How to Clean Screen Printing Screens
Are you wondering if you’ve to buy a new screen whenever you’ve a new design? Or can you use the same screen? Fortunately, you can use your screen.
All you have to do is clean your screen immediately after using it if you aren’t reusing it right away, otherwise, the ink will stain your screen and causes oil residue which causes a ghosting effect on your screen that could affect the quality of your future projects.
The goal of cleaning your screen with effective cleaning agents or household agents like bleach is to remove emulsion and lift any ink, oil and dirt from your screen, helping you keep it in the best quality.
It might seem as if cleaning your screen might ruin the mesh, it’s actually an important part of maintaining your screen. Properly cleaning your screen will keep it free of build up and make it easy to clean for future projects because hasn’t collected ink stains. Ink stains are caused by letting the ink stay on the screen for a long time.
There are many ways to clean your screen with many products specially formulated for this effort. The chemicals used in silkscreen cleaning are extremely strong and potent and protective gear such as gloves, eye protection and aprons will be important for your safety.
The chemical agents used in silkscreening cleaning are called degreasers and dehazers. These are available online or in craft stores. They are formulated to easily and effectively lift the emulsion off your screen, which is the most important part of cleaning it so that you can get a better image next time. If you are looking for a budget friendly alternative, you can clean a silkscreen with bleach and detergents, a common household product.
If you want your screen to remain clear and effective at holding the exposure, follow any one of the processes below on how to clean emulsion off a silkscreen. Remember cleaning is best done immediately after your print run, otherwise, the stencil will permanently remain on your screen, the ink will stain it and the oil residue will build up.
The objective of cleaning your screen is to remove the emulsion, you should follow the instructions of use on your products to get the most of your cleaning and make sure they are effective. One way to know whether your screen is emulsion free is to hold it in front of light after your final rinse.
If your screen has traces of oil on it, you’ll need to clean it again. You can use your dehazer for this or dish soap like dawn which effectively removes oil. Oil residue means that your screen still has some emulsion residue on it which will affect the quality of your image if you leave it.
If you don’t have a dehazer, you can effectively clean a silkscreen with bleach. Make sure you read the instructions and use gloves for safety.
Before you can start cleaning your screen, there are a few cleaning items you’ll use. These are listed below and give you the best chances of maintaining a clean screen and preserving its integrity. You should’ve a step up in your studio where you keep your cleaning items so that you can always have easy access to them. These chemicals are dangerous and therefore should always be out of reach of children or pets on a high shelf.
Below is the list of items you’ll need.
What you need for Clean Screen Printing Screens
- Degreaser or Dehazer
- High-Pressure Water Source
- Scrubbing Pad
- Clean Cleaning Rug
- Protective Eye Gear
- Screen Rack
- Dawn Dish Soap
Degreaser or Dehazer
A degreaser and dehazer are cleaning agents that dissolve the emulsion solution from your screen and allow you to easily clean off the ink and any debri.
You should understand that a dehazer is also a degreaser, but a degreaser is not a dehazer. So which one should you have?
Most professionals go with a dehazer which is a two-in-one, that does the job of removing excess ink that may be staining your screen once you are done with the emulsion process and it works to remove the emulsion solution from your screen. A dehazer is best if you like having only one chemical in your studio.
A degreaser can only remove the emulsion solution, a task at which it excels. You can choose one or choose both. I would recommend having both. There are some great eco-friendly solutions such as SuperGreen, Naturama, Ecotex to choose from if you want to avoid harsh chemicals.
If you can, install an industry standard screen in your studio. This will make your life easy providing a station to clean your tools. The best sinks to install are stainless steel utility sinks with a 3(1/2) inch basket strainer, 1(1/2) inch IPS drain connection and easily supports wall-mounted faucets.
High Pressure Water Source
A high pressure hose is ideal if you have enough space for it. Most are able to wash the emulsion off in a few seconds.
A garden hose will also work, use an adapter for your faucet. The point is to have a high pressure cool water source for easy, effective cleaning.
Scrubbing Pad/Brush and Gloves
Your scrubbing pad should be smooth to avoid residue being caught in your mesh. A scrub pad with a handle makes cleaning easier for you. Ecotex brand has some great safe chemical resistant brushes. You can buy Neoprene, Latex or Polyethylene gloves that increase safety during screen printing and cleaning. Always use gloves with chemicals and bleach.
You can use cotton rugs to wipe the ink off your screen. Keep your rugs clean by passing them through a wash cycle after use in your washing machine and dryer. Use a cloth that will easily absorb any excess ink as it cleans it off without transferring it to the screen.
Screen racks are great for drying your screen. They help protect your screen and keep it dust free, which could leave specs after your emulsion
Now that you have all your tools, this tutorial will walk you through how to clean screen printing screens at home. It is written in sequential order to help you easily follow the steps to clean emulsion off a silk screen.
Before we get started here are some important safety tips. You should always wear gloves and protective eye gear when using chemical agents, bleach and detergents. Keep your body as far as possible to prevent splashing. Open your window or turn on your fan to ventilate your studio when using bleach.
Remove Ink from the screen
Use your squeegee to scrap off all the ink from your screen. You can transfer this excess ink back into your ink bucket or have an ‘used ink’ bucket on hand.
Spray Press Wash or Use an Ink Remove
Spray your screen with spray wash or ink remover. You can spray it four to five times.
