Turpentine, Good to the Last Drop!

Solvents Photo

Did you realize you can easily reclaim your dirty brush cleaning solvent, whether turpentine, Turpenoid or Gamsol? For years I was collecting my dirty solvent in an old closed container for later collection by (or delivery to) a toxic waste center. Then I learned about the simple painting solvent reclamation process.

When dirty brush cleaning solvents are left undisturbed for a period of time, all the paint solids settle to the bottom of the solvent container, with clean solvent, only, left on top. This allows you to pour off the clean solvent into a temporary container, leaving the paint solids, settled in the bottom of the solvent container, behind. Then it’s just a matter of wiping the solids out of the bottom of the container, with paper towels or old disposable rags and disposing of the dirty paper towels or rags properly (I’ll discuss this shortly). You can now pour your reclaimed, clean solvent back into your brush cleaning container.

How long the solids take to settle depends on the paint colors you’ve been using, but they usually settle, for the most part, overnight. If you let them settle for a couple of days you get an even cleaner separation. I generally paint during the working week and take the weekends off to deal with household chores. My approach is to use the solvent all week, let the solids settle over the weekend and do my reclamation before I begin painting on Monday. The reclaimed solvent looks almost like I’ve poured it out clean from it original bottle or can.

Firesafe Can Photo
My “firesafe” can.

Now, what to do with those dirty, paint soaked paper towels or rags. You do know you should have a firesafe can in your studio don’t you? When you paint with oils, the solvents, mediums and paints themselves are highly flammable. Remember those cautionary film strips in elementary school that talked about old oil and paint soaked rags, out in the garage, spontaneously bursting into flame? Well, the rags you’re using while painting, to wipe your brushes, palette, spills, etc., are those spontaneously combustable items they we referring to in those films. All these materials should be isolated, in a firesafe can, while in your studio, until you put them into your regular trash for collection.

I purchased my firesafe can online at www.uline.com or you can ask your local hardware store about one. Keeping your painting rags and other discarded painting materials (old tubes, latex gloves, etc.) in a firesafe can is important, whether you adopt my solvent reclamation routine or not. You don’t want to be responsible for setting your home ablaze, while you’re away from the house or sleeping.

2 thoughts on “Turpentine, Good to the Last Drop!”

  1. Isn’t that interesting? I have always done that with my solvents from an early age. Although, I have to say, I’m Scottish and raised by a Scottish cheapskate… although she calls herself frugal. We don’t throw anything away that can be reclaimed even partly. Glad to know I was doing the responsible thing even when I didn’t know it. I did not know, however, how to dispose of my paint rags and paper towels. I have never had a firesafe receptacle in my studio. That means I’m pretty lucky to still be here. I’ll have to look into one of those firesafe things. Thanks for the info.

    1. Good for you, Denise. I had the solvent I was using in a glass container. It had been sitting a few days and I noticed the clean separation between the clear solvent at the top and paint solids at the bottom and asked myself, “Can I pour that solvent off, without disturbing the paint at the bottom?” It worked and I’ve been doing it and spreading the word, ever since.

      Yes, spontaneous combustion is nothing to mess with! I have to admit, I didn’t think about it myself, when it came to oil painting (although I’ve always been careful with oily rags in the garage), until I noticed that YWA was throwing all their oil painting rages and paper towels into the woodturning stove, at the end of painting sessions there. That’s when the realization that I needed a firesafe receptacle in my studio occurred to me. Better late than never!

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