P2Rx Topic Hubs - Guides to Community-Reviewed Resources on the Web
Choose a Section
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
P2 Opportunities
Glossary of Terms
Where to Go for Help
All Auto Body Links
Only Operations Links
Best Operations Links
Considerations for Selecting a Distillation Unit f...
Explores all source reduction options for reducing amount of spent solvents generated.
link details rate this link

P2 Guides for Autobody Shops
Self-assessment; hazardous wastes; housekeeping; paint preparation, application and cleanup; fluid a...
link details rate this link

Pollution Prevention in Painting and Coating Opera...
Addresses P2 opportunities in the metal coating (painting) process. Applicable to automotive coating...
link details rate this link

NOTE: [PDF] links require the Acrobat Reader from Adobe.
Pollution Prevention Auto Body Shops Topic Hub - Operations
Pollution Prevention for Auto Body Shops

Paint Preparation

Before painting, the vehicle must be prepped. This might include: removing old paint by sanding or chemicals; the use of fillers; mixing new paint; removing dirt, dust, etc.; and minor mechanical procedures. Wastes here can include:

  • Leftover filler materials
  • Dust (may contain heavy metals)
  • Masking materials
  • Spilled paint (may contain heavy metals)
  • Spilled thinners/solvents (may be ignitable and/or toxic)
  • Leftover paint/solvents/thinners
  • Spilled or leaking automotive fluids (used oil, antifreeze, refrigerant, etc.)
By keeping work areas clean and free of filler and sanding dusts, an auto body shop can prevent pollution and reduce the amount of time spent cleaning up and redoing paint jobs. This can be accomplished by:
  • Mixing and using body filler according to container directions.
  • Wearing respiratory protection.
  • Avoiding metal surface cleaning solvents, especially those based on methyl ethyl ketone and chlorinated compounds (check MSDS).
  • Installing a central vacuum system to catch dust during sanding operations.
  • Using a broom or vacuum instead of water to clean up body repair and paint preparation waste.

The primary
pollutants of
concern for
auto body
shops are
volatile organic
(VOCs) and
Hazardous Air
Emissions (HAPs)
emitted during
painting operations,
hazardous wastes
generated from
solvents, thinners,
and metal-based
paints, and dust
emitted during
sanding operations.

Paint Application

Once the vehicle is ready to be painted, the next step is to select the type of coating material and application method to be used. The application of paint can generate a large amount of waste due to poor paint transfer efficiency and the type of coating materials selected. Typical waste from this step may include:

  • VOCs and HAPs from applied materials. Topcoat applications release approximately 55% of the VOCs emitted during the refinishing process. The high volume of VOCs released in this step can be reduced by increasing transfer efficiency. This can be accomplished through training of painters and proper use of HVLP spray equipment.
  • Over-sprayed paint. Over half of the topcoat material can be lost as overspray. Improper application techniques waste paint and money. Paint commonly used in spray booths may be hazardous because of its ignitability and because of its contents: heavy metals (lead and chromium), polyisocyanates, and liquid organic solvents. Auto body workers may develop nervous system disorders, skin and eye irritation, respiratory sensitization, asthma and reduced lung function from exposure to paint.
  • Unused surplus paints from over-purchasing or past expiration dates. By purchasing only as much as needed a shop can reduce spoilage of expired materials, save storage space, and encourage wise use of materials.

Paint Equipment Clean-up

Equipment cleaning is required when a painting process is completed, changing colors, or during regular maintenance. Typical waste from this step may include:

  • Waste or surplus paint (may contain heavy metals)
  • Used paint thinners (may be ignitable and/or toxic)
  • Waste masking materials and tape
  • Rags/towels (may be ignitable due to solvent or paint residue)
  • Empty containers
  • Paint booth filters (may contain heavy metals from paint pigments)
  • Used safety and personal protective equipment (such as gloves and overalls)
  • VOCs - Paint equipment cleaning contributes approximately 20% of the VOCs released during the refinishing process. (Source: Pollution Prevention Guides for Auto Body Shops - http://peakstoprairies.org/p2bande/autobody/abguide/fs5.cfm)

Vehicle Repair

Some shops perform minor automotive service and repair. Most of the wastes generated can be reused and/or recycled on- or off-site. Here is a brief list of wastes generated in this process (for more information, please refer to the P2Rx Automotive Repair Hub):

  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Plastics
  • Used tires
  • Automotive fluids (antifreeze, used oil, gasoline, diesel, etc.)
  • Used batteries

General Shop Management

As with any small business, routine operations contribute to a shop's waste streams. Wastes associated with these routine processes include:

  • Office supplies (printer, copier, and fax paper, colored paper, paper cups, etc.)
  • General packaging waste (wrappers, boxes, etc.)
  • Water (toilets, sinks, showers, etc.)
  • Energy (electronics and electrical equipment, lighting, etc.)
  • Leaking or spilled materials

Safety Summary:

  • If improperly managed, the wastes discussed above can pose a serious threat to the health and safety of the shop's employees, damage the environment, or endanger the community.
  • Hazardous materials and wastes can cause cancer, nervous system damage, explosions, and air and water pollution.
  • All employees should know what materials and equipment are used in their shop and where the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are located.
  • All employees should know what can and cannot be reused or recycled, and what can and cannot go down the drain or in the trash can.

(Source: OSHA's Autobody Repair and Finishing -

The Auto Body Topic Hub was developed by:
Peaks to Prairies
Contact Laura Estes at Peaks with questions or comments:
406-994-3451 or laurae@montana.edu

With assistance from:
Western Regional Pollution Prevention Network
Isao Kobashi at WRPPN, 408-566-4560 or isao.kobashi@pln.CO.Santa-Clara.CA.US