Friday, June 2, 2017

Epoxy Clean-Up

Strong durable stuff. Combined with either reinforcing fibers or thickeners, it is the most versatile material in the boat builder's arsenal. It is also messy to work with and horrendous to clean up when it gets where it should not. Solvents don't touch it even when uncured, and once cured, it is there to stay. However, until cured, it has one kryptonite: vinegar.

The weak organic acid in vinegar (acetic acid) disrupts the polymerization cycle, stopping the cure. I also breaks the surface bond of uncured epoxy by capping off the reactive ends. It does not dissolve epoxy, but it does take the stickiness out of it, allowing it to be more removed easily with soap and water.

Epoxy in the eye is the worst case scenario, but it does happen occasionally, often the result of working overhead. Goggles are the correct preventative, but let's assume you either forgot or didn't feel you could see well enough with them on. Perhaps you removed them after they got epoxy smeared on the lens. While I have not may this particular mistake, others have, and the cure involves a combination of modern first aid and old-school home remedy. It turns our that a vinegar-water eye wash was a traditional treatment for conjunctivitis (pink eye), and while I would go to the doctor for that, vinegar can be just the thing for epoxy in the eye. The vinegar will not dissolve or remove the epoxy, but it will stop the reactivity of the hardener, which is the substance that causes chemical burns in the eye, and render the epoxy inert. It will then be more easily removed by the copious freshwater flush that follows.

Anti-Epoxy Eye Wash
  1. Rinse several times with a weak vinegar solution (one teaspoon per cup of warm water).
  2. Rinse for 15 minutes with clean water.
  3. See a doctor unless it really feels fine after another 10 minutes or so.  

I keep one of these at home. I wash it and clean it out at least twice a year, and it goes with me to the boat when I have any painting or significant epoxy project. I have used this many times for dirt or a splash of something in the eye, even if i is not bad. I don't hesitate. The few times when it has been a bi worse, having a real eye wash bottle at my side may have saved my sight. I will never know. I don't want to know.

Get an eye wash bottle, keep it clean, and keep it close. NOTHING is more valuable than you eyesight. Well, family, and perhaps wearing a bike helmet certainly fall in the same catagory as irreplaceable. Protect them all.

A minor word of warning: vinegar does increase the solubility of the hardener in water and thus increases the transport of the chemical through the skin. If vinegar is used regularly to remove epoxy from the skin, it can increase the risk of allergic sensitization.


"Keeping a Cruising Boat for Peanuts" and "Singlehanded Sailing for the Coastal Cruiser" are now available for Kindle through Amazon. I still recommenced the PDF version, since the Kindle conversion process disrupts the page design and because I up-date the PDF version more frequently.

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