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Thread: Care and feeding of oily rags.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Granite Falls, Washington
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    144

    Default Care and feeding of oily rags.

    Surely I'll be flammed for this question, but...

    As I am new to machining, I am generating a lot of oily rags. What does one do with them? Are they washable in a washing machine, or are they fuel for my next trash fire?

    I will note that I am becoming very fond of the smell of machine tool oil, so I suppose I will generate fewer and fewer...until I eventually just look like one large rag

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Midwest City, Oklahoma
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    418

    Default

    When there dirty keep em in a metal bin with a lid, fire safety. Wash em at the laundry mat, and reuse. Rags seem to work better with age and a few washings under their belts.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    52N 122W Western Kanuckistan
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    40,418

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    I use paper towels.
    Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Origin now settable to bottom left! All values positive. Click Here

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Kingman Arizona
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    1,697

    Default

    I usually wash them at the laundromat, a few times. I end up throwing most of them away when they collect a bit of swarf. Even after washing the metal chips seem to stick around....Nothing quite as painful as wiping your greasy paws on a rag that's full of swarf...ouch!

    I used to swipe them from work...but now that I'm retired, I have to buy them at the local auto parts store...Fortunately, they're cheap.
    No good deed goes unpunished.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Bremerton Washington
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    4,940

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    Maybe I should differentiate between oily rags and oily rags for those who may not know. In the home shop there's petroleum product "oily" and paint and oil finish "oily." The difference is fire hazard. Paint and oil finishes soaked into a flammible absorbant if wadded loosely and left alone will heat by itself from oxidation to the point of igniting. That's called "spontaneous combustion".

    There's no spontaneous combustion hazard associated with rags and fibrous waste soaked with machine oil. The spontaneous combustion hazard is very real when drying oils - that is, vegetable oils used in paint, varnish, and other oil based finishes are involved.

    Some will tell you to immerse oil finish rags in water or store them in covered metal safety contaainers. The water may stop rags from spontaneously burning while wet but once the rags dry the partly uncured oil is still there to take up oxygen from the air and recommence the curing (and exothermic) process.

    Spontaneous combustion is the unwelcome product of the exothermic reaction when drying oils cure to form the tough paint film. Drying oils are energetic when oxidized. They release almost as much energy when curing as when actually burning. If drying oils are confined in the insulating folds of a wadded rag the exothermic reaction can reach thermal runaway temperatures in an hour or three and a fire could start.

    As for the safety can, same deal. The rags may sit there for some time then along comes the once in a million chance where somone flips the lid open to toss in a few more rags and there's a "Whuff!" and a sheet of flame erupts from the can. The fresh air finally got to the hot rags. It was the hair on my arm that was burned off and my shirt sleeve that caught fire in the one instance I'm aware of.

    My solution to the oily paint rag problem is to spread the rags on the rungs of ladders, clothes lines, over twigs in single layers. That way the oil can cure and safely release the heat of curing. Beware of oily sawdust too. It's all too easy to shake off the excess paint or varnish over a pile of sawdust.

    Yeah, I'm paranoid.

    So.

    Rags soaked with petroleum products are safe enough in a closed container. Wash them using plenty of detergent in someone else's washing machine.

    Rags soaked with oil based finishes need to be treated with special caution as an imminent fire hazard. Dry them for several days by spreading them out in single layers where plenty of air can get at them
    Last edited by Forrest Addy; 10-04-2009 at 10:17 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Oroville, WA
    Posts
    10,712

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    I put oily rags and paper towels in my barbecue and close the lid. When time allows I wash them. I don't believe in the bombastic practice of ruining other peoples' clothes and equipment so I use my own washing machine but only after hand washing them. Most of the time hand washing is all that is needed. They air dry hanging from wire coat hangars.

    The paper towels are burned in the bbq firebox after I've removed the rags, or immediately if there are no rags.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Posts
    1,090

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    I usually throw mine along with any other shop generated waste into the dumpster at Burger King.
    Non, je ne regrette rien.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Colton, Washington, USA
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    655

    Default

    Like Evan, I use paper towels, the kind one buys for the kitchen. Bounty is my favorite. I don't care for the blue lint-free mechanics towels--too stiff.

    Once-upon-a-time I was in the nuke navy and our supply petty officer begged us to use paper towels instead of the very expensive white cotton rags we bought by the bale; many bales, in fact. He could just as well have been talking to the wall; everybody hated rags.

    Now, I've done a 180 and can't stand to use cloth rags in the machine shop. One swipe over something really dirty and the rag is worthless, as far as I'm concerned. OTOH, while doing clean work my wiping material is always fresh off the roll.

    Call me a cheapskate, but I grab the wife's used paper towels and recycle them in the shop. In our desert-like climate they dry in a matter of minutes. They're plenty good for wiping spills off the floor, etc.

    Orrin

    PS: The reason we hated paper in the navy was because we washed down the deck at the end of every watch (too cramped on a sub to use a mop) and nothing beats cotton rags for doing that.
    So many projects. So little time.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
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    No Cal.
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    1,604

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    I buy bundles of 20 machinist towels (24" x 24" Heavy cotton) at the flee market for $5. They will get soiled with cutting oil, way oil, WD-40, polishing compound, grinding dust, and plain old dirt.

    When I accumulate a bucket full I soak them in water and detergent over night or longer and then run them through washer for 2 complete cycles. I then take Simple Green and clean off the grease ring from the tub inside the washer

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Posts
    1,182

    Default

    I use these paper rags from the homedepot.
    http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1...atalogId=10053

    200 for 10$. They work great.

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