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It’s a good bet that many of our readers use some kind of thinner for various things, such as wiping down projects, cleaning up spills, and cleaning our tools so they will last as long as possible. Some of you like to use shop rags or old t-shirts while others just use plain old paper towels. If you’re tossing them in the garbage or a rag-bag, you could be setting yourself up for a fire.
Many of you are not aware that some of these thinners can, under just the right condition, spontaneously combust. One of the most dangerous solvents is Turpentine. There are a lot of folks that still us it and don’t think twice about tossing the rag in a pile or throwing the paper towels in the trash can, which may not get emptied for a day or two. Summer is upon us and the warm temperatures can heat up a shop or a garage real fast. The closer you get to the flash point of a chemical, the greater the risk of spontaneous combustion ruining your day. Check out the MSDS sheets on your solvents and find out what their flash point is; some are very low while others are pretty high.
If you’re a smoker or use power tools in the same vicinity, the fumes generated by those solvent soaked rags and paper towels, lying around the shop, could also ignite and again, ruin the moment.
The safest solution is to have a separate container that your solvent soaked waste is deposited in and removed from the shop, once your projects are completed. Rags should be placed in a special container, which is specifically designed for this purpose. It has a special lid and the bottom of the container is elevated off the floor with vent holes around the base. These containers are not that expensive and just might save your shop some day. I have one in my garage as well as my shop, and I keep a large coffee can on my work bench in which I put all the soiled paper towels while working on a project, then its taken outside when the job is finish and appropriately disposed of.
One more issue about solvents and rags has to do with friction and static electricity. Be very careful when cleaning surfaces, especially textile based surfaces, with solvent saturated rags. The friction can generate static electricity and ignite the solvent in the rag. With the build up of fumes around the cleaning area, it could be a very explosive situation.
Common sense, a little research, and an ounce or two of prevention can give you piece of mind and prevent a disaster that could destroy everything you’ve worked hard for. Till next time, be safe and enjoy all the “Eye Candy” this great magazine has to offer…
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