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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
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    Default Proper storage and disposal of painting rags

    Hello,

    I apologize if this topic has been covered in-depth before; I tried to search through the forums and through The Painter's Handbook and couldn't quite find the information I was looking for. My question is fairly basic: what is the best way to store and dispose of rags that have any combination of oil paint, linseed oil, and mineral spirits on them in a small studio?

    I have found multiple similar, but slightly different answers to the question:
    - In college we had a red metal rag-can that we would put the fresh rags into, and they would eventually be taken away.
    - In my most recent search, however, I read that one shouldn't put soaked rags in a closed container because the fumes will collect and pose a fire threat in that way. I have no idea how credible the source was, but it was enough to make me pause.
    - The directions on the back of the linseed oil can say to immediately put the rags in a sealed metal container that has water in it. Then, I assume, this container is to be taken to a local hazardous waste disposal site.
    - I have also seen/heard that if the rags are allowed to dry out (to a point of being "hard"), they are no longer at hazard of spontaneously combusting. And these can either be taken to a hazardous waste facility or just thrown away.
    - At the same time, I have read that it's when rags have been left lying around that fires start to happen. But perhaps that is only when they're in piles?

    So those answers (and please correct any of those if they are inaccurate) lead me to further questions:

    - If the metal can/water method is the best (being the one recommended on the can), what counts as an appropriate sealed container? Would a small metal trashcan with a lid be adequate? Or would it be better to use something like an empty paint can, which has a tighter seal and can be taken kit-and-caboodle to a disposal center? If I were to use a metal trashcan with water to store the rags, what would be a safe way to transport the rags to their final disposal destination?

    I am only one person painting in a studio, and it will take me time to accumulate enough rags to take somewhere, so a storage solution is important. Something like a trashcan would be ideal, if it is adequate, because I don't really have any access to empty paint cans.

    - Or is the dry-the-rags method better perhaps, if that is even an adequate method? Right now I have two small rags sitting on a metal stool in one layer drying out in my studio, just because. I don't have a backyard or anyplace where I could put the rags to dry outside.

    Thank you for your time and for this website! I know that rag disposal is a pretty basic part of painting practices, but for some reason I came away from all my perusing unsure about the best solution for me on the scale at which I operate, and thought it would be best just to ask.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
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    9,067

    Default Proper storage and disposal of painting rags

    Quote Originally Posted by natly View Post
    Hello,

    I apologize if this topic has been covered in-depth before; I tried to search through the forums and through The Painter's Handbook and couldn't quite find the information I was looking for. My question is fairly basic: what is the best way to store and dispose of rags that have any combination of oil paint, linseed oil, and mineral spirits on them in a small studio?

    I have found multiple similar, but slightly different answers to the question:
    - In college we had a red metal rag-can that we would put the fresh rags into, and they would eventually be taken away.
    - In my most recent search, however, I read that one shouldn't put soaked rags in a closed container because the fumes will collect and pose a fire threat in that way. I have no idea how credible the source was, but it was enough to make me pause.
    - The directions on the back of the linseed oil can say to immediately put the rags in a sealed metal container that has water in it. Then, I assume, this container is to be taken to a local hazardous waste disposal site.
    - I have also seen/heard that if the rags are allowed to dry out (to a point of being "hard"), they are no longer at hazard of spontaneously combusting. And these can either be taken to a hazardous waste facility or just thrown away.
    - At the same time, I have read that it's when rags have been left lying around that fires start to happen. But perhaps that is only when they're in piles?

    So those answers (and please correct any of those if they are inaccurate) lead me to further questions:

    - If the metal can/water method is the best (being the one recommended on the can), what counts as an appropriate sealed container? Would a small metal trashcan with a lid be adequate? Or would it be better to use something like an empty paint can, which has a tighter seal and can be taken kit-and-caboodle to a disposal center? If I were to use a metal trashcan with water to store the rags, what would be a safe way to transport the rags to their final disposal destination?

    I am only one person painting in a studio, and it will take me time to accumulate enough rags to take somewhere, so a storage solution is important. Something like a trashcan would be ideal, if it is adequate, because I don't really have any access to empty paint cans.

    - Or is the dry-the-rags method better perhaps, if that is even an adequate method? Right now I have two small rags sitting on a metal stool in one layer drying out in my studio, just because. I don't have a backyard or anyplace where I could put the rags to dry outside.

    Thank you for your time and for this website! I know that rag disposal is a pretty basic part of painting practices, but for some reason I came away from all my perusing unsure about the best solution for me on the scale at which I operate, and thought it would be best just to ask.
    natly,

    Welcome to AMIEN.

    Great questions! Simple enough answers, too -- there is actually an ASTM standard for the "autocombustibility" (potential for spontaneous combustion) of drying oils, believe it or not -- brought on by some legislation in Connecticut about 10 years ago that mandated labeling for it.

    The problem arises when linseed or other oil-soaked rags are stored in a closed space that has oxygen getting into it -- a cabinet beneath a sink, for instance. As the oxygen is absorbed by the oil in the rags, the oil begins to oxidize -- a "slow burn," if you will. In a closed space like that, the oil can easily reach its flash or ignition point, around 222 - 260 C (432 - 500 F), and burst into flame. Then, your house burns down. We know of at least two artists who lost their entire life's work that way, in big puffs of smoke and flame.

