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The Unhealthy Effects of Paint Fumes

If you plan on painting your home, here’s what you need to know about the potential side effects of paint fumes. Learn how to keep you and your family safe.

If you’ve ever painted the interior of your house, you know that paint doesn’t smell good and it can take days for the paint fumes to dissipate. What about the potential side effects of paint fumes on the human body? Is it dangerous to breathe fresh paint?

While paint fumes in general are not a healthy thing, there’s wide variability as to the ingredients in any particular paint. The most concerning components of paint are known as volatile organic compounds or VOC’s. These are the substances found in paint that are emitted as gases from a freshly painted wall. These compounds can be readily inhaled and when absorbed in significant amounts can result in the commonly seen side effects of paint fumes including eye and respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, and even memory problems. Some of these compounds have been shown to cause cancer in animals and are suspected of being human carcinogens. Some studies show that exposure to paint fumes can also increase the risk of asthma.

Ideally, to avoid negative paint fume effects, you should leave your home until the paint has completely dried, although this isn’t practical for everyone. The dangerous period is while the drying process is taking place at which time these unhealthy compounds are being slowly released into the air. Once released into the air, air movement will help to disperse the fumes to other parts of the house although the concentrations will be more dilute the further away you are from the painted surface. As the paint continues to dry, it will give off less and less of these VOC’s and the remaining VOC’s will eventually be diluted by fresh air or will evaporate. For this reason, you can reduce the impact of paint fume effects by taking steps to dry the paint in your home as quickly as possible. You can do this by painting at a time of year when the humidity is low to speed up the drying process. Here are some other ways to reduce the side effects of paint fumes:

Increase ventilation

Having a moving source of air will not only allow the paint to dry more quickly, it can also help to dissipate the paint fumes more quickly. Open as many windows as you can and consider adding rotating fans to the rooms you’ve painted. This will help to clear VOC’s from your living area.

Avoid painting your home when you’re pregnant

Certain solvents found in paint are suspected of increasing the risk of miscarriage, particularly glycol ether. If you must be in a freshly painted area during pregnancy, be sure to wear a face mask and gloves when in the freshly painted room and keep the room well ventilated. Don’t do the painting yourself as this will provide too much direct exposure.

Use safer paints

One option to reduce paint fume effects is to use a low VOC or VOC- free paint. Although these alternative paints may cost more, the additional investment may be worth it in terms of your health. There are also a variety of natural paints on the market that are free of synthetic chemicals. An internet search will reveal sources for these.

By choosing a safer paint and practicing appropriate precautions, you can reduce the potential side effects of paint fumes and reduce the risk to you and your family.

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  1. I work in a facility for elderly people, 3 weeks the whole building was repainted, there was no venilation system set up to get rid of the paint fumes. One area is very closed in and housed about 12-15 people, they can’t complain about the fumes, but the assistants that workd there at night complain of headaches, excessive congestion as the do the people living in the other side of the building. Maybe this is from the paint fumes or is that possible ?

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