AWARE Solutions Volume 7, Number 17 Fall 1999

Parts Washing Gets "Smart"

At many Reynolds facilities, cleaning and degreasing industrial parts and equipment is done in a parts washer sink using a mineral spirits solvent. With use, the solvent becomes contaminated and unable to clean effectively. When this occurs, the solvent is removed and replaced. The used fluid is typically transported and managed as a hazardous waste due to the low flash point of the solvent. While higher flash point solvents have been developed and used to potentially avoid the hazardous waste issues, they still require occasional fluid change-out and subsequent management.

Because of the hazardous waste and fluid management issues associated with these traditional parts washing sinks, several Reynolds facilities have challenged themselves to investigate alternatives.

In 1997, the facilities manager at the Reynolds plastics plant in Grottoes, Virginia, Bill Youell, evaluated a parts washing alternative called the Smartwasher®. This system uses a biodegradable cleaning fluid along with a replaceable filter impregnated with bacteria designed to consume hydrocarbons. During normal use, the fluid is slightly heated for cleaning efficiency and optimum bacterial activity. In addition, brushing action is required during cleaning as the fluid behaves more like a surfactant and less like a solvent. As the cleaning process removes oil and grease, the bacteria in the filter consume them. At normal intervals dependent on usage, the filter media is removed and a new one installed. The fluid, however, stays in the unit and is continually cleaned by the bioremediation. Periodically, make-up fluid is added to maintain normal operating levels.

Based on discussions with users of the Smartwasher® system (including military bases and other industrial sites), buy-in from the plant maintenance staff, and an assessment of the system's return on investment (ROI), Grottoes purchased two of the Smartwasher® systems in June of 1997. The vendor provided training on proper use and maintenance of the units.

Similarly, in early 1999, Don Ashworth, the EHS manager at the Corporate R&D facility in Enon, Virginia began investigating alternatives to their traditional parts washers. Don realized that parts washer solvent was routinely the facility's only hazardous waste stream and that alternatives that performed cost-effectively could reduce the facility's regulatory burden. As part of his investigation, Don also reviewed the Smartwasher® system and it appeared to be a good fit with the facility operations. After presenting the information to the facility staff and management and obtaining their buy-in, Enon purchased 2 Smartwasher® units.

The Smartwasher® system has been in place at Grottoes for over 2 years and while the overall experience has been positive, there have been some problems along the way.

Bill Youell recalls that they have had 2 problems with the systems. After installation, it became apparent that Grottoes had one particular type of grease on some of its equipment that was poorly removed by the Smartwasher®. For this, the vendor supplied a different fluid mixture that enabled all the parts to be cleaned effectively.

In February of 1998, one of the units lost its cleaning effectiveness and the vendor was called in for assistance. It appeared that chloride contamination in the cleaning fluid was causing the microbes in the system to die off. As a result, the fluid had to be changed out and replaced with a cleaning fluid with another formulation. Since then, Bill and the maintenance personnel have monitored the chloride level and have not seen any similar incidents.

The filters are changed out monthly and have also been tested and shown to be non-hazardous for disposal.

Additionally, because the fluid is not a petroleum solvent, safety concerns related to the fluid flammability have been reduced.

Don Ashworth at Enon notes that the systems are still fairly new at his facility and that the experience has proven positive so far and no problems have been encountered.

Making the switch to the Smartwasher® system also enabled both the Enon and Grottoes facilities to discontinue use of their current parts washer vendor and remove a vendor and associated vendor audit performance from their area of responsibility.

For information about the performance of the Smartwasher® systems, please contact Bill Youell at the Grottoes plastics plant (540) 249-2022 or Don Ashworth at the Enon R&D facility (804) 751-2196. Additional information about the Smartwasher® can also be found on the internet at If you have experience with other alternative parts washing systems you would like to share, please contact Curt Wells at (804) 281-2343.


Reynolds Metals Company
Corporate Environmental Quality
6603 West Broad Street,G-6-7
Richmond, VA 23230

Curt Wells (804)281-2343

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