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!

Better Than Acetone to Clean Hands

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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  • Jim Marinelli
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

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

    • ChrisW
      Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

      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

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

    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.

    • Norman Martin
      Posted at 13 December 2015 Reply

      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.

  • Rod Shehan
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

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

  • Rebecca Tommaseo Ponzetta
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply


  • S.V. Cambria
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

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

  • Candy Ann Williams
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

    Going to try this tip!!!

  • Nikki Dowden
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

    Baby wipes work too.

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

    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.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

      We do wear gloves . . . we just usually manage to get something outside the gloves — or we get a tear in the glove!

  • Dave Skolnick
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

    Disposable gloves …

  • Anders Friis
    Posted at 11 December 2015 Reply

    Have to try that when spring comes!

  • Peter
    Posted at 13 December 2015 Reply

    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.

  • Sheryl Shard
    Posted at 13 December 2015 Reply

    Must try this. Thanks Carolyn.

  • Keith Davie
    Posted at 15 December 2015 Reply

    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!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 15 December 2015 Reply

      That’s why I was happy to find something that worked better without being so nasty!

  • charlie Jones
    Posted at 15 December 2015 Reply

    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.

  • Dan Thomas
    Posted at 25 January 2017 Reply

    Acetone is stored forever in your liver, and has been known to cause cancer. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT. PUT IT ON YOUR SKIN.

    That could part of Daves health issues.

    • c
      Posted at 25 January 2017 Reply

      As a boat builder since 1976, I strongly agree. I use VERY little Acetone in my work and haven’t for years. Vinegar works well, and for cleaning pre epoxy, so does just plain 91% rubbing alcohol

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 02 June 2017 Reply

    Vinegar YES! It has become my favorite household cleaner, stain remover, disinfectant, degreaser+ so much more. Vinegar has singlehandedly replaced all the chemical laden products in my home, boat and camper. I soak orange peels in vinegar for a few days and add it to my sprayer for a citrus fresh smell.

  • Allan
    Posted at 02 June 2017 Reply

    keep a spray bottle of vinegar aboard for cleaning counters, etc.

  • Tom Herrick
    Posted at 02 June 2017 Reply

    I keep gallons of it in the shop where I’m doing lots of epoxy work on a coupla boats. It definitely works well.

  • Chrystal Henthorne
    Posted at 02 June 2017 Reply

    I was very creative when I did this to my fingertips. LOL I mixed 2 part underwater curing epoxy with RTV. No gloves. It took 3+ days to get it off. Acetone was involved. It won’t happen again!! Thanks for the vinegar tip!!

  • Ellie Newman Petrov
    Posted at 02 June 2017 Reply

    We have also used coconut oil. Between that and vinegar, you can solve just about any messy situation!

  • Tom Nichols
    Posted at 03 June 2017 Reply

    Thanks for sharing

  • Tom Mathews
    Posted at 02 January 2018 Reply

    Cleaning your hands with acetone is one of the worst things you can do. My first job after graduating from college was working as an engineer for an aerospace composites company. We were specifically warned not to use acetone to clean our hands.

    Bad enough the negative health effects of acetone on your kidneys and other organs. Did you know that acetone can be absorbed through your skin? Did you also know that having dissolved the epoxy on your hands, the acetone then helps to absorb the epoxy into your skin also?

    Cleaning your hands with epoxy is bad on many levels. You are best served by using proper protective gear and keeping the epoxy off your skin to begin with. Failing that, stick to soap, water, and scrubbing to remove the epoxy from your hands. There will be less opportunity for carcinogens and allergens to gain a foothold on YOUR health.

    • Charlie Jones
      Posted at 02 January 2018 Reply

      Absolutely. I’ve worked with epoxy as a boat builder, and furniture repair shop owner since the 50’s. I NEVER touch epoxy without gloves on. I like Nitrile Ones

      when running the shop I was forced to use Acetone on occasion but now mit’s seldom in my shop. F or cleaning epoxy, must plain vinegar does as good a job..And rubbing alcohol cleans 5200 very well

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