Household Solvents and Paint Strippers: Common Hazardous Wastes in Every Home
Handling Wastes: Household Solvents
A solvent is a substance that dissolves another substance forming a solution. Solvents that contain carbon are known as organic solvents and can contain chemicals considered hazardous -- they can be flammable and toxic.
Some household maintenance and cleaning products contain organic solvents such as petroleum distillates. These are sometimes used to dissolve difficult stains or greases on certain materials that may be damaged by water-based cleaners.
Organic solvents are used in household maintenance items as a carrier, thinner, and remover. However, wastesand leftovers can result in potentially hazardous household waste. For example, one cup of trichloroethylene, a solvent sometimes found in household cleaners or maintenance items, can contaminate about three million gallons of water.
For example, one cup of trichloroethylene, a solvent sometimes found in household cleaners or maintenance items, can contaminate about three million gallons of water.
Hazards of Solvents
Identifying ProductsContaining Organic Solvents
Prevention of HouseholdHazardous Waste
Andrews, E. (1989) Paint andOther Home Improvement Products. (G3554) Madison, WI: University ofWisconsin-Extension.
Lund, H. (1993). TheMcGraw-Hill recycling handbook. NY: McGraw-Hill.
Proceedings of the NationalEPA Conference on Household Hazardous Waste (1990,1991,1992,1993,1994). AndoverMA: Dana Duxbury & Associates.
Disposal Do it Right.Household Products Disposal Council.
Nebraska University Cooperative Extension
by Shirley Niemeyer,Extension Specialist, Home Environment
What You Should Know About Using Paint Strippers
IF NOT PROPERLY USED, PAINT STRIPPERS ARE HAZARDOUS TO YOURHEALTH AND SAFETY.
Paint strippers contain chemicals that loosen paint fromsurfaces. These chemicals can harm you if not used properly. Some paint stripping chemicals can irritate the skin and eyes, orcause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, or loss ofcoordination. Some may cause cancer, reproductive problems, ordamage of the liver, kidney, or brain. Others catch fire easily.Proper handling and use of paint strippers will reduce yourexposure to these chemicals and lessen your health risk.
GENERAL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Paint strippers contain different chemicals, and thepotential hazards are different for various products. Eachproduct has specific safety precautions (see the section below onpaint stripper types). However, there are some general safetysteps to keep in mind when using any paint stripper. If you usepaint strippers frequently, it is particularly important that youfollow these steps:
1. Always read and follow all the instructions and safety precautions on the label. Do not assume you already know how to use the product. The hazards may be different from one product to another, and the ingredients in individual products often change over time. The label tells you what actions you should take to reduce hazards and the first aid measures to use.
2. Wear chemical-resistant gloves appropriate to the type of stripper being used (see manufacturer's instructions). Common kitchen latex gloves do not provide enough protection.
3. Avoid getting the paint stripper on your skin or in your eyes. Wear protective clothing and goggles appropriate for the project and type of stripper.
4. Use paint strippers outdoors if possible. If you must use them indoors, cross-ventilate by opening all doors and windows. Make sure there is fresh air movement throughout the room. Ventilate the area before, during, and after applying and stripping. Never use any paint stripper in a poorly ventilated area. If work must be done indoors under low ventilation conditions, consider having the work done professionally instead of attempting it yourself.
5. If you must work indoors, always work so the stripper fumes are blowing away from you and to the outside. A fan can be used to improve cross-ventilation and to ensure fresh air movement. A fan is particularly important for nonflammable products that evaporate quickly, such as methylene chloride. Electrical sparks from fans may increase the chance of flammable paint strippers fumes to catch fire.
6. Do not use flammable paint strippers near any source of sparks, flame, or high heat. Do not work near gas stoves, kerosene heaters, gas or electric water heaters, gas or electric clothes dryers, gas or electric furnaces, gas or electric space heaters, sanders, buffers, or other electric hand tools. Open flames, cigarettes, matches, lighters, pilot lights, or electric sparks can cause the chemicals in the paint strippers to suddenly catch fire.
7. Only strip paint with chemicals that are marketed as paint strippers. Never use gasoline, lighter fluid, or kerosene to strip paint.
