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A Better Way to Clean Up Epoxies

By Jack Josephsen

I used to be a scruncher, but I saw the light and I'm now a proud folder. Ok, before your mind goes into the gutter let me just make it clear I'm talking about cleaning up epoxy resins here and nothing else!

Believe it or not there are clear advantages to using a folding technique when cleaning up epoxies and, seeing as my recent posts have wandered into the field of handy practical tips, I may as well highlight some of these while I’m at it.

Now, I know some are happy to sit over a bucket of solvent with an old brush when cleaning tools, however if you want a long career in the epoxy industry I strongly believe you should minimise your exposure to harsh chemicals at every opportunity. The headaches, solvent highs, and skin irritations will catch up with you eventually!

If you want a less hazardous way of cleaning up epoxies that’s also neat and efficient, here’s how I go about things.

No need to get aggressive when cleaning up epoxy resins

The first point is to always use gloves and make sure they can handle the solvent being used. Some solvents can disintegrate even the highest quality gloves and, therefore, aren’t really suitable as general purpose cleaners in my opinion. Those of you familiar with methylene chloride will know what I’m talking about! I tend to stick with methylated spirits (or denatured alcohol) where possible and only turn to more powerful solvents like acetone or methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) for cleaning up epoxies that have partially cured. There’s really no need to use anything more aggressive than that.

The “squirt and fold” approach for cleaning up epoxies

Those of you who do work with a bucket of solvent are probably wondering how I go about cleaning tools. Well, I find a squirter bottle and rag to be a great combination. You could use an ironing spray bottle on the mist setting as well, but I’d prefer not to as there’s greater chance of inhaling the stuff. If you need to get into nooks and crannies, a quick blast from the nozzle at close range normally does the trick. Other than that, I simply squirt onto a folded rag and start wiping, re-folding as required to create another clean patch.

A squirter bottle and folded rag, which make the perfect combination when it comes to cleaning up epoxies.

The big advantages with folding are neatness and efficiency. Firstly, folding means I have a smooth, flat surface to wipe with far less chance of smearing. Secondly, I have a small contained area where the mess sits in the rag. I can fold to lock it inside and go again with a new, clean surface. If you scrunch, you tend to lose track of the dirty areas and this often leads to goop getting everywhere. Have you ever tried to clean a liquid pigment like phthalo blue or signal red using a scrunched rag? It’s a nightmare!

Finally, I can use the back of the rag when folding because the solvent soaks through the layers and allows me to pick up even more resin. This means you're using a lot more surface area when folding, which greatly reduces the number of rags needed.

For those unwilling to give up the bucket and brush method, I suggest at least switching to white vinegar instead. It will remove the majority of waste off your tools and a quick wipe of methylated spirits/denatured alcohol at the end will bring them up as good as new.

Dry your rags before disposal

There’s one last tip I have with relation to cleaning up epoxies and it’s also a pretty important piece of safety advice: let solvent-soaked rags dry out in the open before you throw them in the bin. Solvents give off a lot of vapour and a heap of soaked rags stuffed into a bin can quickly build up to become a serious fire hazard.

If you still doubt the benefit of being a folder after reading all of this then I can only suggest that you try it. It is one of those habits things that people seem to adopt for good as soon as they try it because it is so much more effective. I guarantee that you'll use much less solvent, rags, time and energy when you next clean up.

What are your nifty clean-up tricks? Do you have a method that works well and doesn’t create a mess or involve nasty solvents?

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