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We need a substitute for MEK (methyl ethyl ketone)


Can anyone identify/reference products and companies that can substitute for MEK?

The application is our paint booth clean-up. We need to clean the pipes, equipment, and other items--and would like to eliminate the use of MEK / methyl ethyl ketoneamazoninfo.

Dave Reim
- Columbus, Ohio


I don't do industrial painting for a living but have had experience through the years analyzing paints, as well as trying to strip them.

There are a number of ways to remove paint, depending upon what the paint is and what the paint is on.

Start with contacting the paint supplier and asking for answers. Some of the non-flammable solvents that would work the best are either restricted (1,1,1-trichloroethane) or carcinogenic (trichloroethylene, methylene chloride).

Others are flammable (acetone) or flammable AND carcinogenic (toluene), or flammable and otherwise toxic (butyl cellosolve).

There are the caustic type strippers based upon sodium hydroxide that don't dissolve, but actually chemically destroy the paint (saponification).

You can burn off the paint in a furnace, or use a molten salt bath to do the same thing.

Finally, you can blast off the paint using walnut shells or other media in a "sandblaster".


Good luck. No matter what route you follow, you end up with a potentially hazardous waste. Be sure to check with your local regulatory agencies before trying to get rid of the final cleanup byproducts.

Bill Vins
microwave & cable assemblies
Mesa (what a place-a), Arizona


Thanks, Bill --

That was a terrific response, both in its technical quality and in its implication that every possible approach has environmental and safety consequences.
Society today understandably wants to quickly address the downsides of using certain materials, but we are unprepared both scientifically and philosophically to weigh the downsides of the substitute to determine whether it will improve things or make things worse :-)
Is air pollution worse than water pollution . . . is pollution of the land worse than pollution of the ocean . . . is a skin rash on two workers out of fifty worse or not as bad as 10 trout killed out of forty?

Hi Dave,

Bill has given us an excellent list of potential substitutes for MEK, and their characteristics -- but I'm sure you already see the difficulty of objectively saying which, if any, are better than MEK. I wish you well; it's a very tough job!


pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Brick, New Jersey

January 9, 2014

A. We paint industrial coatings in a booth everyday and can understand your concerns. We've recently found that dry ice blasting is the best way to clean the booth, track, chains, pipes and lines.

It is safe with no blast media clean up as the dry ice evaperates on contact and does not create rust issues. The only clean up you have is the paint residue on the floor of your booth after blasting.

There was a recent episode of dry ice blasting on Modern Marvels. Check it out on YouTube...

After using it in our paint system we are sold on it.

Ron Covelli
- Schofield, Wisconsin, USA

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