Better Than Acetone to Clean Hands

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

Easier Hand Cleaning: Using acetone to clean up after nasty messy projects such as epoxy or sealant? There's something that works better, is cheaper AND is less toxic!

For years, Dave and I have used acetone to clean uncured or partially cured epoxy and sealants off our hands . . . and legs, faces, goggles, tools and whatever else we’ve managed to get it on. We’re careful, we mask things off, and we wear gloves, but we always seem to get “goop” somewhere we don’t want it.

But acetone is harsh, fairly flammable and relatively expensive.

Last summer, when I wrote about filling in our head thru-hulls, reader Helen Murdoch gave us a great tip.

Vinegar. Cheap white vinegar that I buy by the gallon.

Not only is it cheap, non-toxic and a lot less harsh than acetone, it’s also non-flammable. It may sting a cut slightly, or dry your skin to a minor extent, but it’s nowhere near as hard on you as acetone. And the “stink” is a lot less too.

But here’s the real winner: it works better.

We pour some on our hands or on a rag – just sloshing it on. In fact, I think that’s part of why it works better – since it’s cheap and non-toxic, we use more.

It’s now our number-one clean-up solvent for epoxy, silicone and sealants of any type. The only time we still use acetone is when we need a solvent that dries quickly and completely, as when prepping a surface to apply epoxy or a sealant.

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  1. I would really like to see a side by side comparison…

    • ACETONE:
      Danger! Causes eye and skin irritation. May cause central nervous system depression. May cause liver and kidney damage. Causes respiratory tract irritation. Extremely flammable liquid and vapor. Vapor may cause flash fire.

      Target Organs: Kidneys, central nervous system, liver, respiratory system, eyes, skin.

      Potential Health Effects
      Eye: Produces irritation, characterized by a burning sensation, redness, tearing, inflammation, and possible corneal injury.
      Skin: Exposure may cause irritation characterized by redness, dryness, and inflammation.
      Ingestion: May cause irritation of the digestive tract. May cause central nervous system depression, kidney damage, and liver damage. Symptoms may include: headache, excitement, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, stupor, and coma. May cause liver and kidney damage. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure.
      Inhalation: Inhalation of high concentrations may cause central nervous system effects characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, unconsciousness and coma. Causes respiratory tract irritation. May cause liver and kidney damage. May cause motor incoordination and speech abnormalities.
      Chronic: Prolonged or repeated skin contact may cause dermatitis. Chronic inhalation may cause effects similar to those of acute inhalation.


      Acute Health Effects
      Swallowed: None
      Eye: Will cause eye irritation—smarting and reddening of eye.
      Skin: May cause irritation. Prolonged contact may cause dermatitis.
      Inhaled: Prolonged inhalation of vapors can cause irritation to respiratory tract.
      Other Toxicological Information
      Chronic Health Effects: None
      Possible Routes of Exposure: None
      Dose, Concentration or Conditions of Exposure Likely to Cause Injury: None
      Delayed Effects: None

  2. Back to the basics. BJs sells an enormous jug for $3.49. I have replaced all other specialty cleaning products and use vinegar full strength or 2:1 ratio in a spray bottle on everything. It cleans and disinfects for pennies per use. The smell quickly dissaptes but you can also add orange peels and vinegar in a mason jar and use some of that in your solution. Citrus is also anti-microbial.

    • Vinegar is my go-to cleaner for almost every job on board. As a charter boat skipper for a dozen years and a boat owner I have cleaned a lot of boat spaces and never been let down by good old vinegar. Thanks for the insights.

  3. Use barrier cream on your hands, everything just washes right off

  4. Luigi

  5. Hmmm . . . going to have to try that the next time around.

  6. Going to try this tip!!!

  7. Baby wipes work too.

  8. I strongly agree with the use of vinegar for cleaning. Better yet is to wear disposable gloves (I buy them in boxes shaped like Kleenex boxes) and avoid most of the clean up entirely. Turn them inside out as your remove them and you won’t get a mess on your hands.

  9. Disposable gloves …

  10. Have to try that when spring comes!

  11. I had to clean up a little epoxy one day and did not have acetone or vinegar handy. I had an ah-hah moment as looked over at a bottle of rum (a really cheap brand) sitting on a counter and sloshed some on a rag. It worked great.

  12. Must try this. Thanks Carolyn.

  13. Keith Davie says:

    I have to second the cautions on the use of acetone. Useful, but it’s long-term health effects are potentially devastating. Note that it is absorbed through the skin’ through the lungs, etc. Just nasty. Sometimes you need to use it, but please, not as a hand wash, and only when nothing else will do!

  14. charlie Jones says:

    Vinegar is also very useful with epoxy in other ways. I was a composite wood/epoxy boat builder. When glassing, epoxy coating, etc,, I kept a coffee can of vinegar handy. Drop the brush into it while mid job-washes uncured epoxy out of brushes, scrappers, squeegees what have you. Sure saves money on brushes brushes.

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