Wipe your screen with a clean rag. The goal of these steps is to remove as much ink as possible before the next steps. A cotton or microfiber rug is best.
Rinse your screen with cool water on the front and the back. Make sure you get as much of the ink off as possible.
We’ll go over how to clean screen printing screens at home with bleach, a degreaser and a dehazer, which are the primary and most effective methods of cleaning your silkscreen.
Below are the steps you can take to clean your screen printing screens at home with bleach.
Take your sink stopper and place it in your utility or work sink. Next, lay your screen flat in your sink, if you can’t fit it lay it so that it is completely covered with bleach when your pour in the bleach.
Take your bottle of bleach and follow the instructions. Pour the bleach into the sink and cover the screen. Then set your timer for five minutes. Leave your screen in the sink until your timer goes off.
Clean a silk screen with bleach
After five minutes, pull your screen out of the sink. Don’t drain the bleach, you’ll use it again, place the screen above the bleach. Take your scrubbing brush or pad and scrub both sides of your screen. Make sure to scrub the corners and any oil is removed from your screen.
Soak your screen in the bleach again for another five minutes. Set your timer and wait till it goes off after five minutes.
Once five minutes is up, pull the plug from your sink letting the bleach drain. Take your hose and rinse your screen with hot water on both sides. Using a hose, will make your life easier, a pressure hose is ideal because it saves times.
Take your dish soap and sprinkle it on both sides of your wet screen. Scrub your screen again with your brush. Rinse your screen with hot water to wash off the detergent.
Hold your screen to a light source and make sure there isn’t any oil residue. If there is, your screen will look oily on some parts.
Increase the airflow in your studio using a fan, dehumidifier or open your windows. Place the screen vertically or horizontally off the ground. Make sure your screen mesh has adequate air flow to help your screen dry properly.
The process of cleaning your screen with a degreaser or a dehazer is the same, but these cleaning agents are not the same. A dehazer is also a degreaser, but a degreaser is not a dehazer. A dehazer is best when you need to rewash your screen because of excess oil, it can also be used to remove the emulsion from your screen but a degreaser was formulated for that job and is best suited. You can have both in your studio, but if you have to pick one, a dehazer is the best way to go. If will remove the emulsion and also any oil residue, which a degreaser cannot do.
Below is the process of using a degreaser or a dehazer.
Spray the front and back of your screen with your emulsion remover or degreaser. You can also use your dehazer if you have one on this step. It will work like a degreaser. Make sure to generously spray your screen on both sides and let it sit for a few seconds to allow the emulsion to disintegrate making it easy to wash off.
Scrub Your Screen
After 30 seconds to a minute. Use your scrubber to scrub both sides of your screen. At this point the emulsion should easily start coming off. If you find it difficult to clean your screen, generously spray more of the degreaser or dehazer and allow it to sit on your screen for a few seconds and scrub both faces of your screen again.
Pressure Wash Your Screen
You can use a standard garden hose or a pressure washer. The pressure washer will save you a lot of time and is a great investment if you have space in your studio. Place your screen at a 45 degree angle over your utility sink. Spray your screen until the emulsion is completely washed off.
Inspect Your Screen
You might notice some ink on your screen, which is a result of the oil in the ink having sipped through and stained your screen. This is called ghosting. You can remove the oils a process known as dehazing. Wet your screen and generously spray your screen with your dehazer and use your scrubbing brush to scrub it down on both sides. Leave it on for a minute and pressure wash from the side that you had the ink.
If you only have a degreaser, you can use dish soap to wash off the oil.
Stopping Ghost Images
You can take some steps to prevent ghost images on your screen. Below are some things you can do to avoid this extra step.
Expose your emulsion
Properly expose your emulsion. Make sure you are not under exposing your emulsion which is one of the major causes of ghosting.
Proper screen tension
Inspect your screens and make sure they are kept at their proper tension otherwise your screen will stretch when it comes into contact with your squeegee, which will create gaps or valleys where your ink will build up and get stuck after the print stroke, lowering the integrity of your final image.
Promptly remove ink
Do not leave ink on your screen too long, this will cause the ink to settle and stain making it difficult to remove. This will leave the oil on your screen and over time ruin your screen.
Care for Your Mesh
Maintain the integrity of your screen. If the screens are worn, they’ll more likely trap ink and create the ghost design. Make sure you replace heavily worked screens before they ruin the quality of your final image.
A dehazer is a degreaser but a degreaser is not a dehazer. If you are dehazing your screen, do it immediately after you remove the emulsion otherwise it will be extremely difficult to remove.
Dry Your Screen
Hang your screen vertically or lay it horizontally on your screen rack to dry. Make sure you have sufficient airflow going through the mesh. Depending on your location you can use a fan or a dehumidifier. If you are in a hot and dry climate, a fan is best for your studio. There are many fans available for art studios or look into industrial fans which will effectively ventilate your studio and keep it cool. If you live in a humid environment, a dehumidifier is your best option, it will keep the air quality good and stop it from making your ink.
How to Clean Your Screen at Home
The quality of your screen will always affect the quality of your final image. Make sure your screen is well cleaned if it is not in use and before use to remove any build up from past projects. Bleach and dish soap like dawn will effectively and gently clean your screen and increase its longevity. Always remember to use gloves, protective eye gear and an apron when working with chemicals and ensure a well ventilated room free of children and pets.
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