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Are You Painting the Inside of Your Plumbing Pipes?

One of the first things I mention in any art workshop I’ve ever held is how to properly dispose of mediums (ie. Whatever materials are being used to create the artwork in class).

While most artists have been told about the disposal of hazardous materials, such as oil paint thinners (Gamblin Gamsol, Winsor and Newton Sansodor, etc.), I’m always surprised at how little is mentioned about all the other non-toxic art products like acrylics or clays.

The very first workshop I ever taught was held in a large corporate store with a lovely classroom, complete with huge double sinks.  I was so happy, as many classrooms contain very limited access to water for students.

Imagine my surprise when I went to use that lovely sink, only to see that the sink filled up with only the slightest water use, and barely dribbled down the drain.  My first use of the sink took almost the entire day to drain down the plumbing pipes. 

Resolving the next day to fix the problem, I brought in my own plunger (yes, I’m one of those fix-it yourself types…lol) along with a big bottle of industrial grade drain cleaner.  After some hard work, I had a very clean double sink, but, still very slow, clogged drain. Ugh!

Okay, I still had a large workshop to teach.

Later, as my students (most were experienced artists) began to clean up, I noticed that there seemed to be a steady stream of ladies heading to the large store bathroom with their palettes in hand.  Curious…I followed them to the Ladies Room, when much to my surprise, they were washing their acrylic paint palettes, with lots of lovely big globs of color down the drain.

And guess what? Those sinks were draining slow too! 

I ventured to ask them who told them to wash paint and other products off in the sinks. The ladies told me the manager said since the drain was so slow in the classroom…go ahead and use the Ladies Room sinks. Yikes!!

All paints, whether they are oils or acrylics, and even many other art products such as painting mediums, water based varnishes, or even clays, contain some type of “binder” to keep them solid or fluid, and enable them to harden and firm up to a solid surface.

All acrylic products contain archival, resin or polyvinyl binders that allow them to dry and harden.  Water based oils and Golden Open acrylics contain a measure of this too, as they mimic oils when used, but form a hard surface more quickly than a regular oil!

Let’s look at how you’re “painting your pipes” and damaging your plumbing with habits hurt not only your sink…but your wallet. Trust me when I say that your plumber will love you, if you continue doing this at home!

Every time you wash things down your sink, at the bottom of the pipe, there’s a cute little thing called a “Pea trap”.  That little guy is designed to catch all kinds of “heavy stuff” that you might wash down your drain that would clog the pipes. Occasionally, it gets full, and that’s when you’ll need to pull out your trusty plunger to clear the clog.

However, those lovely acrylics and mediums contain a substance similar to glue.  That’s what makes them “skin over” if you leave them sit on your palette too long.  They are heavier than the pigment in the paint, and “sink” into that cute little pea trap when you wash them down the drain.

Lots of people convince themselves that they can use enough water to flush their paint down the drain, but that doesn’t always work.

Eventually, enough of the “binder” (ie. Gluey stuff) gets into the pea trap and begins to get sticky and solidify.  A few more washes of paint down the drain, and more starts sticking to the junk in the pea trap…and before you know it, you have a nice solid block of paint or medium entirely blocking the water from getting through the pea trap.

Plunging won’t help, drain cleaners won’t work, drain snakes might make a little hole in your paint plug, but nothing will open the hole pipe.  

At this point, you’ll have to call your favorite handyman or plumber and have them replace the pea trap under your sink. This is costly and not something you want to do again.  If you continue to wash paint down the drain…I can guarantee that you’ll become your plumber’s favorite customer.

So, what to do? When working on your art, put only the paint amounts and mediums that you think you might use on your palette.  You can always add or mix more.

When you’re done painting, WIPE your paint and medium off your palette and throw the paper towel in the trash.  If you’re using a disposable palette, no problem…it’s already going in the trash.  If you need to rinse your palette to get rid of any residue, use lots of hot water at full force, and run extra water down the drain after you’re done.

Using watercolor? No problem! Watercolor does not have a binder that will clog your drain. Besides, you can let watercolor dry on your palette and use it again.

Using clay? Get a nice large bucket of water and set it next to your table. Wash your tools, hands, and anything else in the bucket. After you’ve finished working, and the water has set a bit, dump the top water off outside or in your toilet.  Wipe all the clay sediment out of your bucket with paper towels, or save your sediment to use as liquid clay to glue other pieces of clay on your art.

Using these tips, you won’t be painting the inside of your plumbing, and you won’t make your favorite plumber happy…But your wallet will thank you!  And you’ll have even more money to buy art supplies!


Kat Kurgan

Arizona Art Supply

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