Screens can be reused over and over again as long as there are no tears and the mesh retains it’s tension. In order for this to happen, the screen needs to be returned to it’s original, emulsion free state.
This process is called reclaiming the screen and it requires the use of chemicals (reclaimer) to break down the emulsion and a high water pressure to wash the emulsion out of the screen.
It is very important to note that reclaimer should never be left in the screen to dry. It will have exactly the opposite effect and permanently harden in the mesh! I once ruined a bunch of screens thinking I would spray them all with reclaimer first, and then reclaim them one by one. Bad idea. The first few screens were fine but the rest dried permanently. They are still in my closet waiting to be re-meshed.
It is very, very , very difficult to remove emulsion unless you have access to a pressure washer. In a pinch I have used a hose with high water pressure (using my thumb to create a tight stream). Another solution is to use a car wash’s pressure washer and do a bunch of screens at once.
Step 1 – Break out the power washer!
Step 2 - Spray the reclaimer. Note some of these chemicals are hazardous!!! Be sure to wear safety googles and a mask and do this in a well-ventilated area!
Step 3 – Spray until you get ALL of the emulsion out of the mesh. Periodically hold the screen up to a light to make sure no bits are remaining. This process takes some time and patience. Some ink stains may not wash out but these do not make a difference when printing, unless the ink is physically clogging the mesh. Good luck!