Features November 2019 Issue

Four Solvents for Nearly Every Boat Job

These are just a sampling of the various solvents we use for Practical Sailor tests and boat projects.

In our report on solvents, we discussed in detail the uses of each of the following "major" solvents, as well as several others. For more details, see the full report ("Making Sense of Solvents"). In this short report, for the sake of minimizing storage space on board, we tried to narrow the essentials down to a few. As with cleaners (see “One Bucket Cleaning Kit,” May 2017) it’s easy to be over-specific with solvents. Pretty soon, we end up with a zillion cans in the paint locker. While we would probably pay extra for the “magic” vendor-specific blend for a topside paint job, we’d not be so selective for every single small varnish, fiberglass, or similar job that comes up.  For these everyday jobs, a few generics can do the trick.

The foundational Four

Hidden in the back row, from left to right are butyl cellosolve, paint thinner, xylene, and isooctane. We store them in a metal locker.

Mineral Spirits. Good for thinning varnish and enamels, cleaning brushes, wiping up stray polyurethane sealants, and general cleanup.

Xylene. Reduces most topside paints, bottom paint, removes smudges, and is just the thing for removing fender and black heel marks from the topsides and deck.

Acetone. Nothing dries faster, works well with polyester resins.

Vinegar.  Vinegar is not generally regarded as a solvent, but it is. We mention it here because of its usefulness for cleaning up uncured epoxy, where it disrupts the polymerization process and makes the goop easy to wash away with soap and water. It is perfect for cleaning tools after a job. The epoxy experts at West Systems, warn against using it on hands, emphasizing the importance of gloves.

Paint and Solvent Storage

The typical sailor’s garage would give an inspector from the local fire department plenty to recommend­. An officer from OSHA (Occupational and Safety Hazards Administration) would also have an ample input of  admonishing words . Cans are spread around on open shelving, where they can fall off and spill, are vulnerable to sparks, and can turn a small fire into something deadly in minutes. Clean this mess up.

The expensive solution is an explosion-proof cabinet of the sort required in industry. The price tag will make you faint on the spot. However, any sort of enclosed metal cabinet with a door that latches and a floor that contain some spillage addresses many of our concerns.

The cans cannot fall out and spill, they are protected from sparks, and should a small fire start, it will buy you time to either put the fire out or get out of Dodge, without exploding solvent cans adding to the danger.

Comments (8)

When articles are cut down to size, explanations are shortened and wording changes. Vinegar was not called a solvent and the text does briefly explain that it functions by disrupting the polymerization process.

If you use vinegar to remove epoxy from your skin (gloves and long sleeves are better), use only a brief scrub to reduce the tackiness, followed immediately by a soap and water wash and rinse. This will minimize the exposure time.

Vinegar is definitely the fastest way to clean laminating rollers; use a wire brush and follow up with soap and water. We also like to use it to wipe down the surrounding area (but not the immediate work area) to remove any smudges we missed. Keep it away from the work, since it will stop the hardening process.

Posted by: Drew Frye | November 12, 2019 2:58 PM    Report this comment

I would add:
VM&P Naphtha for cleanup of varnish, oil paints, etc.- faster evaporating than mineral spirits and no residual odor
And possibly denatured Ethyl Alcohol, if you will be working with polar resins- shellac, etc.
Also- MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) is almost as universal a solvent as acetone, but much lower skin absorption and a bit slower evaporating (so it doesn't flash off before your finished cleaning!) (but MEK is not water-miscible, which Acetone is)
All of these solvents have varying degrees of toxicity and all are very flammable, so store carefully and keep well away from heat, sparks, and flame. Wear gloves at all times!

Posted by: RisingSun | November 11, 2019 10:00 PM    Report this comment

Vinegar reacts with the amine hardener to form a salt. This stops the cure of the epoxy-amine. It's not so much a solvent but it does prevent the viscosity of the epoxy from increasing.
As for solvents, acetone will work with most epoxies. Take care though since acetone is easily absorbed into the skin and tends to draw the other chemicals in with it.
You might get away with denatured alcohol but 90% rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) is safer.

Posted by: Locquatious | November 11, 2019 11:09 AM    Report this comment

Written only for those in the know apparently (I've sailed and done my own boatwork for 50 years). What's the difference between "reduce" and "thin" for the first two chemicals?
Does acetone work well to thin, reduce, change time to set, clean once set, or weaken for removal?
Apparently the vinegar comment was undecipherable by others as well as me.
Dr. Dave

Posted by: Dr. Dave | November 10, 2019 11:18 PM    Report this comment

Written only for those in the know apparently (I've sailed and done my own boatwork for 50 years). What's the difference between "reduce" and "thin" for the first two chemicals?
Does acetone work well to thin, reduce, change time to set, clean once set, or weaken for removal?
Apparently the vinegar comment was undecipherable by others as well as me.
Dr. Dave

Posted by: Dr. Dave | November 10, 2019 11:18 PM    Report this comment

What is the use of vinegar with epoxy? I haven't heard that before.

Posted by: Oday322 | November 10, 2019 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Be careful using vinegar with epoxy in contact with your skin. I didn't see a reference so I can't vouch for the validity of the claim but other suggestions on the site seem reasonable. Maybe someone has more information on this.

www.epoxyworks.com/index.php/vinegar-save-it-for-salads/

Hazards of the others are more well known.

Posted by: ValR | November 10, 2019 10:22 AM    Report this comment

Wouldn't hurt to mention keeping the appropriate fire extinguisher where you can safely get at it in the same area you intend to store these flammables!

Posted by: grampaBrian | November 10, 2019 10:03 AM    Report this comment

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