The Process and Benefits of Distilling Used Solvents


By Mike Lawson, Persyst Enterprises, Inc.

Industries such as painting, specialty coatings, composites and 3D printing produce a large volume of waste solvent each year, much of which can be reused. There are a few methods for removing the impurities from waste solvents, such as forced-air and water-cooled systems, but refrigeration distilling is generally a more efficient option for these reasons:

  1. Forced-air condensing systems are not recommended for warmer climates.
  2. The need for ongoing maintenance of forced-air systems makes them costly to operate.
  3. Water condensing systems can use about 180 gallons of water per 1 gallon of recycled solvent, making water consumption a concern for those interested in conservation.
  4. Special plumbing, water treatment and the effects of freezing weather must all be taken into account with water condensing systems.

Because a refrigeration distilling system is not compromised by the above issues, it can be more appropriate and more cost-effective for reclaiming used solvents in most settings.


A refrigeration machine distiller-reclaimer can process 5 gallons or less of used solvents per batch. The standard 5-gallon metal bucket of waste is placed in the chamber (see example, left). Waste solvents are vaporized and re-condensed, making the solvent reusable.

The vapors expand in the chamber, displacing air. Being heavier than air, the vapors then fall through a refrigerated heat exchanger, then condense and gravity-flow into the clean-solvent receiving vessel. The waste stays behind in the cooking bucket within the chamber. The result is pure, crystal clean solvent that is ready to be reused.


Companies that reclaim solvents stand to benefit in four important ways:

  1. Money saved on solvent purchases
  2. Reduction in waste disposal costs
  3. Compliance with regulations and avoidance of potential costly fines
  4. Healthier environment

Saving Money on Solvent Purchases:

Companies are always looking for ways to cut cost without affecting output. Reusing solvents can help them save tens of thousands of dollars. In one example, a company uses 50 gallons of solvent per week with an average cost of $7.50 per gallon. Total expenditure per year (including disposal cost) is $26,960. With one distiller machine, reusing the same solvent again and again, the company would reduce its annual cost to only $3,760.

The annual cost of using recycled solvents distilled by a refrigeration machine, such as the Sidewinder M-2 (shown), is significantly lower than purchasing new solvents.

Saving on Disposal Costs

All used solvents, thinners and reducers are hazardous wastes. There are only two legal ways to dispose of these wastes:

  1. For less than 100 kilograms of waste per month, obtain an identification number from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a small quantity generator and pay a registered transporter to haul the waste to an approved recycling facility or other type of approved facility.
  2. Recycle the used solvent on site for future reuse.

Conforming to Regulations and Avoiding Costly Fines

Reducing the volume of hazardous materials on site not only makes it a safer work environment, but it greatly reduces the chance of potential liabilities. Hazardous waste generators have a “cradle to grave” responsibility for safe disposal of hazardous wastes. Federal law says the generator is responsible for the waste they create, regardless of who hauls it away or where it is stored. The generator’s name is on the waste barrel, and if it is spilled or otherwise causes pollution, that company is responsible for the cleanup — forever!

Ensuring a Healthier Environment

Nearly every day on the news, we hear about looming environmental crises — including concerns about hazardous waste — and how future generations may have to contend with them. Waste minimization is one of the few practices that serve nationwide environmental goals, economic interests, and public health and safety objectives. For waste generators, the benefits of recycling include reduction in cost, liability and the regulatory burdens associated with hazardous waste management. For the general public, waste minimization contributes to cleaner and safer air, water and soil and, as a result, fewer environment-related health threats.

The EPA’s rules and regulations encourage onsite recycling and reuse to minimize the amount of hazardous waste transported on highways and stored at hazardous waste sites. A solvent refrigeration distiller-reclaimer machine makes this process more energy-efficient and cost-effective.

*Claims or positions expressed by sponsoring authors do not necessarily reflect the views of TPC, PaintSquare or its editors.


Mike Lawson, Persyst Enterprises, Inc.

Mike Lawson is president and CEO of Persyst Enterprises, Inc. and the inventor of the first and only refrigeration machine distiller-reclaimer that is UL listed — the Sidewinder M-2. Made in the USA, the Sidewinder is used by body shops, specialty and protective coatings contractors, metal and composite fabricators, 3D printers and general industry. More information: 702-362-9432