    So. The red can at school. Was it triangular, or did it have a stop that prevented you from propping it open? If so, it was a fire-proof can. Provided its closure was not impeded by a plastic bag draped over its edges (we've seen that, unfortunately), it would not allow enough oxygen to get in to start the spontaneous combustion. If it was a real fire-proof can, it would have had "Empty Every Day" in yellow block letters on the outside. You can buy one of those cans easily -- check with your big box store like Home Depot, or go online and look for Lab Safety Supply.

    Your alternative of drying out the rags, either in your studio or on the ground in the back yard: that will work fine, as long as you have some ventilation to get rid of the solvent vapors -- which wouldn't take long in any case. Once the oil is dry, there is no chance that it will spontaneously combust. We've gone that route for years, with no problems; we collect the rags in a bag and take them to a hazardous waste disposal facility near our town, since they have colorants all over them, too. Of course, we also have a gigantic fire ABC extingisher by the exit door to our studio!

    We hope this helps you.
    The AMIEN Staff

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
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    Default

    Thanks so much for the information! It helps a lot--I'll stick to drying the rags out, though I'll look into the fire-proof cans as well.

  4. #4
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    Jun 2006
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    Default Thanks, and cans!

    Quote Originally Posted by natly View Post
    Thanks so much for the information! It helps a lot--I'll stick to drying the rags out, though I'll look into the fire-proof cans as well.
    natly,

    You're welcome.

    The cans are good to have, in case you don't want to have solvent vapors floating around your head. They are heavy-duty, and are a one-time purchase.
    The AMIEN Staff

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
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    30

    Default oil soaked rags

    Hello
    I have 2 questions.
    About the spontaneous combustion of oil painting rags-
    If the rags are just dirty with paint from wiping brushes, splatters and palettes is that "oil soaked"?
    They dry at the same rate as the painting so are hard and crusty.

    One method of disposal I had been told is to paint the last of the paint onto scrap wood and when it is dry then it is safe to bin with the rubbish. I thought that when they were dry the paint and solvents were inert. I have hard dried rags to dispose of. Can I not put them in the rubbish?

    Thanks,
    Julie

  6. #6
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    Jun 2006
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    9,067

    Default Proper storage and disposal of oil soaked rags

    Quote Originally Posted by JulieC View Post
    Hello
    I have 2 questions.
    About the spontaneous combustion of oil painting rags-
    If the rags are just dirty with paint from wiping brushes, splatters and palettes is that "oil soaked"?
    They dry at the same rate as the painting so are hard and crusty.

    One method of disposal I had been told is to paint the last of the paint onto scrap wood and when it is dry then it is safe to bin with the rubbish. I thought that when they were dry the paint and solvents were inert. I have hard dried rags to dispose of. Can I not put them in the rubbish?

    Thanks,
    Julie
    JulieC,

    Rags that are dried out and stiff, with just oil paint on them, are not "oil soaked." "Oil soaked" would be still damp, primarily with linseed oil.

    As far as disposal is concerned, we don't think paint-covered rags should go in the ordinary trash. We think of all our waste materials as hazardous to the environment if they end up in land fills. Therefore, we collect all our waste and periodically take it to a hazardous waste disposal facility near our city. From there, the material is shipped to a special incinerator which captures the smoke and ash. Between trips to the facility, we store our waste in a metal can, outdoors.
    The AMIEN Staff

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2010
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    9

    Default

    Just out of curiousity:

    Linseed soaked rags are a fire hazard, but actual paintings where linseed oil has been used are not? Is it because there is not enough oil in the paint to be a hazard?

  8. #8
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    Jun 2006
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    Default Dried linseed oil is not a fire hazard

    Quote Originally Posted by chigen5 View Post
    Just out of curiousity:

    Linseed soaked rags are a fire hazard, but actual paintings where linseed oil has been used are not? Is it because there is not enough oil in the paint to be a hazard?
    chigen5,

    Once linseed oil dries, it is not a hazard.
    The AMIEN Staff

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2010
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    Default

    So would it be unsafe to keep some linseed in a cup, not covered, in my bedroom. I dip my brush in a cup of linseed oil to moisten it (the brush) a little. This is so I don't dilute the clean oil in the bottle it came in.The paint will eventually dilute the oil in the cup. So would it be unsafe to keep some linseed in a cup, not covered, in my bedroom? If so, what is the best way to dispose of the dirty oil?

  10. #10
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    Jun 2006
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    9,067

    Default Linseed oil in an open cup in your bedroom

    Quote Originally Posted by chigen5 View Post
    So would it be unsafe to keep some linseed in a cup, not covered, in my bedroom. I dip my brush in a cup of linseed oil to moisten it (the brush) a little. This is so I don't dilute the clean oil in the bottle it came in.The paint will eventually dilute the oil in the cup. So would it be unsafe to keep some linseed in a cup, not covered, in my bedroom? If so, what is the best way to dispose of the dirty oil?
    chigen5,

    Yes, this is perfectly safe to do. Linseed oil is a drying vegetable oil, similar to other vegetable oils. In volume at room temperature, as a liquid in a cup as you describe, it is neither flammable nor does it emit harmful vapors.

    We advise artists to collect dirty oil in a separate covered container. You can buy an empty 4 liter paint can at a commercial paint store or hardware store. When the can is filled, take the contaminated oil to your local household hazardous waste collection site.
    The AMIEN Staff

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