How To Clean Your Screen Printing Screens Like A Pro [In 13 Easy Steps]

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    Screen printing costs can add up, with every aspect involved, from the dip tank to the print screen, contributing to the overall expenditure. The good thing is, screens can serve as a reusable component to counterbalance that cost, provided you manage everything effectively. In fact, the average screen printing setup replaces their screens every 3 to 5 years. This period can be extended, but only if you take good care of them, acting as a responsible guide to their maintenance.

    Part of that process involves cleaning them. Thorough cleaning not only extends the screen’s life, it prevents contamination between screen prints and ensures a quality image transfer for your customer. And best of all, the cost of cleaning supplies, on average, is as shockingly low as $0.50 per screen.

    Key Takeaways

    Ink not coming off as expected

    If your default water pressure is not removing the ink as usual, it’s likely a sign your mesh needs tension. A loose mesh will allow unnecessary build up of ink – a clear factor that everything is not as it should be!

    Sufficient application of degreaser

    Emulsion remover is required to spruce old emulsion off the screen. Use a brush with a degreaser to remove the emulsion remover. Neglect in doing so will leave remnants of emulsion remover. If this unpleasant scenario unfolds, the emulsion will not adhere well to the screen when reapplied.

    Effectively removing emulsion from a screen

    After applying emulsion remover, scrub it into the mesh with a brush. Use circular motions to ensure thorough cleaning and do it on both sides.
    Let the chemical sit for 2-3 minutes for it to work into the emulsion. Ensure a good scrub on both sides thoroughly before rinsing with water.

    Any form of cleaning, whether it is your dip tank or screen print, is far from glamorous. And cleaning screens by means of chemical products transform this routine task into a challenging feat.

    Not only chemicals, but you also require equipment and accessories to complete the task perfectly. There are several meticulously crafted steps to the cleaning process, which can take up to 10 mins for each screen.

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      But this is precisely why it’s crucial to learn how to clean screen printing screens effectively and make it a part of your screen printing routine!

      Keeping your screens cleaner and in decent condition keeps costs down in the long run. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a way to ensure quality transfer of ink to the substrate, ensuring longer lasting screen designs on your garments!

      Leftover ink adheres to the screen after each use, interfering with the next print, unless the screen is cleaned thoroughly.

      In order to navigate this cleaning process, here are a few tips outlined in this guide. Remember, there are two options for cleaning; preparing a screen for reuse and reclaiming it for a new print lot.

      Materials needed:

      • Screen printing screen
      • Screen cleaning brush or soft bristle brush
      • Screen printing degreaser or mild detergent
      • Screen reclaimer
      • Screen emulsion remover
      • Clean lint-free cloths or paper towels
      • Screen washout booth or sink with running water
      • Power washer (pressure washer), pressure of no more than 1500 PSI
      • Gloves (optional to protect your hands)
      • Squeegee blade

      What Steps Are Required For Cleaning Screen Meshes?

      1. Remove your screen tape.
      2. Scrape off excessive ink using a squeegee blade.
      3. Use a rag to remove any ink remaining on the screen and squeegee.
      4. Spray a good amount of screen reclaimer on both sides of the screen and frame
      5. Let the reclaimer sit for 2 minutes.
      6. Use a clean ink brush to scrub the screen (both sides) in a circular motion.
      7. Next, scrub the frame with the same ink brush.
      8. Power wash away the screen reclaimer.
      9. Spray emulsion remover on both sides of the screen and scrub with same brush.
      10. Work the brush on the edges as there will be more emulsion build up there.
      11. Power wash the emulsion on both sides.
      12. Apply degreaser and thoroughly brush it into the mesh until it foams up.
      13. Power wash the degreaser thoroughly to make sure all chemicals are removed.

      You will need to clean both the screen printing frame and the screen itself. This is achieved by removing any leftover ink that has fused to it from the previous print job.

      Aluminum framed screen printing screen wiped down with a rag ready for cleaning.
      The process of cleaning a screen mesh with a scrub pad.

