Reclaiming Lacquer Thinner: Is It Worth It?

A discussion of the cost and benefits of buying a lacquer thinner reclaiming machine. April 19, 2006

The owner of the company was telling me the other day he was considering buying a thinner reclaim machine. He said it was around $2K but isn't sure whether it would pay for itself or not. We are a two man shop, we do most all the finishing, and we use probably 10-20 gallons of thinner per month if we're heavily finishing. Anyone here use any sort of machine? What kind? Is it worth it?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
If youíre using lacquer or precat (and some conversion varnishes) it isn't really safe to use a reclaimer. The nitrocellulose in these products isnít safe at high temps and vinyl sealers give off toxic fumes when heated and no matter what, they really stink like dead fish when in use.

From contributor B:
They're only good to make gun wash. Unless recycle fees are high in your area and you have a lot of used thinner, it's not likely worth it.

From contributor C:
That's a cheap price, and you can always use it as an afterwash for your stripped pieces. It will show the inspectors what you are doing with your dirty solvents. For that price, I would take it.

From contributor D:
I must be missing something. If you use 10-20 gallons of thinner per month, where are you generating enough volume of waste solvents to even think about reclaiming? At $2000 or more, plus cost of operation you'd need to reclaim a LOT of thinner.

From contributor C:
Another fact to consider is the cost of removing your chemical waste. Itís very expensive in New York, and in many other states.

From contributor E:
I may get so grief for saying this but, believe it or not all I do is strain the thinner through 2 paper coffee filters set into a funnel.. The first batch is good for an afterwash, but the two other batches are good for the first and sometimes the second wash on your gun or brushes.

From contributor C:
That's good, but then what do you do with the solvent after the third time? Also, if youíre doing stripping, what do you do with the sludge from the afterwash and stripper?

From contributor F:
That price for a reclaimer is pretty decent, but price is usually relative to what you get. You should start thinking about getting a reclaimer when you are disposing of more than 15 gallons a month. If you are getting rid of 30 gallons of waste thinner a month it is going to be a no-brainer. To keep recycling the thinner you will want to "kick-it" by adding 10-20% of new thinner every so often, depending upon volume and how often you cook, how dirty it gets, etc.

Once a month we flush all our pumps and pots with straight acetone for that nasty stuff. I think more people will move to recycler or gun wash units with pricing on everything going up.

From contributor E:
When it comes to stripping I use a bio-degradable non toxic stripper, and the back of the can says to just throw it in the trash. I hardly ever get slug when I strip. After awhile I do get waste thinners and such, so like everyone, I have to pay to get rid of it.

From contributor C:
Itís very expensive to have it removed, plus as I said before, it brings a smile to the EPA and the fire inspectorís face to see a reclaimer. I guess the original questioner will have to crunch the numbers and then see if itís worth it or not.

From contributor B:
The big question is: What is the capacity of the $2000 still? Then crunch the numbers.

From contributor E:
I guess I am lucky, Most of the time I have less then 5 gallons to dispose of at any one time. Also I reuse the cans the stuff came in to begin with. Some of the time the town recycle drive takes haz mat stuff in small quantities for free, mostly under 5 gallons at a time.

From contributor F:
As a paint distributor with a full time color production lab, we probably had about 1000-1200 gallons of waste thinner last year. We have 4 full time employees in the lab along with a chemist and field tech who also work part time in there. We, too, are looking at reclaimers to reduce our waste. We also have a giveaway program, for mismatched paints and stains that we cannot work off into another color, to help reduce our waste.

From contributor G:
I must be missing something - I don't have any waste thinner. How are you generating so much waste thinner?

From contributor H:
Do your homework before you buy. 2k for a reclaimer sounds low. A good reclaimer will pay for itself in time. Do the math to see how long - it could be years. Check out Omega reclaimers. I work in a production shop that has one and it cost 6k Canadian. It paid for itself in one year. Make sure that you can adjust the temperature of the receptacle so you don't boil too hot and make acid instead of thinner. With the right reclaimer and the right temperature, you get good results, save money in the long run and save the environment.

From the original questioner:
We use an airless. Most airless pumps require a good bit of thinner and it eventually gets filled with solids to the point it's useless as a pump wash. Also, we occasionally have leftover clear precats that have shading additives, toners, and who knows what else in it that is useless - also leftover post cats. Right now we are dumping it all into a 5 gallon can (bomb threat) and aren't quite sure what to do with it. What price is everyone paying to have another company reclaim thinner?

From contributor B:
The Recycle Depot here will also take under 5 gallons of Class 3 waste as long as it's properly labeled. One trick is to pour off the liquid and let the solids and sludge dry out. They can then go into the dumpster. Class 3 waste is cheaper to dispose of without solids in it. I've also mixed the liquid with swept-up overspray from booth cleaning and sawdust to make a sludge that - when it dries - can go into the dumpster as well.

In contributor Fís situation - with about 2 drums a month to dispose of, a still is useful, but it would have to be a much bigger unit than $2000 worth.