Is Spray Paint Toxic? Science Backed Facts!


Last updated: August 31, 2023

Understanding Whether Spray Paint is Toxic in This Detailed Guide

Is Spray Paint Toxic? A lady spraying spray paints

You’ve finally decided to get some renovations done around the house. DIY improvements on your floor, a new makeover for your kitchen cabinets, or a change in your bookshelf color. In all these, you’ll probably use spray paint to effect the change in aesthetics. The fresh look is impressive, no doubt. 

But it comes with a few problems, and one is a change in the air quality within your indoor spaces. Spray paints naturally emit strong fumes, and when used indoors, you might wonder if spray paint is toxic.

This article aims to help you understand the components of spray paint, their health effects, and how to quickly get rid of toxic fumes so you can know how to protect yourself when working with spray paint. 

Is Spray Paint Toxic?

Yes, spray paint can be toxic if inhaled directly or if it comes into contact with the eyes. The VOC fumes in spray paints can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation when inhaled. Fortunately, the toxicity of spray paint is only effective while it’s still wet or when in use, meaning it’s relatively safe once it fully dries.

How Toxic is Spray Paint?

The extent of the toxicity of spray paints depends on the level of exposure to this material. The VOC fumes contained in spray paints have definite side effects once inhaled, and these effects may be long or short-term. 

The short-term effects generally include eye, nose, and throat irritation. You may also experience nausea and headaches These can be remedied with first aid care and basic medication. 

On the other hand, long-term health effects may be more intense, requiring specialized treatment. These include organ damage (liver and kidneys), cancer, and damage to the central nervous system.

Why is Spray Paint Toxic?

The toxicity of spray paints generally depends on the ingredients it’s made of. These ingredients are known as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. VOCs are gases emitted from specific liquids or solids containing various chemical compositions. 

These include propellants such as propane and butane and solvents like Acetone, Xylene, and Toluene. Direct exposure to these VOCs can cause adverse health effects on humans, some of which may be fatal. High levels of these VOCs can even kill grass.

Spray Paint Ingredients: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): The Lowdown

Different brands may differ in the type, and amount of ingredients or VOCs contained in their products. But in general, the most common ingredients found in spray paint include:

  • Acetone
  • n-Butal Acetate
  • Carbon Black
  • Xylene
  • Toluene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Magnesium Silicate
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone
  • Propylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether
  •  n-Butyl Acetate

Since VOCs contain various chemical compositions, they can quickly evaporate in standard atmospheric conditions.  At this stage, the toxicity of VOCs is hard to detect, and it can be assumed that they’re less toxic. 

Most probably, at this point, the concentration of these emitted gasses is generally low, and the danger is not visibly apparent, making it hard to detect the potential side effects of inhaling spray paint fumes. However, overexposure leads to long-term health problems instead of short-term poisoning, and you could develop several health challenges highlighted below. 

Spray Paint Health Effects

When working with spray paint within a confined space, you’re exposed to dangerous chemicals like VOCs, which can adversely impact your health and the health of your loved ones. As we have seen, the degree of exposure can cause either temporary or long-term health problems. 

The severity of these health problems further depends on the environment,  the amount of spray paint used, and your underlying health conditions. Ideally, you should wear protective gear when using spray paint, and the quality of the protective equipment can either curb or increase these health effects. 

The correct protective gear will safeguard you from all these, while poor quality equipment is as good as not wearing any. In general, using spray paint within a confined space with poor ventilation can cause skin irritation, lung problems, etc. If you’re an expert at working with spray paint and take all the necessary safety precautions, you should have nothing to worry about. 

On the other hand, if you’re exposed to toxic VOCs, you might have to deal with a few notable short-term effects, including irritation, dermitical problems, headaches fatigue, and lung problems. 

Painter’s syndrome, asthma, and brain, liver, and kidney damage are a few examples of long-term issues you might have to grapple with. 

Breathing Paint Fumes Symptoms

Below is a short overview of how each VOC affects your health:

  • Acetone: Affects the eyes, nose, and throat. It causes demerits and damage to the central nervous system.

  • Xylene: Causes similar health problems as Acetone. Additional symptoms include abdominal pain, anorexia, incoordination, corneal vacuolization, headaches, and drowsiness. Prolonged exposure may lead to damage to brain cells. 

  • Toluene: In addition to the health symptoms highlighted above, exposure to Toluene causes anxiety, liver and kidney damage, insomnia, euphoria, lacrimation, exhaustion, and paresthesia. Prolonged exposure may lead to lung cancer.  

How Long is Spray Paint Toxic 

It’s indisputable that spray paint fumes are toxic due to the many proven health problems associated with direct exposure to VOCs. But how long is spray paint toxic? Experts estimate that it takes between 2 to 3 days before spray paint fumes can be considered less harmful. 

It can take up to five days in spaces with little or poor ventilation before the smell wears off. Once the spray paint is completely dry, it poses no health risks and is non-toxic. 

Is Spray Paint Toxic After It Dries

Is spray paint toxic after drying? You need to understand this when working with spray paint indoors. Most spray paints used indoors are relatively safe when dry, meaning there should be no risks associated with touching them so long as you don’t ingest them. However, care should be taken when applying the paint and waiting for it to dry and the smell to wear off. 

The only time spray paint would be considered harmful is when it’s not entirely cured. For example, the topcoat may appear completely dry, but it could still be wet underneath.  In such a scenario, a chemical reaction occurs in the background, and you would unknowingly inhale the fumes being emitted even if you can’t smell anything. 

However, it should be safe once the paint is fully dry and solidified such that you can touch it without the chemicals penetrating your skin pores. You may develop minor gastrointestinal upset and vomiting if you ingest dry spray paint. That can be manageable, but it can be more dangerous if you choke on dry paint, especially oil-based paints, which contain more toxic solvents.

