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You are here: EPA Home » DfE » Bulletin 1: Substitute Blanket Washes: Making Them Work

Bulletin 1: Substitute Blanket Washes: Making Them Work

Industry: Lithography

Litho Cleaning Graphic

Bulletin Highlights
Why Consider Substitute Blanket Washes?
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One of the largest sources of air pollution in lithographic print shops is the blanket washes used to clean the blankets on the press. Many of these products contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which help them work well and dry quickly. However, they pass into the air in the press room, the lungs of people working there, and the outside air. Dirty wipes soaked with blanket washes can also cause air pollution in the shop and health and environmental problems at the industrial laundries that pick them up. Because of these chemicals, both printers and laundries may have trouble complying with environmental regulations.

New substitute blanket washes are available that are safer for workers and for the environment, and can result in lower costs for printers. When press operators learn how to use these new washes, the substitutes can work as well as the standard blanket washes. To get good results, though, press operators must often change the way they use blanket washes. This bulletin aims to help you, the press operators, shop managers and environmental compliance managers, make these new products work for you.

Why Should I Be Concerned About VOCs?

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VOCs can be unhealthy to breathe over long periods of time. They can also harm the environment by helping form smog, which damages crops and forests. Smog also affects human health by injuring the lungs. In addition, some blanket washes contain chemicals called Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). They are known to cause, or are suspected of causing, harm to human health or the environment.

By using substitute blanket washes containing less VOCs, you can significantly reduce the impacts that your printing operations have on employee health and the environment. You may also be able to reduce your regulatory requirements.

To find out the VOC content and other components of your current blanket wash, ask your supplier or check the product Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Suppliers can recommend substitutes containing less VOCs.

Will Substitute Blanket WashesIncrease My Costs?

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Many substitute washes in fact do cost more per gallon, making them seem more expensive to use. However, when press operators are trained in how to use these substitute products, they often use much less wash than was needed with a regular blanket wash. An example of this is SUBSPRINT, a European program which seeks to eliminate the use of organic solvents in the printing industry. Two of the SUBSPRINT-Project partner companies showed that with training, blanket wash consumption can be cut by as much as 80% when compared to older methods using high VOC products. Some of the techniques developed through their project are described in this bulletin. Such reductions in blanket wash consumption can result in both real cost savings and a healthier work environment for printers.

Another potential cost benefit of switching to a substitute blanket wash is that it may lower the costs of complying with environmental requirements. By reducing the amount of blanket wash you use, your shop's total VOC emissions, or the amounts of regulated chemicals in your blanket wash formulation, you could lower your shop's air emissions to levels below the threshold amounts that require permitting or reporting.

Don't Give Up Too Soon!

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Every printer changing to substitute blanket washes needs to get experience with the new cleaning techniques. Printers should follow the supplier's instructions and consult with other printers using the same products. Ultimately, though, you will need to determine for yourself what works best. At first, the differences may seem awkward and time-consuming. But many printers have shown that substitute blanket washes perform as well as standard washes after the initial adjustment. As you are getting used to the new products, keep in mind that your efforts may reduce your blanket wash consumption, create a safer, healthier work place, help improve the environment, and reduce your costs.

About the Design for the Environment Lithographic Printing Partnership

squirt bottle
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The goal of the Design for the Environment (DfE) Lithographic Printing Partnership is to provide lithographers with information that can help them design an operation which is more environmentally sound, safer for workers, and more cost effective.

Concentrating on the process of blanket washes, the partners of the DfE Lithographic Printing Partnership, in a voluntary cooperative effort, evaluated 37 different blanket wash products. Information was gathered on the performance, cost, and health and environmental risk trade-offs of the different types of substitute blanket wash. For more details on the evaluations, please refer to the "Evaluating Blanket Washes: A Guide For Printers."

In addition to the Lithographic Printing Partnership, similar DfE projects are currently underway with both the screen printing and flexography industries.

To obtain additional copies of this or other bulletins and case studies, or for more information about EPA's Design for the Environment Program contact:

Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (7407-T)
Washington, DC 20460-0001
Phone: 202-566-0799
FAX: 202-566-0794
e-mail: ppic@epamail.epa.gov

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