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


Screen printing costs add up. The good thing is, screens can be reused to help balance that cost. In fact, the average printing shop replaces their screens every 3 to 5 years. This period can be extended, but only if you take good care of them.

Part of that process involves cleaning them. But thorough cleaning not only extends the screen’s life, it prevents contamination between prints and ensures quality image transfer for your customer. And best of all, the cost of cleaning supplies on average is as 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!

Sufficient application of degreaser

Emulsion remover is needed to remove old emulsion. Use a brush with degreaser to remove the emulsion remover. Failure to do this will leave reminisces of emulsion remover. If this happens, the emulsion will not stick well to the screen when applied.

Effectively removing emulsion from a screen

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

Any form of cleaning is far from glamorous. And cleaning screens by means of chemical products takes this chore to another level.

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

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

Post Content

    Keeping them cleaner and in good condition keeps costs down in the long run. But as important, it’s a way to ensure quality transfer of ink to the substrate. This means longer lasting screen designs to your garment!

    Leftover ink sticks to the screen after each use. This interferes with the next print, unless the screen is cleaned thoroughly.

    Here are a few tips to follow in this article. Note, there are two options for cleaning; cleaning a screen for reuse and reclaiming it for a new print lot.

    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. You do this by removing any leftover ink that has stuck 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 done along with a power washer. A power washer has enough force to remove any remaining stuck ink. A pressure between 1600-1800psi seems to be the sweet spot.

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

    Applying degreaser on both sides of the screen at this stage is important. The degreaser (if scrubbed well) will remove leftover residue. Failing to do this means the emulsion won’t stick well to the screen later on. To remove the degreaser, once again use the power washer.

    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!

    How To Dehaze A Screen Printing Screen?

    In addition to regular cleaning, you will at times have to reclaim screens. This is achievable through the process of dehazing. Reclaiming fully cleans out the screen. 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.

    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


    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

    How do you clean silk screens after printing?

    Silk screens are some of the easiest types to clean. Usually a combination of the right emulsion and some water will do the trick. For optimal results, use a power washer to forcefully remove dissolved ink from the screen.

    How do you clean water-based inks from screens?

    These inks are easier to remove as they contain water. Simply use a pressure washer to remove the ink. However, the longer the ink dries, the more of its water content evaporates. This makes it harder to remove the ink. In this case, you may need a product like Sgreen® Aquawash to assist.

    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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