Q: What's the eco-friendly way to clean my painting tools without, dare I say, washing paint and solvents down the drain?
A: Come renovation season, when everyone's looking to spruce up their home environs, eco-heads everywhere are wondering the same thing. You're painting your kitchen, shed or boudoir and want to clean your brushes in between colour changes. What to do?
In general, the city says you can rinse water-based latex paint out of brushes and rollers in the sink. Just try to wipe as much paint off as you can first, preferably using newspaper.
But never, ever, ever pour paint down a street gutter or into a storm drain. Storm sewers are generally connected to the nearest body of water, so you could be killing off fish. Plus, paint thinners and strippers are flammable, so you could be contributing to a nasty sewer fire, and should never pour solvents down your own pipes for the same reason.
If you're nowhere near a sink with running water for some bizarre reason and you're desperate to rinse water-based paint out of your brush (not sure what scenario would fit the bill, but use your imagination), some say it's better to rinse over soil rather than into a drain or creek. Never near trees, or you'll poison the poor things.
Oil paint is a whole other ball game - one where the players can get dizzy, nauseous and headachy from the fumes. Oil paint emits more ozone-depleting, smog-inducing volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and has more nasty chemicals like toluene in it. Oil paint should never be rinsed into your sink. (The whole oil-and-water thing wouldn't work out well for you cleaning-wise anyway.) Again, wipe off as much paint as you can using newspaper, then soak your brushes in thinner and wipe them with a rag. To condition, soak in diluted shampoo, then rinse and dry handle-end up.
Keep in mind that paint thinner can be reused. Just let the paint settle to the bottom and reuse the clear stuff on top. You can filter it or just pour off the clear liquid into a labelled jar with a tight lid. Take the leftover paint sludge to one of the city's household hazardous waste depots.
Even essentially empty cans aren't supposed to go in the trash. (That's how toxic paint is, people! No one wants it leaching in landfill.) The city asks that you leave the lid off your empty cans in a dry, ventilated place far from kids and pets while the last of the paint dries. Then you can toss the can, lid off, into your blue bin. Too bad the solvents in drying paint emit harmful ozone-depleting, smog-inducing VOCs, but dems the rules. You can add kitty litter to the can to speed up the drying process.
Of course, you take the next logical step and buy low- or no-VOC paint! For details, check out the Ecoholic on paint.
What if you're stuck with a third of can of paint you don't need or want? Bring it to one of the city's paint exchange events held at Environment Days (http://www.toronto.ca/environment_days/index.htm). You can drop off your old cans and help yourself to what's been dropped off for your next project.
Remember, if you're halting your paint job partway through, you can wrap soiled paint brushes, rollers - hell, the whole tray - in a plastic bag for a few days to keep them from drying up. That way, you keep the chems you pour down the drain to a minimum.
If you're thinking of peeling paint off furniture or walls, try to avoid chemical strippers. Use elbow grease and get sanding instead. Unless, of course, you're dealing with lead paint. You don't want to be sandblasting that stuff and sending brain-damaging particles into the air. Call a pro for help.
You high-volume professional house painters feeling guilty about all the chemicals you're rinsing down the drain should consider investing in a paint reclaimer unit. These Australian gizmos actually separate the water from the chemicals. The filtered water can then be poured down the sink safely, and the soup of toxins can be brought to your hazardous waste depot or mixed with sand and cement. Paint reclaimers even wash out rollers and spray guns (see www.abc.net.au/newinventors/txt/s1145650.htm).
Hiring house painters? Give them a copy of this column as a friendly reminder of how to clean their tools as greenly as possible.
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