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ECAR Fact Sheet for California
Solvent Cleaning

Self-Audit Checklist
Best Management Practices
Related ECAR Fact Sheets
Other Relevant Resources


The following fact sheet was prepared by the ECAR Center staff. Once prepared, each ECAR Center fact sheet undergoes a review process with the applicable state environmental agency(ies). You can check on the status of the review process here. Please read the disclaimer on the status page. While we have tried to present a summary of the essential information on this topic, you should be aware that other items, such as local regulations, may apply to you.

What You Need to Know

Various methods are used to clean oil and grease from auto parts before sale. This fact sheet covers the environmental issues associated with solvent cleaning methods such as parts washers containing mineral spirits. Aqueous cleaning (e.g., pressure washers, enclosed spray washers, steam cleaning) is covered under a separate fact sheet.

Mineral spirits is a solvent commonly used for part cleaning because of its ability to quickly dissolve oil, grease, dirt, grime, burnt-on carbon and heavy lubricants. Although it is effective for cleaning, the state of California is concerned about the following environmental and health impacts:

  • Mineral spirits contains volatile organic compounds (VOC) that contribute to smog formation and may be toxic when inhaled.
  • Mineral spirits evaporate quickly, making worker exposure difficult to control.
  • Spent mineral spirits is a hazardous waste and the shop owner is responsible for proper disposal of all hazardous wastes.
  • Some areas of the country have already restricted use of solvents in parts cleaning operations.

In California, many other types of cleaning solvents have already been restricted because they have shown to be toxic. More information on what types of solvent are permitted and how they must be handled is contained below.


The regulations applicable to solvent cleaning operations have recently changed. Effective June 20, 2002, the sale or distribution of any automotive products (brake cleaners, carburetor cleaners, engine degreaser and general degreasers) that contain chlorine (referred to as halogenated solvents) is prohibited. Examples of halogenated solvents include trichlorethlyene (TCE), methylene chloride, and perchlorethylene (PCE or PERC). As of December 31, 2002, the use of any automotive products containing these materials is prohibited.

All other spent cleaning solvents, such as mineral spirits, must be treated as hazardous waste. Hazardous wastes must be handled, stored and disposed of according to specific rules. For more information, see the Auto Recycling Plain Language Guide to Solid/Hazardous Waste Management.

Waste Management and Disposal/Recovery Options. In California, all spent parts washer solvents are considered hazardous wastes. The waste solvents must be stored in containers that are in good condition and made of materials or lined with materials that are compatible with the stored wastes. The container must always be closed during storage, except when it is necessary to add or remove wastes. It also cannot be opened, handled, or stored in a manner that may cause it to rupture or leak. Containers holding hazardous waste must be clearly marked with the words "hazardous waste" and the date on which accumulation of the waste began.

A company registered with California's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) must transport hazardous waste, including waste solvent, and be sent off-site. The transporter must have a hazardous waste ID number issued by EPA. The wastes must be sent to a facility that is authorized to accept spent solvent. This may include a treatment, storage, or disposal facility, a recycler, or a boiler or industrial furnace.

Links to the Regulations. Use the following links to view the regulations pertaining to solvents.

Federal Hazardous Waste regulations Part 261 - Identification and Listing of Hazardous Waste

Federal Hazardous Waste regulations Part 262 - Standards Applicable to Generators of Hazardous Waste

DTSC's Hazardous Materials Guidance Manual

California Health and Safety Code

Self-Audit Checklist

When an inspector comes to your facility, there are certain things he or she checks to see if you are in compliance with environmental regulations. It makes good sense for you to perform a "self-audit" and catch and correct problems before they result in penalties. Also, there are some compliance incentives associated with self-audits (see Audit Policy Page).

Use the following list to audit your solvent cleaning operations.

  1. Are spent solvents stored in drums, tanks or other containers that are in good condition? Open containers, and rusting or leaking containers cannot be used for antifreeze storage.
  2. Are solvent storage containers and tanks properly labeled? All used antifreeze storage containers must be labeled "hazardous waste."
  3. Is the area around the solvent storage containers free of releases? Releases must be stopped and the released material cleaned up and managed properly.
  4. Is spent solvent transported to a recovery facility by a certified transporter? Check your records and verify that all shipments of spent solvent were removed from your property by a state certified transporter. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control maintains a Registered Hazardous Waste Transporter Database.

Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Most regulations tell you what you have to do to be in compliance, but they don't explain how to do it. That's where "best management practices" come into play. BMPs are proven methods that help you to get into compliance and stay there. The following BMPs are recommended for solvent cleaning.

  • Reduce the quantity of solvent used by implementing a two-stage cleaning system. The first stage should clean the dirtiest parts. The second stage uses cleaner solvent for final cleaning and rinsing. When the cleaning solution in the second stage is no longer effective, it can then be used to replace the solvent in the first stage. Fresh solvent is then used to replace the second stage.
  • Parts washers should have a recirculating feature with built-in filtration to continuously remove dirt and contaminants. This will extend the life of the solvent.
  • Drip racks or trays can help increase drainage from parts to minimize solvent loss.
  • When not in use, lids on parts washers should be kept closed to reduce evaporative solvent loss.
  • Do not dispose of used solvent on the ground or in a storm drain
  • Do not combine spent solvent with used oil.
  • Contract with a solvent management company to supply and recycle solvent.
  • Keep accurate records of solvent, wash water, sludge processing and disposal for 3 years.


  1. California Department of Toxic Substances Control Regional Offices: 800-728-6942.

Related ECAR Fact Sheets

  1. Hazardous Waste
  2. Aqueous Cleaning

Other Relevant Resources

  1. Partners in the Solution Guidance Manual (Developed by the State of California Auto Demantlers Assn)
  2. California Department of Toxic Substances Control Aqueous Parts Cleaning Fact Sheet



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