5 Things to Know Before Buying a Parts Washer

The following information includes tips, best practices, and statutory and regulatory requirements found in the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Title 35 of the Illinois Administrative Code, which will help to guide you in buying a parts washer.

1. Know your parts washer options

Parts washers are commonly used in manufacturing or maintenance operations to clean parts or components. Parts washers include cold cleaning units, vapor degreasers, and conveyorized degreasers. Cleaning solutions used in parts washers include:

  • Solvents: Solvents clean by dissolving away dirt. Solvents include petroleum-based solvents such as mineral spirits, stoddard solvent, and petroleum naphtha, and organic solvents such as trichloroethane, trichlorethylene, benzene, and xylenes.
  • Aqueous Cleaners: Aqueous cleaners are pH-neutral or alkaline water-based solutions that break down and remove dirt from part surfaces. Semi-aqueous solutions that contain small amounts of solvents are also available

2. Understand hazardous vs. non-hazardous waste classification

Parts washers use cleaning solutions that eventually become spent and must be recycled. Parts washers generate other wastes such as rags, filters, and sludge. Far too often, facilities will opt to offload the waste to an off-site facility rather than recycling the waste on site. There are many hazardous waste regulations and classifications you must be aware of. Both solvent and aqueous parts washers generate sludge, which is usually hazardous because it contains toxic metals and solvents from the parts cleaned. Rags used to wipe parts off after being washed are also hazardous if they contain toxic metals at concentrations exceeding regulatory limits or listed hazardous solvents.

Many parts washers use filters that must be periodically changed. You need to determine if your used filters are hazardous by using the same process you used to determine if your solvent is hazardous.

The skimmed oil may contain hazardous waste. However, you may still be able to manage it as used oil.

3. Have your hazardous or nonhazardous wastes been analyzed?

If you cannot determine if your spent cleaning solution or other parts washing wastes are hazardous, you need to have them analyzed. Solvent Recycling Systems will test for ignitability, pH, listed hazardous solvents, toxic metals, and toxic organics.

If you're concerned about your hazardous waste output, opt for an aqueous based parts washer instead.

Aqueous cleaning has the following advantages over using solvents:

  • Lower hazardous waste generation and management costs
  • Less worker exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Equal or better cleaning performance
  • Reduction in cleaning labor with some aqueous cleaning units
  • Large cleaning capacities
  • Elimination of fire hazards
  • Longer solution life

4. Know your local water regulations

Nonhazardous spent aqueous cleaning solutions can be discharged to the city sewer if they meet local discharge limits or with permission from the local publicly owned treatment works (POTW). The POTW may require you to treat your cleaning solution before discharging to the sewer. Contact your local POTW to find out their requirements. The discharge of cleaning solutions to the sanitary sewer also requires a permit from Illinois EPA. Spent parts washer cleaners, both solvents and aqueous cleaners, should never be discharged to a septic system or storm water sewer. For more information on permits and other water regulations that apply to your business, contact the Office of Small Business.


5. Maximize the shelf life of your parts washer system

The suggestions below for using less hazardous parts washer cleaning solutions and maximizing the solution’s life are important pollution prevention measures. In addition to environmental protection, pollution prevention can reduce operating costs, protect employees, and improve efficiency.

Use the least hazardous cleaning solution in your parts washer:

  • Check the MSDS sheet before you purchase products - always use the least toxic material.
  • Use a nonignitable parts washer cleaner (flashpoint greater than140ºF).
  • Use aqueous cleaners instead of solvents.
  • Avoid using listed hazardous solvents and prevent contamination of your cleaning solution with listed hazardous solvents by avoiding the use of aerosol spray cans near your parts washer.

Reduce wastes by maximizing your solution life:

  • Only wash parts when necessary.
  • Keep parts washers closed and away from heat to minimize product loss and air emissions from evaporation.
  • Only change your cleaning solution when it no longer adequately cleans parts. Do not change your solution on a scheduled basis, and only allow contract pickups when necessary.
  • Drain your parts thoroughly over the parts washer to reduce loss of cleaning solution.
  • When using aqueous cleaning units, do not change the cleaning solution only because it looks dirty. Many solutions turn brown or gray during use, but this discoloration does not affect their cleaning ability.
  • When using aqueous cleaning units, select units with filtration and oil skimming to remove solids and oil from aqueous cleaning solutions and extend solution life.


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