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Paint Fumes: Risks, Side Effects, and How to Stay Safe

  • April 28, 2020
  • Written by: TruSens

Open paint cans, paint swatches, and paint brushes.

Painting is one of the simplest forms of home improvement. A fresh coat of paint can make a room feel brand new. If not done properly, though, painting has the potential to cause health effects.

What Are Paint Fumes?

Most indoor paints have the potential to release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOCs are chemical pollutants emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. Breathing in VOCs can have an effect on your health. The good news is that the paint industry is moving towards improving the emission of VOCs from paint. The Federal Government set standards on the emission of VOCs from paint, but some manufacturers comply with more refined limits that were set by the California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Conventional paints are generally broken down into two categories: oil-based and water-based (latex). Oil-based paints contain a solvent that consists of VOCs which are released during paint application and as it dries. Using a water-based paint can be a good alternative to solvent-based as a way of reducing the release of VOCs. In a study done on the Evaluation of Low-VOC Latex Paints, it was concluded that low-VOC latex paint can be a viable option to replace conventional latex paints for prevention of indoor air pollution. Paints marketed as “low-VOC”, however, may still have significant emissions of some individual VOCs.

Risks of Paint Fume Exposure

The effect that paint fumes cause can vary based on factors such as the amount of chemical in the indoor air, the length of time a person is exposed, and a person’s age, pre-existing medical conditions and individual susceptibility.

Immediate symptoms may include

  • Lung irritation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems

Those exposed at high levels or for long periods of time may experience more severe symptoms.

High Risk Individuals

When it comes to the effects of paint fumes, risk isn’t necessarily all about exposure. There are certain individuals that have higher susceptibility rates when it comes to the potential harms of paint fumes. It is important to take necessary steps and precaution if you or an individual in your life fall under one of these categories.

Pregnant Women, Babies, and Children

In preparation for a baby, expectant parents often paint the nursery or try and complete their home renovations.

Although it’s beneficial to complete the painting before the baby arrives, it may be harmful for pregnant women to be exposed to the potential effects of VOCs emitted from paint. Additionally, children already in the home may want to see or be a part of the action while mom or dad is painting. Some studies have shown that it is not a good idea to have babies or children around while indoor painting.


While painting the inside of your home, it is important to keep pets out of the room. As listed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), paint poses potential danger to your beloved pets. Birds are especially vulnerable to inhaled particles according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Individuals in Work Fields with High Exposure to Paint

As previously mentioned, those exposed to high levels of paint fumes or for a long period of time may experience worsened symptoms. According to a study done on Exposure to Airborne Particles and Organic Solvents among Painting Workers, long exposure to paint fumes can cause loss of lungs function and serious pulmonary problems.

Individuals with Compromised Respiratory Systems

Individuals with a compromised respiratory system are at higher risk for health problems associated with paint fumes. These individuals are should limit their exposure.

How to Minimize Risks and Exposure

  • Schedule painting strategically. Although there may never be a time where your home is completely vacant, try to schedule painting when there is a minimal amount of people present.
  • Keep windows open. Open windows while you’re painting and for a period of time afterwards. This will allow lingering fumes to find their way out of your home.
  • Take breaks while painting. Long exposure can worsen the effects of paint fume symptoms. Take breaks to breathe in fresh air to help reduce your changes of side effects.
  • Avoidance. Stay out of the room that has been painted for 2 to 3 days after you are finished.
  • Follow instructions and safety labels. Be sure to read all instructions and safety labels before you start your painting project. It may also be beneficial to go above and beyond certain guidelines and wear gloves or a face mask while painting.
  • Use an air purifier. Air purifiers reduce VOCs in your indoor space. Consider having an air purifier running in the room you’re painting and other rooms where to VOCs may have found their way into.

How We Handle Paint Fumes and Odors

TruSens air purifiers make use of an active carbon filter to reduce the presence of odors and gases, including VOCs, commonly found in indoor air. The TruSens Odor & VOC Filter with True HEPA helps remove common cooking and cleaning odors and reduces VOCs.