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Is Paint Smell Harmful

Updated: Aug 15, 2023


A green brushstroke that goes from a dark green to a light green

Key Takeaway:

  • Harmful chemicals in paint fumes: Paint fumes contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause short-term and long-term health effects, especially with prolonged exposure. These chemicals include benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene, which can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and even cancer.

  • Importance of choosing "no-VOC" or "low-VOC" paints: Choosing paint with low or no VOC levels is an important way to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and lower the risk of health problems. Water-based paints generally emit lower levels of VOCs than oil-based paints.

  • Safety tips for painting: It is important to take safety precautions when painting, including using low-VOC paints, ventilating the area during and after painting, and taking special precautions for pregnant women, children, and pets.


Paint Smell and Its Potential Hazards: A Professional Overview

Paint smell is often a concern, particularly in enclosed spaces. It is important to understand the potential hazards associated with breathing in paint fumes. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint can cause short-term effects like headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Long-term exposure to these chemicals can lead to more serious health issues.


It is important to take steps to avoid inhaling paint fumes, especially if you are in a poorly ventilated area. Avoiding exposure to VOCs can help prevent health problems, and it is equally important to take precautions before you start a painting project.

While traditional paints contain high levels of VOCs, low or no-VOC paint options are available and recommended. These environmentally friendly paints are odorless and do not release toxic fumes.


History has shown us the consequences of ignoring the potential hazards of paint fumes. Therefore, it is important to be aware and take necessary precautions to avoid any serious health issues.


Harmful chemicals in paint fumes

Paint fumes can contain harmful chemicals that are detrimental to human health, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde. These chemicals can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Prolonged exposure to these fumes can lead to more severe health problems such as respiratory issues and even cancer.


It is essential to ensure proper ventilation when painting indoors or use low-VOC or zero-VOC paint to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals in paint fumes. Additionally, wearing a respirator or using an air purifier can also help reduce the risk of inhaling these harmful chemicals.


Health risks and effects


a heart shaped lifeline meter to express the health risks of paint smell

Exposure to Strong Chemical Odors: Is it Dangerous?

Chemical odors emitted from paint can have hazardous health effects on occupants. These harmful effects range from temporary irritations, such as eye/nose/mouth/throat irritation, to more severe symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and even unconsciousness. Long-term exposure can lead to respiratory problems, including asthma and neurological damage. It is vital to take necessary precautions, such as proper ventilation, to avoid hazardous health risks and effects from chemical odors.


Additionally, exposure to strong chemical odors can cause behavioral and cognitive changes in people, especially in children. Prolonged exposure to these odor chemicals increases the risks of cognitive impairments, specifically in the areas of memory, concentration, and attention span. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid exposing ourselves and especially children to strong chemical odors from paint.


Studies have shown that short-term exposure to strong chemical odors such as paint fumes can cause detrimental effects. In a famous example, it was noted that painter Salvador Dali's lifelong respiratory issues might have been caused by the exposure of paint fumes from his painting practices. It is crucial to protect ourselves from hazardous chemical odors, such as those emitted by paint, to prevent long-term health and neurological effects.


Risks for special populations

Special Considerations: Risks of Paint Smell on Vulnerable Individuals

The risks of paint smell are not limited to healthy individuals as people with underlying health conditions, including asthma, allergies, and chemical sensitivities, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of paint fumes. These individuals, collectively referred to as special populations, experience weaker immune systems and intolerance to environmental irritants, causing immediate or long-term adverse health effects.


The elderly and pregnant women also fall under this category as they have more physiological and biological changes that affect their respiratory and immune systems. They may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, and other symptoms of chemical exposure from inhaling paint odor in poorly ventilated spaces.


It is noteworthy that special populations should avoid exposure to paint fumes as much as possible. For example, children and babies are still developing; exposure to paint fumes may cause long-lasting developmental impairments. Homeowners and contractors should opt for low or zero volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, as well as good ventilation practices, to reduce risks for vulnerable populations.


Historically, special populations were not always considered in paint formulation. In the 1960s, lead-based paint was still used and caused poisoning incidents, especially in children. The US government banned lead-based paint for residential use in 1978. However, there is still a danger of lead exposure from older buildings. Therefore, proper safety precautions must be followed to avoid lead poisoning.


