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Does Your Auto Shop Use Solvents or Aqueous Cleaners?

Spark plug cleaning in repair shop.One of the items that will appear on all auto repair shop management checklists is that shop’s environmental compliance. On the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association sample checklist of requirements for auto shop monitoring, a large focus is given to the storage and removal of waste byproducts such as gasoline, waste oil, antifreeze, and solvents. This is because prolonged exposure to these chemicals can be very hazardous to human health, and many of these chemicals are also flammable and, if improperly handled, could result in catastrophic loss of property and human life.

The largest hazardous waste stream generated by the automotive industry is spent solvents. They are dangerous to workers because they are toxic and they emit harmful vapors. The EPA has several sets of hazardous waste codes related to solvents, and they are required to be disposed of monthly as such. Further, if your auto repair shop’s parts washing system uses “any solvent containing methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride, or chloroform, or any combination of these halogenated hazardous air pollutant solvents in a total concentration greater than 5 percent by weight as a cleaning and/or drying agent” your shop will also be subject to the Clean Air Act’s air pollutant emissions standard. Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a commonly used solvent that has been linked to a number of cancers. Previously businesses were allowed to dispose of TCE by burial, and as a result it’s often found in Superfund sites around the country.

The EPA recommends using an aqueous parts washing system instead of one that uses solvents to clean. Aqueous cleaning is one that uses water as its primary solvent. While solvents are very good at removing grease, dirt, and oils, governmental restrictions on their use are growing, and it’s becoming more expensive and more time consuming to document the handling of solvents and dispose of them when they are spent. Your auto repair shop may be required to register its parts washer with a state environmental agency in addition.

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The EPA website and other state resources list requirements for compliance with federal, state, and local requirements for parts cleaning and other ways to substitute safer and greener cleaning and disposal practices for solvent cleaning. Here is a report on case studies of auto repair shops in California that switched from solvent-based parts cleaning systems to aqueous parts cleaning systems.

The Automotive Management Network invites all of our members to weigh in with their experience with solvents or other hazardous waste management and disposal. What difficulties has your business had with environmental compliance? Has your auto repair shop found parts cleaning solutions that are easier or less expensive to implement and maintain?



  1. Yes, due to ongoing regulatory recognition of solvents hazardous nature and growing concern among industries to search for less hazardous and environmental-friendly cleaners ArmaKleen provides a diversified, rigorously tested, and patented product line of aqueous cleaners that deliver the same cleaning performance as that of solvents but are hazardous-free and safe for the environment.