Just Finishing

What to Do with Used Solvents

Reuse them when you can, retire them when you must

Retirement by evaporation. When solvent is too "dirty" to use again, pour it into a box lined with plastic and newspaper, and let it evaporate. Then discard the paper. You can use the box and plastic again.

slosh it around the cup to clcan the interior, and spray some through the tip by triggering the gun for about two seconds. The remaining "used" thinner stays in the gun until it is time to spray again, when I use it to thin down my next batch of lacquer. If the lacquer needs no thinner, I pour the thinner into a container until I am done spraying, then use it again to clean the gun. The same process works for clcar varnish, cxccpt that the thinner is mineral spirits or paint thinner instead of lacquer thinner.

Note that you may need to use more than a cup of thinner for a pressure pot, depending on the size of the pot.

Since I spray a bit through the gun to clcan out the tip cach time, the thinner-lacquer residue mix gets depleted. As it docs, I add a bit more clcan thinner, so the concentration of lacquer or varnish in the thinner never gets very high, if you don't use it to cut the next batch. Of course, when I do use the dirt)' thinner to cut the next batch, I start over with 100% new thinner at cleanup time.

Brushes—As with guns, you can use the thinner from cleaning brushes after clear coatings like varnish, shellac, or lacquer to thin your next batch of the same finish, or save it to clcan brushes another day. However, since it gets used up more slowly, you may come to a point where there is too much varnish in the thinner. When that happens, it's time to either recycle the thinner or dispose of it and start with more clean thinner. I'll talk more about those options later.

Colored finishes—Things are a bit trickier when you clcan up coatings that have pigment or dye in them. Whether through a gun or from a brush, you can use this soiled solvent to thin a batch of new finish if you're using the same color finish again. Otherwise, it depends on whether the coating contained dye or pigment.

If the colorant is dye, there is no way to get it back out of the thinner, and you'll have to recycle or retire it.

On the other hand, if the colorant was pigment—which is commonly found in paints, glazes, and some stains—you can usually strain it out of mineral spirits and use the thinner again. Do this by pouring the thinner through a fine paint strainer, a coffee filter, several layers of nylon from used stockings, or even several layers of fine cheesecloth.

An easier (but slower) alternative is to leave the solvent in a covered clear glass container until the pigment settles to the bottom. When the solvent above the settled pigment is clear, you can carefully by Michael Dresdner

Due to the thankless task of cleaning up spray guns, brushes, pads, and containers, I actually use more thinner than coatings. I'm often left with a container of "used" solvent that's volatile, dangerous, and toxic, along with some pressing questions: "Should I dump ic down the drain, put it out with the trash, pour it out on the driveway, or simply store it forever?" For the rccord, the answer to all of the above is uno."

But before you despair, there arc some wise and cost-effective ways to deal with used solvents such as mineral spirits, lacqucr thinner, naphtha, turpentine, denatured alcohol, and others. I ll cover a few of them just ahead.

Safety First

We all know enough to spray or brush finish only in a booth or room with good ventilation, and to wear a respirator to boot. But it's easy to forget that the rules of finish safety also apply when cleaning up and handling solvents. Use goggles to protect your eyes from splashes and neoprenc gloves for your hands. Whenever possible, use the same active air flow you would use for spraying, since you'll be filling the air with vapors. In low-airflow situations, use a respirator. Remember that most of these solvents are flammable, so keep away from open flames or sparks.

Reuse It

You don't have to use new solvent every time you clean spray guns and brushes! You can save a lot of money and protcct the environment by reusing solvent, especially if it's mixed with clear coatings. In some cases you can remove pigments from thinner and use it again. When spraying lacquer, I even use lacquer thinner from a previous cleanup to cut the next batch of lacquer.

Spray guns—When I get finished spraying clcar lacqucr, 1 pour about a cup of lacquer thinner into the sprayer.

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