Keeping Your Acrylic Studio Green: Dirty Water Disposal

The main medium you work in determines many things about your studio: size, lighting, flooring, brushes, solvents and additives. In my previous post, I wrote about the special issues surrounding oil paints. There are cross over issues in an acrylic studio but acrylics do present some specific problems. When working with acrylics, keep in mind that they are, basically, a polymer-based plastic. Pouring acrylic paint down your studio sink will leave paint deposits along the pipes and can eventually affect your entire plumbing system, slowing down the water flow and clogging up drains.

The most important product in your studio . . . paper towels!

I buy the paper towels that have the smaller divisions. Because I use so many of them, I unroll half of the roll, tear each sheet off, and lay it on top of the pile. When I’m done, I take most of those half-sheets and tear them in half. Unless you’ve made a really big mess, you don’t need a whole sheet. This saves you money.

Use paper towels to clean reusable containers. Before starting to rinse your brushes, be sure to wipe off all the paint possible with a paper towel and run lots of water during cleaning so any acrylic on the brush is diluted. This applies to all gels, pastes

A small mesh strainer for small amounts

and additives as well.

Proper Paint Disposal

There are times when you just have a small container of dirty water. I keep a small mesh strainer in the studio for that. Particles of acrylic that end up in the strainer can be wiped out with a paper towel. For large amounts of dirty water, you may want to make yourself the following filtration system.

Making a simple paint strainer

You will need:

  • A metal bucket
  • A second plastic bucket large enough that the metal one can fit in about 3 inches
  • An old pair of pantyhose

The lower, plastic, catch bucket and the top, metal, bucket to strain through

Take your metal bucket and drill large holes in the bottom of it. You can use a hammer and nail to create holes but they have to be large

Metal Bucket with drilled holes

enough that acrylic waste can get through them. You want water and particles of acrylic material to go through the holes.

The second bucket is for the water to go into. The metal bucket has to be able to sit inside of the second bucket. If the metal bucket sits too close to the top, the water will spill over and make a mess. If it’s too close to the bottom, the water won’t be able to drain through. I use one of those jumbo plastic popcorn buckets theaters give out for special releases like Toy Story and Shrek.

Put the bottom of the metal bucket with the holes into the top of the pantyhose. Tie the legs together into a big knot underneath.

Now, when you pour dirty acrylic water into the metal bucket, the water flows through the pantyhose and small pieces of acrylic paint, gel and medium are trapped in the nylons. The water that collects in the plastic bucket underneath should not be thrown down the sink even though it is cleaner than it would have been. It is still going to have acrylic sludge in the bottom. Instead, place the bottom bucket outside so the water can evaporate.

The pantyhose tied under the metal bucket

If you have acrylic particles and sludge to deal with, add it to dirty kitty litter. If you don’t have a cat, kitty

The strained, dirty water

litter is not very expensive. It’s absorbent and controls odors. (According to medical people I have spoken with, discarding old, expired, medication in dirty kitty litter is a good idea as well.)

I plan to revisit this topic of keeping a green studio in the months to come. If you have a question or studio practice that you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly from the “Contact” page.

Do you have other ideas on keeping your studio green? I’d love to hear from you. I accept guest blogs on other subjects as well.


Happy painting,

Susan L Stewart

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