What is Dirty Aluminum Scrap?

Have you ever been to the scrap yard and they downgraded your aluminum to “dirty aluminum”?

During the recycling process, it’s common to have a lower price for dirty aluminum, but some scrappers may not know why their material was downgraded.

While you’ll come across many common types of aluminum scrapping, “dirty aluminum” can often be harder to pin down.

“Dirty aluminum scrap” is a term used to describe aluminum that has become contaminated or mixed with various impurities. Let’s dive in!

What is Dirty Aluminum?

dirty aluminum scrap metal and engine blocks

Dirty aluminum is aluminum materials that have been compromised by foreign substances, often diminishing the quality and usability of the metal.

These substances vary widely, including non-aluminum metals, plastic, rubber, coatings, oils, dirt, and other foreign particles.

When it comes to scrapping, the dirty part lowers the price because of the foreign items that will need to be sorted or melted away during the recycling process, contributing to a higher effort to make a clean recycled product afterward.

Suggested Reading: How to Negotiate Scrap Prices

Common Items of Dirty Aluminum Scrap

The following is a list of common aluminum materials that frequently fall victim to contamination, earning them the label of “dirty aluminum.

  • Aluminum Cans: Used beverage cans often carry residual liquids, labels, and food particles, making them a prime example of dirty aluminum in the recycling stream.
  • Aluminum Wire and Cable: Scrap wire and cable can become dirty due to insulation materials, like plastics or rubbers, still adhering to the metal. Once it’s stripped, it’s considered clean aluminum wire.
  • Aluminum Extrusions: Profiles or extrusions used in construction may accumulate paint, dirt, and debris, tarnishing their surface.
  • Aluminum Sheets and Plates: Flat aluminum sheets are marred by oils, protective films, paint, or other substances.
  • Aluminum Castings: Castings can carry remnants of mold release agents, sand, or other materials from the casting process, making them a common contributor to dirty aluminum.
  • Aluminum Automotive Parts: Components in vehicles, like engine blocks, parts, and body panels, can gather dirt and road grime, contributing to the dirty aluminum category.

Is it “clean” aluminum if you remove paint or dirt?

Yes and no. We know that’s not the answer you were looking for. But it depends on what is making your aluminum dirty.

Do you have a lawn chair with cloth and wooden handles? It would be wise to remove those non-metallic items from the aluminum and get a better price.

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If you have an engine block covered in grease and oil, removing the grease and oil would be time-consuming.

When you have an aluminum piece with something like steel, wood, plastic, or rubber remove that.

Check Aluminum Scrap Prices Here →

Asking Your Local Scrap Yard about Dirty Aluminum

By recognizing the common examples prone to impurities, you can ensure you are scrapping the correct items. It’s worth a quick call to your local yard (find one here) to find out how they grade aluminum.

Pro Tip: We suggest sorting your aluminum into clean and dirty piles before you get to the scrap yard. Rather than throwing it all together, you will have a higher chance of getting clean aluminum prices for the material you sort.

Always note that every yard is slightly different and may have additional terms for their materials or ways of sorting. So before bringing your scrap in, chat with them before scrapping to gain as much information as possible.