There are two levels of solvent restrictions in California. The official term is volatile organic compounds (VOCs):
CARB (California Air Resources Board)
Some restrictions. If you want to cheat, you can go to Arizona, Nevada, or Oregon to buy restricted solvents.
SCAQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District)
Applies to Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties:
Many restrictions. If you want to cheat, you can go to San Diego or Ventura Counties, or the states above.
I live in Orange County, so CARB and SCAQMD restrictions both apply. Here are some of the solvents commonly used in woodworking that we cannot find on store shelves here. Sorry, but I do not know which items are restricted by which organization:
* Denatured Alcohol (DNA) as a solvent.
* Japan Drier
* Oil-based wipe-on urethane and polyurethane finishes, such as the once popular Arm-R-Seal.
* MEK (methyl ethyl keytone)
* Mineral Spirits (it was called "paint thinner" when I was a child)
* Turpentine and something called "Turpatine" (which may be an alternate spelling)
The restrictions are not simple. I have been told that you can buy denatured alcohol at REI (a hiking/camping/outdoor store). They sell the identical chemical, but it is classified as stove fuel rather than a general solvent. I also heard that you can buy very small cans of Arm-R-Seal at one woodworking store, because they classified it in a different way and it is very small can. In a few cases, larger containers of product were removed, but the smaller ones allowed, because the VOC levels were under some threshold. Smarter people than I can explain the rules. All I know is what you can buy and what you can't buy.
There are replacement products on the shelves, but they are not nearly as effective as the restricted ones. Acetone seems to be a "go to" replacement for restricted solvents, but it isn't the same and it is not nearly as effective. Acetone is so volatile; it evaporates too quickly to do the job, leading to frustration. We have "paint thinner" on the shelves, but it doesn't work well and it is wrong for some kinds of paint. Most people don't know which paints, including me.
Water-based urethane and polyurethane finishes are available. They do not make the "grain pop" the way that the oil-based finishes do, but there are effective ways to work around the issues and get great finishes. Eventually we may all have to learn those approaches to the hard finishes like that.
Some products come in two variants: one for the general market, and a separate formulation for the restricted market here. I heard about a product (line) where you had to pay close attention to which thinner you added, depending on the formulation. Adding the incorrect thinner could ruin the product. I have a feeling that most manufacturers have given up trying to make special versions of their products for this restricted market.
The denatured alcohol and Japan Drier were taken off the shelves a few months ago without warning. I was stunned about the denatured alcohol and asked. I learned that the denatured alcohol is not the pollutant. The problem occurs when UV rays from the sun cause a photochemical reaction that converts the denatured alcohol into other unhealthy pollutants. I am not qualified to understand or argue the science.
There are probably more restricted solvents that I have forgotten, but you get the idea.
Last edited by Tool Agnostic; 09-11-2019 at 11:22 AM.