How to Investigate and Select Alternative Parts Cleaners

March 1998

Reducing or eliminating hazardous substances is an important business decision. When you use hazardous chemicals in your processes, you are not just making a one-time purchase of the material, you are also paying for:

  • Proper storage and disposal
  • Permits
  • Protecting worker health
  • submitting required reports
  • training employees
  • These costs add up, and finding alternatives to these substances should be a priority. Alternatives are available and often out-perform old process equipment and chemicals.

    As an extended service of _____________________________________________, you will receive a series of fact sheets to help you learn how to investigate, select and use waste minimization opportunities for your industry. Most often, reducing or eliminating the use of hazradous substances can help your company:

  • Comply with environmental regulations and cut your paperwork burden;
  • Reduce costs by using fewer materials;
  • Cut waste transportation and disposal costs; and
  • Reduce long-term liability and insurance costs.
  • Thhis fact sheet introduces an approach to finding alternatives to solvent-based parts cleaning operations.

    One of the most widely accepted waste minimization opportunities is to adopt alternative cleaning methods or materials. These alternatives include: 1) eliminating the cleaning process; 2) using water-based or semi-water-based cleaning systems and/or materials; or 3) using a specialty cleaning process, such as supercritical carbon dioxide or vacuum de-oiling. The following steps will help you analyze your cleaning process, evaluate alterantives, and select the right alternative for your business.

    Step 1: Understand Your Cleaning Situation
    Since you clean parts everyday, the following questions may seem unnecessary. The purpose of the exercise, however, is to dig deeply and thoroughly re-evaluate your cleaning situation. Consider the following questions before you continue with the additional steps:
  • What is being cleaned?
  • What are the contaminants?
  • How "dirty" are the parts before cleaning?
  • How are the parts getting dirty in the first place?
  • What are the minimum requirements for cleanliness that must be met for this process?
  • Is a specific type of cleaning required by specifications?
  • Is continuous or batch cleaning process required?
  • Step 2: Evaluate Eliminating Cleaning
    Consider whether cleaning your parts is even necessary.

    1) Check minimum cleanliness requirements, and thiink carefully about them. You may be "over-cleaning." If you cannot eliminate cleaning, you may be able to reduce the amount of cleaning you do see Step 4, options A and B).

    2) Investigate controlling sources of parts contamination. You may find that you can meet minimum cleanliness requirements without cleaning. If not, you may be able to cut the load on the cleaning system (see Step 4, options A, B and C).

    3) Investigate process changes that make cleaning unnecessary. If you are cleaning because of residue left on by a current process, see if there is an alternative process that meets your needs without leaving any residue, or which leaves residue that can remain on the part without further cleaning.

    4) Work to change internal specification that require cleaning, if you can prove it si not technically necessary. If external specifications require cleaning with a regulated substance, investigate alternatives, and ask the customer whether a change would be acceptable.

    Step 3: Investigate Alternative Cleaning Processes
    Consider cleaning parts with an alternative process.

    1) Determine which alternatives are compatible with the parts that you make or handle and will remove contaminants, based on information from vendors, peers or others. Try to identify water-based alternatives, because these are less toxic and raise fewer occupational safety concerns.

    2) Identify which of the compatible alternatives is most economical and convenient.

    3) Have enough representative parts "test-cleaned" to verify that the alternative will work for you; and to identify any modifications you will need to make in order to use the new process.

    4) Work to change internal specification that require a specific cleaning process if you can prove a practical alternative exists. If external specifications require cleaning with a regulated substance, investigate alternatives, and ask the customer whether a change is acceptable.

    Step 4: If Alternatives Are Not Feasible, Optimize the Current Cleaning Process

    A. Consolidate multiple cleaning steps into one step.
    B. Investigate ways to reduce contamination of parts before cleaning.
    C. Extend solvent "change-out" schedule with vendor.
    D. Locate cleaning tanks away from heat sources.
    E. Have only trained employees use the equipment.
    F. Find a less toxic solvent.



    For Free, Non-Regulatory Assistance and Referrals, contact PPRC.

    Produced by the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center, 513 First Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119
    phone: 206-352-2050, fax: 206-352-2049, e-mail: office@pprc.org, WWW address: http://www.pprc.org