Solvent-Soaked Rag Disposal/Recycling

Hello, all. I’m wondering how best to safely dispose of/recycle solvent-soaked rags. I’ve always worked in shops with rag services so I just tossed them in the metal bin. Now it’s my own studio and my own worry. I plan on purchasing a fire-safe trash can, but what next? I can’t find any answers anywhere. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.


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Katy… in the years past, prior to folks worrying about recycling, rag disposal was easy. Most of us, or at least most of the printers I’ve worked with, tossed them into a metal trashcan and let them evaporate out. Then we’d either reuse them or throw them into the trash.

Nowadays it’s not a lot better. Rag services typically clean them with solvents or hash soaps and/or toss them, which does not seem to be any better for the environment than the old way. The only other alternative I know is to wash them yourself…. but then you’d be washing soapy, inky gook down into the drain. The end result is still the same.

Sooo…. I must admit to using the old method. BUT since my shop’s consumption of rags is very small, I ‘ve never considered it a big deal.

You wish to deal safely with solvent and ink soaked rags. Safe for you and your neighbors, or safe for the environment, or both?
We live in the environment and impact it. We try to do as little harm as possible.
The risk in keeping solvent soaked rags around is spontaneous combustion. I have only known of one case of this happening. One could be too many. The rags must either be kept in a fire safe container (one specifically classified as fire safe), or they must be outdoors and opened up so they cannot spontaneously combust.
If they are to be laundered and reused, some bad stuff will go down the drain. I launder some of mine that are not heavily ink stained. I spread them out or hang them outdoors to allow the solvent to evaporate. Yes, that pollutes the air. So too probably does paint as it dries. The ones I do not intend to launder I burn in a safe place outside. That pollutes the air too, but I think the pollution is no greater than the pollution that may happen by puttting the ink and solvent soaked rag in the garbage dump.
An alternative is to not print and not impact the environment.

Thanks for the responses. I have purchased a self-extinguishing “fire-safe” trash can, so am pretty well covered in terms of fire danger. Environmentally speaking, there doesn’t seem to be much I can do? That’s a bummer.

This is a very good question that deserves a straight forward answer. Unfortunately I keep seeing responses that just scold people for being environmentally conscious.
What about using crisco as a press cleaner? it works very, very well. This would be a good idea if you were worried about the solvent soaked rags being tossed in the trash. of course there’s still ink on the rag, but no harsh solvents.

Mil- I think all of the answers put foreward in this particular topic have been sincere and straight foreward…. with very little in way of scolding or criticism. Each person who answered listed what they did and made recommendations about how to handle their rags.

In general however, I do see some debate about the need for “Green Clean-Up” in the hobby printing field. Such a debate is not meant to be critical of anyone’s way of thinking, but instead to offer alternative viewpoints so that a truly informed decision can be made. In my humble view, it is far better to make informed choices rather than blindly follow fad or “media-generated” environmental trends.

My own study of things like Crisco as a roller cleaner, soy ink, and so forth has indicated that they do not substantially decrease the overall pollution footprint that a shop produces. While Crisco does decrease the VOC emissions at the press, the petroleum fuel required to farm the crops, process, market and distribute the Crisco just about equals the hydrocarbon emissions of mineral spirits cleaners… it’s wash, environmentally speaking. Crisco may work just dandy as a cleaner, but it really doesn’t help save the planet. BUT I only offer this as my own choice, not as a criticism of those who see things differently. In the overall scheme of things, the Crisco vs Mineral Spirits debate is a very small thing.

One environmental area where I DO see we can make a good impact is in overall energy consumption. My own shop is powered 100% by solar energy or manually. That includes all of my lighting, plate burning, press operation, paper cutting and so forth. My shop is 100% off grid, and thus my “Carbon Footprint” is virtually zero. If a large enough of us did the same, that could be a major environmental help.

The other area that can have a positive impact is in the use of recycled /renewable materials. Since we all use a LOT of paper, any use of recycled paper is an important contribution…. and all of our scrap should go to a recycler.

Remember, openly discussing these ideas, even with folks who disagree with us is a good thing…. for it is only through debate and examination of facts can environmentally sound decisions be made.

See if a local drycleaner offers shop towel(wiper) service. You buy a few bundles when enough are soiled to make it worth the trip take them back for clean ones.I have about 300 and usually wait till I have at least 100 to exchange.Here in Canada the cleaners must follow all hazmat regulations.