Paint may contain substances that are harmful to health and the environment. Look for the warning label and read the instructions on the product packaging so that you know how to handle the paint product safely.

Most paints consist of pigments, binders, solvents and various additives.

Pigments are chemical substances that give paint its colour. Many of the traditionally used pigments are harmful, both to the painter and to the environment, but have now been largely replaced by less harmful pigments.

Binder is the substance that binds the pigments together, hardens the paint after it is applied and causes it to dry and adhere to the surface. Paint is usually named based on the type of binder that is used, for example, oil paint or acrylic paint.

Solvent regulates the viscosity of the paint, i.e. the consistency of the paint. The solvent’s job is to make the paint less viscous (more easily flowing) so that it is easy to apply. In the past, it was mostly organic solvents that were used, such as white spirit or turpentine. Organic solvents provide good results but can cause problems for people who use the product, such as dry skin and skin cracking. Organic solvents can also be harmful when you breathe them in; you may feel drowsy and dizzy when painting with paint that contains these substances.

Today, water-based paints are more common, but unfortunately they are not completely free of risk either. In order for water-based paint to have a longer shelf-life and service life after application, it contains preservatives. Many preservatives can cause allergic reactions in the skin, such as eczema, which has become a problem especially for professional painters.

Additives can have many different functions in the paint. The additives used depend on the type of paint and what it is to be used for. Examples of typical additives are paint adhesion mediums, anti-corrosion agents and preservatives. Do not add anti-mould agents or other additives to the paint on your own, use ready-to-use paint. The paint manufacturers add agents that are approved for a specific purpose.

Protect yourself when painting

There may be substances in paints that can affect your health, with effects ranging from dry skin to developing a lifelong allergy. Therefore, it is important that you protect yourself when using paint. If you have ever had an allergic reaction to preservatives, you will be allergic to that substance for life. This means that you can have an allergic reaction when you use other products that contain preservatives, such as shampoo, liquid soap and body lotions.

  • Read and follow the directions given on the warning labels on the products.
  • Always wear gloves.
  • Wash off paint splashes on the skin. You should not wipe off paint splashes, because then you rub the paint into the skin.
  • Air out the room when you paint.
  • Do not allow children to be present or participate when using paints with organic solvents, such as white spirit.
  • Do not soak brushes where children can access them.

Paint can also contain substances that are harmful to the environment. Therefore, remember not to pour leftover paint into the drain or discard it with household waste; always bring leftover paint and old paint cans to a waste disposal site.

Ask questions in the store when shopping for paint so you can make an informed purchase. As a consumer, you have the right to know if the paint can have an impact on your health or the environment. Try to choose environmentally assessed products; high health and environmental requirements are placed on the contents of these products.

Last published 30 November 2020