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Health risks of paints

  1. Paint can contain harmful substances that are released during painting and drying of the paint. These substances are particularly harmful to painters who work with them on a daily basis, but some substances can also be dangerous for the do-it-yourselfer. Especially for people who are sensitive to it, pregnant women or people who do not take adequate protective measures, it can pose health risks.

Harmful substances in paint

  1. Paint contains substances that can be harmful to humans in more or less measure. These substances are added to give the paint certain properties that determine the quality of the paint. Substances in paint that can be potentially harmful are binders, solvents and thinners, pigments, fillers and some additives. Most of these substances are dangerous in contact with the body, for example through the skin, or by contamination with the air that is inhaled. The latter plays a role in the drying of the paint, or in the sanding of (old) paint layers.


  1. The binder is the main component of the paint. Usually the binder consists of a plastic, which forms the paint layer after drying. The type of paint has often been given the name of the type of binder, such as, for example, alkyd paint, acrylic paint, chlorinated rubber paint, epoxy or polyurethane. If a type of paint contains more binder, it is usually more resistant to external influences, since there is a thicker layer of paint on the surface. The amount of binder in the paint therefore depends on the requirements for the paint. The greater the requirements, the more binder there is in the paint. Parquet lacquer, for example, contains about 75 percent binders, while latex contains only 5 percent binder.

Solvent and diluent

  1. Solvents and thinners are added to the paint for various reasons. They ensure, among other things, that the paint can be processed, flows well and dries quickly. The solvents dilutable in water slows down the drying, making the paint easier to process. There are also fast evaporating solvents, such as turpentine or thinner. The solvents are actually the most harmful components in paint. The "Volatile Organic Solvents" (VOC) in paint are especially harmful to health. They are harmful to the brain, the skin and reproductive harm. The VOCs evaporate quickly, leaving high concentrations of solvents in the air. These can cause brain damage with prolonged exposure, also known as the painter's disease. They can already cause nausea, dizziness and headaches when used once in a poorly ventilated area. In addition to brain damage, the solvents can cause eczema on contact with the skin. Finally, in recent years there have been increasing indications that some solvents can reduce fertility. They are also harmful to the unborn child. Especially toluene and xylene are solvents that negatively affect fertility.

Pigments and fillers

  1. Pigments are added to determine the color of the paint. Fillers make the paint a bit thicker so that irregularities such as cracks and holes can also be eliminated. Fillers are especially important in wall paint. Pigments that are used today are not harmful, but lead and chromate-containing pigments that were used in the past are very harmful to, among other things, fertility, an unborn child, the brain, the lungs and the skin. These harmful pigments are mainly found in paint from before 1980. It is therefore important to always take precautions when sanding the surface with old paint.


  1. Additives are added to improve the technical properties of the paint. However, some excipients can be irritants, such as dispersing or anti-foaming agents, emulsifiers, acidity regulators, dryers or siccatives, and preservatives. These excipients can cause eczema with prolonged contact.

Type of paint

  1. Most types of paint contain harmful substances to a greater or lesser extent. The amount of harmful substances in the paint strongly depends on the type of paint. Also, the paint that was used in the past is generally more harmful than the paint that is made today. In general, it can be said that turpentine dilutable paint, also called alkyd paint, is more harmful than water-dilutable paint, also called acrylic paint. In addition, a paint with few requirements, such as a latex paint, is often safer than a paint with high requirements such as outdoor stain or parquet lacquer. Finally, the way the paint is applied plays a major role in its harmfulness. Spraying paint pollutes the air much more than applying it with a roller. Application with a brush is even better.

How can the risks be limited

  1. To limit the health risks, the following precautions can be taken:

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