By Glenn House — Director of Product Safety and Regulatory Compliance
Vinegar is a mild solvent and is sometimes promoted as a “harmless” solution for cleaning epoxy from skin. At first blush, this seems to makes sense. Vinegar is a common food ingredient. It has been used medicinally as an anti-fungal agent and as an old time sun burn remedy. Italian dressing, sauerkraut and pickles could not exist without it.
However, if used to clean epoxy from your skin, vinegar can promote overexposure to epoxy and subsequent allergic reactions. Common household vinegars, both distilled white and apple cider, contain 4 to 10% dilute acetic acid. They also contain low percentages of alcohols and mineral salts. When applied to remove epoxy, vinegar slightly dissolves it then penetrates the protective layers of skin, carrying epoxy into your subdermal tissues. This increases the chance of an allergic reaction, and may also increase the reaction’s intensity. Any wiping, rubbing or agitation of the contact area will likely worsen the situation.
You can safely use vinegar to clean your tools. You might also use it occasionally to get epoxy off of your skin without much risk of health problems. You’ll further reduce the risk by gently washing with soap and warm water after using vinegar this way.
However, you shouldn’t use vinegar to clean epoxy from your skin on a regular basis. It’s much safer to use a waterless skin cleanser or other detergent-based products with a strong emulsifying action. These won’t drive epoxy into your sensitive subdermal tissues.
Working clean and wearing protective clothing, such as gloves and long sleeves, is the best way to reduce the need to expose your skin to any cleaning agent in the first place.