. 

  • Antifreeze made from ethylene glycol takes several days to a few weeks to break down in soil
  • Antifreeze made from propylene glycol takes about 5 days to break down in soil

Final Thoughts

When the weather begins to change, having a couple of bottles of antifreeze is essential to keeping your car running well. 

Do you use a lot of antifreeze in the winter months? Then you’re probably wondering, is antifreeze biodegradable? And, what effect does it have on the environment? 

As you have seen in this article, antifreeze is biodegradable, so you can use it without having to worry about any adverse effects on the environment. 

And, if you opt for antifreeze made from propylene glycol, or one that is vegetable-based, you will be doing planet earth a whole lot of good. What could be better than that?

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