Duration of harmful paint fumes

Exposure to paint fumes can have harmful effects on human health, therefore it is important to understand the duration of these fumes. The longer the exposure, the greater the risk of respiratory problems and other health issues. It is advised to avoid entering freshly painted rooms for at least 24-48 hours as it takes this long for the fumes to dissipate. Additionally, proper ventilation is crucial during painting and afterwards to hasten the process. Prolonged exposure can lead to permanent damage, and it is essential to follow safety guidelines to prevent any harm. As such, it is important to be aware of the duration of harmful paint fumes and to take necessary precautions to protect our health.


Safety tips for painting

Paint is a common household item that can emit strong odor causing discomfort to people who are sensitive to the smell. Inhaling paint fumes can also be hazardous to health. To ensure safe painting, here are five safety tips for painting:

  1. Always work in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask to reduce inhalation of fumes.

  2. Wear gloves and safety glasses to protect your skin and eyes from paint splatters.

  3. Keep paint containers closed when not in use to prevent any spills or accidents.

  4. Never smoke or use flammable materials near the paintwork.

  5. Read the instructions on the paint container to ensure proper usage and storage.

It is also important to note that paint can last indefinitely if stored properly. A true history of how painting safety procedures have evolved over time, emphasizes the necessity for adherence to safety guidelines.


Some Facts About the Harmful Effects of Paint Smell:

  • ✅ Paint fumes contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can lead to short- and long-term health effects like headaches, dizziness, breathing problems, and damage to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys.(Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Water-based or low-VOC paints can help decrease indoor air pollution and reduce health risks, but even they may emit odors or other unwanted substances such as pesticides.(Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Pregnant women and children, especially newborns, are more vulnerable to the chemicals in paint fumes and may experience adverse health effects like congenital anomalies, childhood leukemia, and increased rates of allergic symptoms and respiratory disorders.(Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Pets, particularly birds, should be kept away from freshly painted rooms as they have a smaller lung capacity and may be more at risk for health effects from the toxic chemicals present in paint emissions.(Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ A fresh coat of paint will continue to emit VOCs into the air even after it appears completely dry, and the most toxic VOCs can be odorless. It is recommended to ventilate a room for 72 hours after painting to minimize off-gassing.(Source: Team Research)

FAQs about Is Paint Smell Harmful

What is the reason why people start an interior painting project?

There are many reasons why people start an interior painting project, such as creating a nursery, updating a bedroom, or adding a bit more life to their living room.


How can a fresh coat of paint transform a room?

A fresh coat of paint can completely transform a room and is an excellent alternative to other costly and time-consuming renovation tasks, such as installing new flooring or finally converting your garage into an office.


What harmful chemicals are present in paint fumes?

As paint dries, the ingredients that keep it in its liquid form—including any harmful chemicals that they may contain—start to evaporate, leading to that familiar “new paint” smell. The solvents present in paint can emit a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including toluene, xylene, ethanol, benzene, dichloromethane, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, propylene glycol, glycol ethers, styrene, and acetone.


What are the short-term and long-term health effects of breathing paint fumes?

Short-term health effects of breathing paint fumes include headaches, eye watering, dizziness, throat and lung irritation, and breathing problems. Chronic exposure to VOCs found in interior paint can lead to damage to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys, as well as some types of cancer.


Are there special populations that are more vulnerable to the effects of paint fumes?

Yes, pregnant women, babies and children, and pets are more vulnerable to the effects of paint fumes. Exposure to paint fumes during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, may increase the risk of some types of congenital anomalies. Childhood exposure to VOCs found in paints has been linked to increased rates of allergic symptoms, asthma, rhinitis, and eczema. Pets, particularly those that are indoors all day, should be kept away from any interior paint projects as it may increase the risk of health effects from toxic chemicals present in paint emissions.

oil-based paints


What is the duration of harmful effects from paint fumes?

It is difficult to determine precisely how long a specific paint will off-gas harmful fumes, but most sources agree that a fresh coat of paint will continue to emit VOCs into the air even after it appears completely dry. The Department of Environmental Protection recommends ventilating a room for 72 hours after you finish painting to minimize off-gassing.


Need a Low to Non-VOC Paintjob?

If you're looking to get your interior house painted with low to zero VOC. Contact your local painting contractor. Simply search up painters in (your city) and google will recommend the best local ones. Simply ask the painter if they are able to paint with low or zero VOC


If you are located anyone in Los Angeles, contact us to guide you. We are painters in Santa Clarita that service all over the Greater Los Angeles Area. Contact us for a free estimate. No job is too big or small for LR Painting Inc.



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