Is Rust-Oleum Spray Paint Toxic?

In general, Rust-Oleumxae paints are unleaded, meaning they are safe to use on different items, including toys and furniture. Once completely cured, the solvents evaporate and leave the coating, making it unharmful.

How Long Do Spray Paint Fumes Last?

If you live in a hot climate, you can expect your spray paint work to dry faster within a day or two. However, the smell can linger on for a maximum of three days with good ventilation before the fumes wear off.  How long the spray paint fumes last depends on the moisture levels in your home. 

The fumes will linger much longer than expected if your home has high humidity levels. That’s why it’s advisable to check the humidity levels before doing any spray painting job. The ideal humidity level should be around 40 and 50%. 

Anything higher than that prolongs the drying process of spray paint. The presence of mold, moisture, and plumbing leaks can also keep the paint wet for a long. So should deal with any moisture or dampness before spray painting. Here is a complete guide on how to remove spray paint smell you can read to help you get rid of spray paint fumes.

Is it Toxic to Breathe in Spray Paint?

Whether you have been exposed to VOC fumes minimally or for an extended period, the health risks associated with inhaling the fumes remain the same. Some conditions may be story term and easily manageable, but some may be severe enough that you’ll need specialized medical care. 

Whichever way you look at it, inhaling spray paint fumes is toxic, and you should take measures to protect yourself when working with these substances.

Can Inhaling Spray Paint Kill You?

Because of the negative impact, VOCs can have on your health, it’s advisable to use spray paint outside. However, this may not always be possible, especially with some items like kitchen cabinets or floors. 

If you must work indoors, ensure the room is sufficiently ventilated. Not only is inhaling the fumes harmful to your respiratory organs, but inhaling too much of it can kill you as a worst-case scenario. 

It’s imperative to take the necessary safety and health measures like wearing goggles, gloves, and masks to ensure safety.

Do Paint Fumes Kill Brain Cells?

The high chemical concentrations in paint fumes make them extremely dangerous and should not come into contact with your body. The worst part of exposure to these chemicals is that they can kill your brain cells by attacking the fatty tissues in the brain, including the myelin sheath protecting the brain. 

Once this protective layer is affected, the fumes get into the brain cells, reducing their overall number and causing damage to the brain connections. The more exposed you are, the more significant the damage could be, so invest in good protective gear when dealing with these chemicals to protect yourself. 

Can you Spray Paint Inside the House?

Spray painting is easier to use, less messy, and faster. While you can spray paint indoors, you should ensure that the room is adequately ventilated to allow for sufficient airflow.

This way, you’ll be less exposed to strong toxic VOCs emitted from the paint and less at risk of potential health dangers associated with spray painting.  

Is spray paint toxic?

How Long After Spray Painting is it Safe?

Ideally, give your paint job a minimum of three days before you can use the room or stay close to the spray-painted surface. After three or so days in average temperatures, the paint could have dried up, and the smell subsided, making it less hazardous to health. Still, you can use your best judgment to know when it’s completely safe to use a room after the odor is gone. 

How to Get Rid of Spray Paint Smell and Fumes in House ( And Stay Safe)

While it’s safer to let the chemical reaction in spray paints occur naturally and wait until the paint fumes wear out with time, there’s a faster way of getting around it. Here are a few tips to get rid of paint smell faster and stay safe. 

  • Check on the Ventilation

If you spray paint a room or an indoor piece of furniture, ensure the windows and doors are widely open. You can also activate the ventilators to clear out the stench of paint quickly. 

  • Work with the right products

There are spray paints specifically for indoor use, just as there are nontoxic spray paints. Working with these products is much safer, especially when there’s insufficient natural light and airflow. Indoor spray paints have minimal VOCs and are ideal for domestic DIY projects. They’re formulated to dry faster, and the smells wear out within a short time. 

  • Please Read the Instructions

For DIY projects, it’s best to read the instructions on the label and be mindful of warnings and precautions indicated on the product. Also, consider the tips provided and protect yourself accordingly.

  • Mask Up

Wearing a mask helps prevent you from inhaling the toxic fumes involuntarily. Also, take frequent breaks outside to get fresh air and minimize overexposure. 

  • Maintain Proper Storage

Ensure you store away any leftover paint in a spray paint storage cabinet to prevent the fumes from leaking accidentally. Ensure the storage space is not easily accessible to children. 

FAQs – How Toxic is Spray Paint?

How long are spray paint fumes harmful?

Your painted room should be safe to use after 3-5 days. The paint would have dried and solidified at this time, and the fumes evaporated, making it less harmful. 

Is spray paint harmful after it dries?

Spray paint is only toxic when it’s in use and still wet. However, once fully dry and the chemical reaction is completed, it does not pose any known health risks. 

Can you get poisoned by spray paint?

In cases of overexposure, once the toxic chemical gets into the bloodstream, the adverse impact affects all organs, including the heart, liver,  kidneys, and bone marrow. The inhaled toxic chemicals also move from the lungs into the blood system, causing brain damage, neurological problems, and sudden death. 

Is spray paint toxic indoors?

Using spray paint indoors requires proper ventilation and safety precautions to avoid contacting the VOCs. Otherwise, substantial health risks may be life-threatening in the long run. 

Content Summary

Spray paint is an essential product that makes home renovation easier and quicker. Not only is it affordable, but it’s easy to use and not restricted to professional use only. 

However, like every other chemical, spray paint requires careful handling with regard to health risks. You should therefore ensure that you’re adequately protected from the pungent odor, which causes several health problems which may be fatal. 

Hopefully, this guide will help you understand the toxicity of the chemical compounds contained in spray paints, which should give safety a top priority in your next painting project. 

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