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5 Tips to Reduce Solvent Use in Your Finishing Work


By Patrick Harmon

I was recently with a customer who wanted to reduce solvent use. His company currently uses about 350 gallons of solvent a week. Clearly, this is a large expense for the firm, and a reduction would significantly improve operating costs.

© / temis

Reducing the amount of solvents used can lead to cost savings as well as emission reductions.

Reducing solvent use also lowers emissions, which is important for many manufacturers.

The following tips are a few of the ideas we went over in determining ways to help reduce the company’s solvent use.

1. Minimize Fluid Line

If you only need 15 feet of fluid line, keep the line to the necessary minimum. The less fluid line you have to flush, the less solvent you will use.

The issue of having excessive fluid line most often happens with airless units and to some degree is unavoidable—they typically come in standard lengths. However, when you are purchasing airless hose, try to restrict your purchase to the minimum amount you will need.

If you frequently need various lengths of hose, it may be worthwhile to consider having multiple lengths available to reduce solvent use.

2. Match and Use Equipment Appropriately

By matching equipment to your task, you can ensure you’re not using tools that require a lot of solvent when you could be using a different setup needing less solvent. 

A pressure tank, used with coatings that do not have a pot life, can be left sealed with the coating still in it for a few days at a time. This will eliminate the need for daily flushing of your pressure tank and can significantly save on coating costs.

Typically, airless units require the largest amounts of solvents as a result of longer fluid lines. Pressure pot systems are next, followed by gravity and suction cup air spray systems.

© / pistolseven

By matching equipment to your task, you can ensure you’re not using tools that require a lot of solvent when you could be using a different setup.

Another factor to consider is whether your equipment can properly break apart your coating. If you use tools that are not properly matched to your spraying needs, you will require a significant amount of thinner to properly dilute your paint. 

Airless units and pressure pot spraying systems with conventional guns can spray the most viscous fluids, while gravity and suction cup spray guns do not spray highly viscous material well. 

When you are tackling a new coating or project, let the person you will work with on equipment needs know the coating you’re spraying, your target size and how much you will be spraying. This will help them to properly match the equipment to be efficient and not wasteful with both paint and solvent.

3. Flush as Little Fluid Line as Possible in Automated Systems

If you have multiple coatings in an automated line, or will need to routinely change colors, it can be good to consider manifolds. A manifold allows for solvent flushes to be limited only to the space from the manifold out to the gun, which can significantly reduce solvent use. 

If you use a smaller automated line requiring frequent changing of your pump to different coatings, it can often be worth the expense to evaluate slowly adding additional pumps for the number of coatings involved with your finishing. 

Initially there is an expense with the pumps and necessary hose, but in the long run routinely switching materials in a single line can add up to hundreds of gallons of solvent and many extra man hours each week.

© / Magronice

Tell your equipment person what coating you’re spraying, your target size and how much you will be spraying so he or she can properly match the equipment to your needs.

If you spray a lot of two-component media, a plural component system can sometimes make sense. A plural component system will eliminate the need for flushing your fluid lines after every two-component paint you spray.

4. Consider a Solvent Saver Hose Cleaner

A solvent saver is a hose attachment that forces air back against the direction the coating flows. This creates additional friction in the fluid line, which helps remove paint from your coating line faster.

Solvent savers are specific to pressure-fed spraying systems. Their results can vary based on the coating that you are using, so it is usually a good idea to try one or see one in use with your coating prior to purchase.

5. Consider Recycling Solvent

There are wo options that can can significantly reduce your solvent expenses by reducing your solvent waste cost: using solvent stills or even having an outside company recycle your used solvent. 

Solvent stills work by boiling your used solvent with the impurities that are left behind from using solvent for your cleaning of your equipment. The used solvent is boiled and the vapor is then cooled and collected, resulting in clean, fresh solvent.

Reused solvent is a good cost savings measure because of a few things.

First, if an outside company recycles the solvent you can buy the solvent cheaper than fresh solvent, which helps on initial solvent purchase costs.

Second, if you invest in a still for your facility you can save by reusing the solvent multiple times (each recycle period will result in a small solvent loss). 

Third, by recycling your own solvent with a still you can reduce costs associated with collecting and removing dirty solvent from your facility—this can be a large expense depending on the amount of solvent you use. 

Before considering a solvent still I would recommend collecting data on your current spending on solvent, including purchasing and disposal. By having this information, you will be able to run numbers on the initial investment of a solvent still along with any pertinent licensing fees that may be associated with the still. This will allow your company to decide if a still will be a cost savings measure.

How Do You Reduce Usage?

With these tips you should be able to significantly reduce your emissions and solvent costs.

How about you? Have you tried any of these suggestions? What other ideas have you used to help reduce solvent use in your finishing work?


Patrick Harmon

Patrick Harmon works with Pittsburgh Spray Equipment Company, a distributor for painting and sandblast equipment to industrial fabricators and manufacturers. There, he helps clients solve problems related to coating application challenges, finish quality problems, production limitations and proper equipment for desired finish end results. Patrick is pursuing his MBA while working in the field with customers and their finishing equipment challenges. Equipment Insights covers the most common questions and considerations encountered when evaluating finishing equipment. Contact Patrick.



Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Paint application; Paint application equipment; Quality control; Quality Control; Spray equipment; Air spray; Airless spray; Coating Application; Plural component spray; Pot life; Solvent and chemical cleaning; Solvents; Spray guns

Comment from Jean Pierre Michel Sauron, (1/28/2016, 5:36 AM)

Also to reduce paint inside hoses sometime will be possible to reduce the diameter of paint hoses and with that reduce paint and solvente waste. To low pressure paint system one system to reduce about 50% solvente works with balance pressure of solvente and air and create a atomizing solvente inside the hoses and these become more agressive to clean the paint and reduce solvente to 50 to 70% to clean.

Comment from Pete Monaghan, (1/29/2016, 8:38 AM)

as to point 5 , if done correctly, reduction in solvents disposed of can be 85-95% per year.. Solvent does not go bad, solids just build up and reduce the effectiveness of the solvent.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (2/1/2016, 9:02 AM)

Pete, a distillation type recycler should not leave any significant solids in the recycled solvent. It may become contaminated (water in MEK would be a common example) - but even the simplest recycler should collect the solids.

Comment from Pete Monaghan, (2/2/2016, 9:39 AM)

Tom you are correct, but water should not be an issue..again..if correct distillation process is followed.. Solids should never migrate with solvent vapor if Chemist had programmed systems right. Many times, companies just crank the temeperature .. and this allows for error and opens up the possibility of migration. More question. hunt me down.

Comment from Florentino DeLaguna, (9/14/2016, 9:30 AM)

A solvent saver can help with VOC emissions, savings on disposal costs, not to mention using a good solvent saver hose/gun cleaner also saves you time. Just a thought next time your cleaning your equipment. The ROI on these sort of items is very quick. I noticed someone talked about reducing paint hose size, be very careful about doing this because you increase the fluid friction, and the pressure drop dramatically going down in hose size, of course this does depend on the length of hose or pipe, and viscosity of your material but its not uncommon to see a couple hundred psi drop over 50 ft especially with higher viscosity materials.

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