Methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane or DCM, is a common ingredient in many formulations used to remove paint and other coatings. It’s a popular product, relatively cheap and easy to use in a wide range of finishes without damaging the surface. In addition the equipment is fairly simple and it’s a highly penetrative product.
The product can be brushed or sprayed onto the surface to be removed. After 15-45 minutes, the surface can be cleaned by brushing, scrapping or high pressure rinsing in large areas. These advantages make it an ideal product to use in many different situations, from historical preservation to graffiti removal.
However, for inexperienced users it can be dangerous to use, especially in poorly ventilated areas, where this product can become deadly. Even just mild inhalation can cause irritation of the skin and respiratory tract, pulmonary oedemas and irregular heartbeat which may lead to heart attack. It is highly recommended that people with heart conditions refrain from using this product.
Due to high losses due to evaporation and hazardous waste produced after use, these products come with heavy legislative restrictions. It’s a highly volatile compound, and for this reason smoking while using it strictly forbidden.
Following some fatal accidents, some products containing this compound were recently banned in Europe. The ban took effect from 6 June 2012. The EU ban was done by REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), and divides the use of paint strippers containing methylene chloride in three types:
- Industrial use: use of methylene chloride is still allowed in industrial facilities, as long as done safely. This includes appropriate training for users, work done in a well-ventilated area with measures to minimise evaporation of this product and use of protective clothing.
- Professional use: Under certain conditions, can be used by specifically trained professionals outside industrial facilities, but rigid criteria for training needs to be in place. Each EU country can decide which uses and applications can be allowed.
- Consumer use: Complete ban for the general public. The ban applies to any product containing methylene chloride used to strip paint, varnish or lacquer.
How to control its use?
Any product containing this compound must be clearly labelled with “restricted to industrial use and to professionals approved in certain EU member states – verify where use is allowed.” All suppliers need to ensure that products they sell are being used legally.