Cleaning Fumes/Vapor Safety

We are wanting to make absolutely sure that we are protecting ourselves in our shop from the harmful fumes from our cleaning supplies. Currently the supplies we use are: California Wash, Mineral Spirits and Acetone.

When we built the place we have created a ventilation system that runs a pretty strong unit to draw the fumes through 4 openings to outside during wash up. While we wash the press we run the system and all is fine, but when finished we shut it down but we find there are still fumes lingering around.

Here is my question, is there anything I could do better short of changing my cleaning products? Is wearing a ventilator for us cleaning up too far in the way of prevention?

One thing I think I should mention is that there is an employee working on the premise that is pregnant. She is in the office but still smells the fumes once we are done printing. So I am thinking of protecting not only those on press but those working in the office. Thanks!

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All of those fumes are necessary if you want to be a good printer. People without brain damage would never get into printing.

Have your employee explain the situation to her doctor and follow his/her advice. I’ve had a number of students who were pregnant and had them go and get medical advice, there was never a problem with the more common solvents as long as the student wore gloves to protect the skin. Fumes seem far less a concern.

Not sure about that Acetone though. What in god’s name are you using that for?


I agree about the Acetone, there’s no real need for it in a printshop. For removing the worst dried ink I use Lacquer Thinner, but I always remove the rags from the shop so there is no lingering build-up of fumes. California Wash has several chemicals added that are considered in California to be carcinogens. I use Naptha (Coleman Fuel) as a type wash. Naptha is the major ingredient in California Wash, but it doesn’t have the additives. In my shop, and for the last thirty some years, I use Kerosene as a general cleaner and wash-up solvent, Naptha for a type wash, and for a final roller wash if I am turning a job around quickly. Mineral Spirits (odorless) if folks are going to be around the shop, and Denatured Alcohol for washing tympans, and cleaning the built-up ink off of old furniture. I use Lacquer Thinner to remove old dried ink from type and plates, and to remove paint from old type cases prior to repainting.


probably you do, but are rags/wipes instantly removed from the shop to an outside bin, or stored with waste in bins with good sealing lids(which only means fumes will still be present in the bin until the lid is lifted again anyways getting back into the workshop). Students here must do a Risk Assessment when pregnant that is signed off to show the management have authorised their continued working, the chemicals will have OEL’s (occupational exposure levels ) or similar which you can check for time periods which indicates when exposure needs to be prevented, but of course here (as elsewhere’s) it is in the legislation to reduce risk as practically possible.

@Gerald, I only use acetone to clean any metal parts, rollers, ink knifes, etc. It does a quick, great job on them, but fumes are a bear!

Wow @Paul I had no clue about the carcinogens in California wash. Is that through the fumes or if you physically come in contact with it? I guess I have to figure out a different type wash. Thanks for sharing what you use.

Thank you @jonathanjeclipse. Regarding the rags you remove outside do you put them in a box or bin outside until trash pickup?

I find it hard to believe that anyone is using Acetone at all. It can’t think of anything worse for killing brain cells. I probably haven’t touched the stuff in 40 years. What part of a “good whiff will just about knock you out” you do not understand? It would be interesting to hear from anyone with real scientific facts as to just how bad Acetone can be.


Acetone is overkill. Naptha/Coleman is strong enough with a bit of elbow-grease, for any dried ink.

“Harmful by inhalation. Vapours may cause drowsiness and dizziness. Inhalation of high vapour concentrations can cause CNS-depression and narcosis. Severe overexposure may produce more serious symptoms, including coma and risk of kidney damage. “

put them in a plastic bag in an open skip which is in a big yard so wind takes away the fumes until skip is collected, on a no smoking premises so people won’t throw a match in
try this link

I must read that again also!
I still buy MEK which I will only use teaspoons of to clean dried up ink from rollers, or with gloves and solvent mask de-glaze a litho blanket using LEV. But a general use of acetone, no.

If ventilation isn’t adequate you could add respirator masks with organic vapor cartridges. Wilson is the brand I used.
Gloves are also an imprtant barrier, since these things enter through the skin as well as the lungs.

I have used acetone since starting our business because it is what I was taught to use. Now I know better and have no excuse to not use it again.

I guess I love to kill off my brain cells by cleaning my press then by getting wasted on the weekends. LOL! But seriously thanks for the advice.

The ventilation system excellent but we just want to take extreme precaution. Especially since there is a pregnant women on the premise.

My understanding is that California Wash was banned in several California counties because it cannot meet air quality standards. I’m not sure about the carcinogens contained within. California requires labeling on industrial products containing suspected carcinogens.

I was using a paint spray for polycarbonates the other day and it had full disclosure; listing over two dozen very nasty chemicals (eight of them variants of Acetates, and including Acetone itself) and of the possible health hazards, even warning overexposure can cause “death.” A Japanese product with the label “contains chemicals which are known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.” All stated matter-of-fact without skull & crossbones. I guess they have caught on to the fact that nobody reads anymore.


Also change your housekeeping program so that ink knives and other related gear are cleaned at the end of each project. If items are cleaned while the ink is still wet, they can be cleaned with a minimal amount of mineral spirits.

I used to work in a shop that had open tubs of press wash to keep ink knives in, but that was on a commercial basis.

Soaking Ink Knives
I use a empty 24oz Tostitos Salsa jar, they’re made heavy enough to fill with your solutions with tall ink knives. Soak them long enough to clean it off and then you can seal the lid to keep the fumes out of your shop.

Most of your commercial roller washes, will Not hurt your ink rollers. They have the appropriate agents mixed in them to promote healthy rollers. All other fluids will remove the beneficial character, using anything other than the recommended chemicals by the manufacturer can change the shape, soften or shorten the life of your rollers. However, Varn V-120 (you can add water to take some of the punch out) will make your rollers swell if used on a regular basis. But it is a good deep cleaning solution. “I.E.: from black ink to white.

Syn-tech Roller Co. told me to never use Kerosene on their rollers.

Check your local paper houses, like Xpedex. They sell cleaning agents appropriate to your area.

I have a ventilation system that changes the air completely every 40 min. I get even better results by opening the bay door. Office help isn’t around when I do this at the end of the day.


Positive air pressure in the work areas adjacent to the printshop can help keep the fumes from other workers. (Locate the fan intake away from any fumes.)