8. Dispose of paint strippers according to the instructions on the label. If you have any questions, ask your local environmental sanitation department about proper disposal.
TYPES OF PAINT STRIPPERS
Most paint strippers are solvent-based. Solvents dissolvethe bond between wood and paint. Solvents also can dissolveother materials, including the latex or rubber of commonhousehold or dish washing gloves. Some solvents will irritate orburn the skin. Some solvents may cause serious health effectseven if contact does not immediately cause pain. In addition,many solvents evaporate quickly and you can easily inhale them. Inhalation of these solvents can produce health effectsimmediately or years after exposure.
It is especially important to use paint strippers containingsolvents that evaporate quickly either outdoors or in an indoorarea with strong fresh air movement. Some paint stripperscontain solvents that do not evaporate quickly. When using thesestrippers indoors, be sure to open windows and doors to providefresh air movement in and out of the work site. You shouldalways follow the manufacturer's instructions and safetyprecautions. Use the amount of stripper recommended by themanufacturer to avoid buildup of harmful fumes.
The different types of solvent-based paint strippers andtheir potential hazards and safety precautions are:
== Methylene chloride (also called dichloromethane, or DCM) --
Methylene chloride is the most commonly used chemical inpaint strippers. Methylene chloride products come in twovarieties. One type is nonflammable, while the other type isflammable. The flammable paint strippers have less methylenechloride but have other flammable chemicals, including acetone,toluene, or methanol.
Methylene chloride causes cancer in laboratory animals. TheU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. ConsumerProduct Safety Commission (CPSC) consider the chemical to be apotential cause of cancer in humans. Methylene chlorideevaporates quickly, and you can inhale it easily. Breathing highlevels of methylene chloride over short periods can irritate theeyes, skin, nose, and lungs. It can also cause dizziness,headache, and lack of coordination. Your body changes someinhaled methylene chloride to carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxidelowers the blood's ability to carry oxygen. This can causeproblems for people with heart, lung, or blood diseases who usemethylene chloride paint strippers indoors without fresh aircross-ventilation. High exposures to methylene chloride for longperiods can also cause liver and kidney damage.
== Acetone, toluene, and methanol --
These chemicals are commonly used together. All threechemicals evaporate quickly and are very flammable. Breathinghigh levels of these chemicals can cause a variety of effects,including drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. Breathing highlevels of toluene may harm unborn children. Breathing very highlevels for a long period may cause brain damage. Toluene andmethanol are poisonous if swallowed.
== N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) --
Excessive contact with NMP may cause skin swelling,blistering, and burns. These skin reactions may not appear untilsome time after exposure. N-methylpyrrolidone can readily getinto the body through the skin and may cause health problems. NMP may cause reproductive problems and harm to unborn children.
== Dibasic esters (DBE), including dimethyl adipate ester,dimethyl succinate ester, and dimethyl glutarate ester --
Much less is known about the possible health effects ofthese chemicals than about most of the other paint strippingchemicals. Some people using DBE products without fresh air havereported temporary blurred vision. Repeatedly breathing DBEdamages the cells lining the nose of laboratory animals. Somestrippers include a mixture of DBE products and NMP.
CAUSTIC-BASED STRPPERS (NOT FLAMMABLE)
== Caustic alkalis --
Caustic alkalis react with the paint coating and loosen itfrom the surface. One of the chemicals in this type of stripperis sodium hydroxide (lye). Some people do not use causticalkalis because caustic products can darken wood and raise thegrain. Caustics can cause severe burns to skin and eyes even onshort contact. Therefore, be very careful to keep causticchemicals away from skin and eyes and wear protective clothing. If contact occurs, wash off immediately with cold water. Caustics are also highly toxic if swallowed.
OTHER TYPES OF PAINT STRIPPERS
Some paint strippers have a citrus smell or make"environmentally friendly" claims. However, these paintstrippers may be hazardous despite the smell and environmentalclaims.
For more information on indoor air quality, contact:
Additional Household Hazardous Waste Resources by the Home Air Purifier Expert
Here are some of our other information packed guides we recommend you explore in your search for information about controlling Household Hazardous Wastes and Chemicals like those found in paints, stains, varnishes, thinners, and laquers:
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