      Apply photo emulsion remover to clean the screen. This is best executed along with a power washer. The power washer exerts enough force to remove any remaining, obstinate stuck ink. A pressure between 1600-1800psi seems to be the optimal range.

      Tip: Screens that have loose tension accumulate more ink than necessary. If, after power washing, the ink does not wash off as easily, it could be a sign of loose tension. For re-tensionable screens, the solution is simply increasing the tension.

      Applying degreaser on both sides of the screen at this stage is of pivotal importance. The degreaser, if scrubbed well, will dissolve leftover residue. Failing to do this means the emulsion won’t adhere well to the screen later on. To remove the degreaser residue, leverage the power washer once again.

      The last step is to let the screen dry naturally, but relatively quickly. An option is to place it next to a window to accelerate the process. To avoid the problem of pinholes or stencil damage, keep it away from exposure to dusty areas while drying. Usually, a slightly humid environment does the trick! And remember, when it comes to screen printing, there are also all sorts of things and tricks that can be done to streamline the process, such as preparing a dip tank solution.

      Methods to Dehaze a Printing Screen?

      In addition to regular cleaning, there are times when you may have to reclaim screens, this can be achieved through the process of dehazing. Reclaiming fully cleans out the screen, it’s something like giving it a new life. The difference between this process and cleaning a screen is, this gives you a new stencil for new artwork to be incorporated.

      Yellow screen printing mesh with ghost image being applied with dehazer to reclaim screen!
      Washout ghost images by means of degreasing in order to reclaim your mesh.
      1. Put your screen in water and let it soak completely (frame included).
      2. Spray the haze remover over the entire screen section (front and back) and frame.
      3. Scrub the stained area (front and back) with a brush in a circular motion.
      4. Let the screen rest for a while. This lets the dehazer work into the ink.
      5. Power wash the dehazing agent off the screen.
      6. Clean off your brush and give the screen one final scrub both sides.
      7. Finally, give it one more power wash.

      Note: Make sure the dehazing agent doesn’t contact exposed skin or eyes. It is toxic and an irritant.

      Watch this video: Clean & Reclaim Your Screen For Reuse

      To save time, skip to timeline 00:25!

      Is Storing Screens Important?

      As a business, you might have a design that is popular among your clients. The cleaning process is clearly important for the next batch of prints due to the demand, but so is the storage of the screens. These are not only physical things but also crucial parts of your business operation.

      If you have to print the next day, storing your screens in a well ventilated room or area helps them dry quicker. They must be dry and ready for print. A small trick is to assist the drying process with a clean cotton rag. This helps absorb moisture and left over chemicals from the mesh and frames.

      The guy from joshisterrific built his own screen rack from scrap wood

      Clear Insights to Frequently Asked Questions

      How do you avoid pinhole damage?

      Pinholes occur due to contamination. If you have cleaned your screen and allowed the mesh to get contaminated during the drying process, (dry it in a slightly humid environment to prevent pinholes) this can cause pinholes.

      Another cause is not removing the emulsion remover properly during the cleaning process. Sufficient degreaser is needed for this. Then make sure you power wash the degreaser sufficiently too!

      Other mesh contamination causes:
      • Dirty screen making area
      • Not properly preparing emulsion
      • Contaminated emulsion

      At what pressure should the pressure washer be set at?

      The pressure washer should be set to a pressure of no more than 1500 PSI. This is around the perfect pressure to remove ink and debris, while not damaging the screen.

      After the job is complete, how do you dry your screen?

      The screen should be dried with a lint-free cloth or air-dried. This minimizes the chances of recontaminating the mesh which can interfere with your printing process.

      Closing Comments

      Cleaning your screen printing equipment allows for a more consistent quality print. Having a badly prepared screen results in unclear and botched prints. Even a ghost image from a previous print can show up and render your existing print useless.

      But cleaning your mesh is also about being efficient with your business funds. You want your screens to last without having to purchase new ones. So it is a balance between funds, quality prints and maintenance time.

      Effective screen cleaning and maintenance comes with the job. So we recommend you do both at the end of your business day.

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