Calculating exposure levels of solvents


Doing some research into the blanket and roller wash I’m using on my printing equipment. I’m trying to get a better feel for the safety of the solvents I’m using and how much exposure I can afford myself.

I’m using a generic wash-up supplied by a local litho supplier. According to its MSDS, it contains:

30% Petroleum Distillates, Hydrotreated Light
30% Naptha, Hydrotreated Light
30% Naptha, Light aromatic
1-5% Polyoxy-1, Alpha-4-nonylphenyl-omega-hydroxy
1-5% Xylene
1-5% D-limonene

How does this compare to other washes? California Wash seems the most common, is it similar in make-up?

My main question is acceptable exposure limits. There are exposure limits (TWA and ceiling limits) listed for most of the chemicals. They’re listed in mg/cubic meters. I’m not sure what to do with these. If I understand correctly, the TWA is an average amount that you can be exposed to during a regular working day and the ceiling is the amount that your exposure cannot exceed at any given time?

At this point, during clean-up I am wearing a respirator and gloves, but during printing any little things to clean (plates, type etc.) I’m not taking the precaution with. Just wondering how careful I need to be. I’m in a large warehouse space (about 10,000 sq ft.) but in a basement, a bit drafty but no ventilation.

People talk a lot about what washes are best for their rollers and equipment, but if people have done research into what washes are the least harmful to one’s nervous system and respiration I’d be curious to know as that as well.


Log in to reply   11 replies so far

Hey Paul,

I’m in California, which strictly limits my options of solvents. I buy XPress Wash by Allied:

25-40% Methyl Acetate
30-50% Acetone
10-30% Halogenated Hydrocarben
1-10% Aliphatic Petroleum Naptha

This stuff works great, leaves no residue, and runs about $25/gal.

IC Compound in Los Angeles, CA (800-367-0895) makes the only other state approved solvent wash I am aware of. Runs $27/gal, and dries even better than above. I don’t have the MSDS breakdown handy.

All of these solvents are going to be troublesome to breathe in, and I understand your concern is exposure, which is why I would recommend looking at the safer multi-step washes available. The best advice I can give is to talk to Mike at Kelly Paper in Signal Hill, CA (562-595-5523). If he asks, tell him Matt from Marianna’s steered you his way.

He’s the point-man for Kelly with the wash vendors. Mike knows volumes on the new washes being put on the market, as well as the older stuff, and is generally a very helpful and knowledgeable guy. Plus, he swears the newest washes won’t leave a residue like they used to.

Hope this helps!


Maybe I don’t fully understand the dangers of Naptha and Petroleum Distillates, but man, acetone is nasty stuff. I don’t know if I’d want to go anywhere near that stuff.

Yeah, you won’t have any luck with the CA Wash either. I remember pretty well it had the same composition as the XPress Wash, plus one or two components. Acetone will definitely be in there.

I know some of the washes out there still have Ether in trace amounts, which I was surprised to learn. That’s something I’d think about staying away from, too!

I don’t know. If I’m going to damage my body I might as well have fun while I’m doing it…

I have been printing and servicing equipment for 40+ years. I have routinely washed ink and grease off my hands with all varieties of blanket washes. I am 61 years old and the only side effect I have is that my Dr. tells me that when I finally die, I’m going to save my family the money they would have had to spend on embalming fluid.
All kidding aside, I have been very remiss in keeping washes out of my system. Back in the day, they never used gloves because they were considered a safety risk getting caught in the machine. I have suffered no ill effects. In fact, I have only missed 5 days work from any illness in the last 35 years. That may be luck, a good constitution or a gift from God. Whatever reason, it definitely hasn’t been due to good protection to printing chemicals.

We were using nastier solvents but have replaced all petroleum-based solvents with d-Limonene.

To clean the press I thin the ink with straight d-Limonene, and then wash up with a mix of d-Limonene, water and dish soap in a spray bottle. Works great. Doesn’t seem to harm the rollers.

Other stuff was giving me headaches and making me feel generally unpleasant. The only effect of the d-Limonene is that it makes me want an orange creamsicle.

Bit too technical for me so I have to go along with linegauge. I use deodorized mineral spirits for press wash, Coleman Lantern Fuel for a type/plate wash. Never use gloves. Never been sick, no tooth decay, no broken bones, still healthy and kicking at 64 with no ailments. And have been printing for 35+ years.

Um, stay away from a lot of this crap though, any of these so called green remedies being fostered for the printing industry. They will hurt your presses and you. If they were any good the would not be changing them out each and every year.

d-Limonene may make you want an orange creamside but there isn’t a supplier who would face a congressional interrogation to defend it.


I’m afraid I have to ask for clarification on your comment about d-Limonene, Gerald. What do you mean?

I agree with linegauge, In my 10 years in the cutting tool industry then the last 23 in the printing sector I would routinely use blanket wash, press wash, MRC, etc. to clean ink and grease off of my hands. It would dry out my skin but It wasn’t anything some hand cream couldn’t take care of. We couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask, if the odors got too strong we would just step away for a minute. I use odorless mineral spirits for most of my cleaning in the shop and use nitrile gloves when washing up. There hasn’t been much mentoned here about ventilation. Any type of enclosed space should definitely have it, especially spaces like the basement modernman mentioned. Bottom line: the small amount of fumes that the average printer is exposed to in their lifetime will not have any effect, in my opinion - tossin’ my 2-cents in


Paper Stone Printing
Steve Nartowicz
P.O. Box 137
Chesterfield MA 01012

The silly thing about California VOC compliant washes is their constant reliance on acetone based solvents (Or veg oil). Why? Because it is not on the list of banned chemicals to use. Why? Because the acetone vapors are heavy and are not released into the atmosphere upwards. Loophole. I’ve worked in the printing industry for 20 years now and this recent rash of environmental regs just doesn’t make any practical sense. Not that the old red typewash was healthy but I don’t want to breathe acetone. I’d take naptha anyday.

I’ve been using nothing but white kerosene for decades. Minimal smell and have noticed no ill effects. Dries the skin but as paperstoneprinting says, its nothing that a little hand cream can’t retore instantly.

The cost is just a little more than gasoline out here in the country. In fact most independent gas stations out here have a white kerosene pump “out back” so I simply bring in my own can to get refilled. It ius commonly used for fueling space heaters in the workshops and outbuidlings on farms in the winter.