How to Clean a Screen Printing Frame

Posted by Jeffrey Gononsky on

Cleaning and maintaining a screen printing frame requires a little elbow grease. Fortunately, Holden’s stocks all the products you need to make it happen. 

How to Clean and Maintain a Screen Printing Frame

After you finish screen printing, you'll need to remove ink from your screen printing frame. It will interfere with future prints and leave you with lackluster results if you don't. 

Cleaning and maintaining screen printing frames isn't everyone's favorite task, but it is essential for producing high-fidelity prints. If you don't begin the cleaning process soon after printing, it can become difficult to remove leftover ink, damaging the screen. 

The Benefit Of Reclaimers

Reclaimers are products you can use to remove photo emulsions from your metal and wood frame silk screens. At Holden's Screen Supply Corp, we offer a variety of reclaimers both as standalone products and as part of screen printing kits for plastisol, water-based fabric, and water-based paper inks. 

Photo emulsion removers rapidly break down residual ink on screens and eliminate the need for scrubbing or detailed ink removal. Diluting them with water provides you with optimal cleaning power for the type and thickness of ink you are using. 

Using Dip Tanks

Professional screen printers use dip tanks to remove unwanted ink from screen print frames. These reduce the number of chemicals required and eliminate the physical effort involved in cleaning frames. 

Leave the screen in the tank to soak for around five minutes, and it will emerge ink-free. Then pressure-wash any remaining chemicals and emulsions to leave the screen looking brand new. 

How To Manually Clean A Screen Printing Frame

Not everyone has a dip tank. If you don't, don't worry: you can manually clean your screen with the proper technique. Here's what to do:

Step 1: Use Tape To Mask The Frame's Inside Edges

The first step is to apply masking tape to the inside edges of the frame. Tape stops you from getting paint all over the sides of the frame, and it is easy to remove, cutting down on overall cleaning time. 

Step 2: Remove As Much Ink As Possible While The Frame Is Still On The Press

The next step is to remove as much ink as possible while the frame is still on the press. To do this, you can use small cards or a squeegee to scrape off excess surface ink. These have small creases that collect residual ink and allow you to pour it back into the original container, reducing waste. 

If you don't want to reuse the ink, it is still a good idea to scrape it off. Removing as much ink as possible by hand reduces the amount of chemical remover you have to use. 

Step 3: Use A Quality Ink Remover

Whether you are cleaning wood or aluminum screen printing frames, using a high-quality ink removal reclaimer is essential. High-quality products, such as those available from Holden's, use special formulations to break down ink residues on the surface of the frames, eliminating ghosting or stains on mesh fabrics. 

How long you need to leave the emulsion remover on the fabric depends on the thickness of the stencil. Thinner products may require only 15 seconds of soaking, while thicker ones require 30 seconds or more. 

Never allow the emulsion remover to dry on the screen. If it does, it will create a ghost image that is hard to remove.

Whenever you clean your frames, always use a quality emulsion remover such as Holden's HO-100, HO-100 Powder Reclaimer, or HO-300 Emulsion Reclaimer. Never use substandard products or those intended for different use cases. 

Step 4: Pressure Wash The Screen

Immediately after you apply the emulsion remover, you must pressure-wash the screen. This process eliminates residual chemicals on the surface. 

Today's home pressure washers are extremely powerful. To operate, fix a hose attachment to the outlet on the front of the device, and then connect to mains power. Electricity drives a motor that increases pressure in the chamber, producing a high-intensity jet of water. You can use this jet to push any remaining emulsion remover off the surface of the mesh. 

Be careful, though. Some pressure washers are extremely powerful and could damage delicate screen printing frames. If in doubt, calibrate your pressure washer to the lowest pressure possible that still removes unwanted ink. Ideally, pressure washers should produce between 1,500 and 2,000 PSI. Check the manufacturer's booklet for precise specifications. 

If you notice that there is still ink buildup on your screen even after pressure washing, check the tension. If the tension is too loose, there is a higher chance of unwanted ink buildup. If this happens, re-tension the screen and then repeat the above process. 

If tension is not the problem, but there is still ink on the screen, turn the screen over, and pressure wash it from the other side. In some cases, you may need to scrub the frame manually to remove ink with a brush and pressure washer combined. 

Step 5: Apply A Degreaser

For some cleaning operations, you may want to apply a degreaser onto the front and back of the screen. These products remove any residual impurities that may still lurk, even after pressure washing. 

Missing out on this step can backfire. If you fail to degrease, the emulsion may not adhere to the screen in the future, reducing the quality of the final print. 

To apply the degreaser, scrub it onto the surface of the screen and then rinse it off with the pressure washer. After pressure washing, double-check that you removed all the degreaser. 

Step 6: Let The Screen Dry

The last step is to let the screen dry naturally. Put it close to an open window or in a wide-open space. Check humidity levels regularly. If there is too much moisture in the air, it can result in stencil damage. 

If you notice a ghost image on the screen after it dries, use a haze remover product to remove it. Don't assume that you have to replace the screen outright.