Painting Safety Tips

house painter with paint roller

When you take on a new DIY project, researching the best products, techniques, and tools is important. But even more important? Your health. Let’s examine some common –– and some not-so-common –– risks of painting projects and the steps you can take to avoid them and keep yourself safe.

1. Avoid Breathing in Paint Fumes

Oil-based paints emit toxic fumes that, when inhaled, can cause health problems. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as acetone, xylene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene are solvents used in the paints that evaporate into the air you breathe. Symptoms you may experience from inhaling VOCs include lung irritation, headaches, dizziness, vision problems, watery eyes, and nausea.

Prevent paint fume inhalation by:

  • Working in a well-ventilated area.
  • Using an exhaust fan if possible
  • Wearing a respirator mask.
  • Using an air purifier. 
  • Keeping windows open during painting and for several hours after.
  • Taking frequent breaks outside to get plenty of fresh air. 
  • Staying out of the room for an additional 2-3 days after the job is done until the paint is fully cured and VOCs are no longer being produced.

Reminder: If you’re working anywhere built before 1978, don’t forget to check for lead-based paint before you start chipping away or sanding down your surfaces. 

2. Stay Stable on the Ladder 

person standing and painting on a ladder
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Whether you’re cleaning your gutters, changing a high light bulb, or painting your walls, using a ladder around the house for projects is a common risk for a homeowner. Obvious risks include falling, breaking a bone, and head/neck injury.

Follow these ladder safety precautions to stay safe:

  • Always maintain three points of contact on the ladder when climbing up or down: two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand.
  • Wear a hard hat. If you do fall, this will help prevent injury.
  • Consider scaffolding in lieu of a ladder for very tall or hard-to-reach areas.
  • Use a safety harness and carabiner attached to a secure structure to prevent falling to the ground.

3. Protect Your Skin and Face 

Paint splashes, spills, and splatters onto your face, hands, or legs can cause serious skin irritations and burns. When using paint thinners, caustic solvents, and paints, you should always:

  • Wear impermeable gloves.
  • Wear eye protection, like safety goggles or a face shield, especially if painting above your head or using a sprayer.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, and shoe covers. 

It’s also very important to remember to frequently wash your hands while painting. If you eat, drink, or smoke in the middle of your paint job, you can potentially transfer paint to your mouth and ingest it. 

4. Prevent Aches and Pains

Painting is a physically demanding job. It doesn’t matter if you’re painting walls with a high ceiling or you’re bending over painting baseboards –– it’s hard on your body. Reduce your risk of hurting the next day by:

  • Taking several breaks throughout the day.
  • Stretching your back, neck, arms, and shoulders frequently before, during, and after the job.
  • Wearing knee pads when working on the ground.

5. Practice Fire Safety

Oil-based paints and the chemicals used to clean them up are a fire hazard. Even the rags or towels you use to clean up are flammable, and in some cases, can spontaneously combust. Never paint near an open flame or heat source; never smoke or use a vape; and never use a lighter when painting.

Even if you follow these safeguards, it’s still important to keep a fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket on site and easily accessible in case anything does happen to catch fire.  

6. Paint Cleanup

Photo Credit: Jupiterimages / Canva Pro / License

Accidents happen, but there’s no need to cry over spilled paint … usually! Here’s a quick guide on how to clean up paint, based on the type of paint and where you’ve spilled it. 

Water-Based Paint

  • Tile and Vinyl: Wipe with dish soap and warm water. Use a scraper if the paint has dried.
  • Hardwood: Wipe up with equal parts water and white vinegar. 
  • Carpet: Scoop up as much paint as possible, and then blot the area with a paper towel. Clean what is left with warm soapy water. 
  • Concrete: Scrape away as much paint as you can, then apply paint stripper. After 15 minutes, scrape or scrub off the paint. Finally, rinse the area with water.
  • Glass: Use equal parts water and white vinegar to pour or spray on the paint. Scrape the paint off with a razor blade, then rinse with water and wipe dry.

Oil-Based Paint

  • Tile: Remove as much wet paint as possible with a scraper, then apply paint thinner, acetone, or nail polish remover to the area. Gently rub with a towel, then rinse with water.
  • Vinyl: Scoop up as much wet paint as possible, then apply rubbing alcohol to the paint with a cloth and press down for a few minutes. The paint should wipe away with a little elbow grease.
  • Hardwood: Remove as much wet paint as possible, then blot the area with rubbing alcohol or paint thinner. Gently rub the stain in the direction of the wood grain. Rinse with water and dry.
  • Carpet: After removing wet paint with a scraper, spray the area with paint remover. Blot the stain with a wet rag until the paint is gone, then rinse with water and use a dry rag to absorb the moisture.
  • Concrete: Scrape away as much paint as you can, then apply paint stripper. After 15 minutes, scrape or scrub off the paint. Finally, rinse the area with water.
  • Glass: Use equal parts water and white vinegar to pour or spray on the paint. Scrape the paint off with a razor blade, then rinse with water and wipe dry.

7. Paint Storage

Leftover paint can be safely stored for touch-ups if you follow a few guidelines. Paint should always be stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Although most people store it in the garage, a temperature-controlled room is better –– between 60-80 degrees is the best. However, old paint cans still emit vapors, so the EPA warns against storing paint in the basement.

The best way to store both oil- and water-based paint is to cover the opening with plastic wrap and then seal it with an airtight lid. 

Important: Many paints are flammable, so never store oil-based paints near anything with a high temperature or that can spark.

8. Paint Disposal

person disposing of paint cans
Photo Credit: piranka / Canva Pro / License

Never dump oil-based paint or solvents into the ground, throw them away like regular trash, or pour them down the drain. These harmful chemicals must be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection site. 

Water-based paints can be donated to charity, community centers, schools, or shelters. If there’s not enough paint left to donate, throw it away. Check with your trash disposal company to be sure they will accept it. Typically, latex paints must be fully dried in order to be thrown away. To speed up the paint drying process, you can add a paint hardener, kitty litter, sand, or shredded paper to the paint.

FAQ About Painting Safety

Is paint toxic to pets?

Paint is toxic to everyone, including pets. Loosely cover fish bowls, turn off aquarium air pumps, and keep the room well-ventilated. For dogs, cats, and other animals, use the same precautions you use for yourself –– keep them out of the room that’s being painted until it’s dry and allow them to go outside as often as possible for fresh air. Move their food and water bowls away from anywhere that paint could potentially drip. 

Who is most vulnerable to paint toxicity?

No one is immune to breathing in toxic paint fumes, but some people are more likely to have worse effects, such as very young children, elderly people, pregnant people, and those with asthma, compromised immune systems, or other respiratory or health conditions.

What is the most important safety precaution?

Keeping a well-ventilated area is critical when painting. Open doors and windows and use fans to keep the fumes from paints, solvents, strippers, stains, and cleaning supplies from building up and making you sick.

How do I protect myself from the harmful effects of paint?

Wear a mask or respirator, long pants, long sleeves, and shoe covers. Ensure proper ventilation in the workspace by using an exhaust fan, opening windows, and turning on an air purifier. Take frequent breaks, and be sure to wash your hands before and after eating, drinking, and smoking. Never paint near open flames or heat sources. 

How long are paint fumes toxic?

Paint will continue to emit vapors for several days after it is dried. Therefore, it is important to avoid the room for at least 2-3 days after. 

Do all paints emit VOCs?

Several brands, including Sherwin-Williams, Behr, BioShield, and Real Milk Paint make zero-VOC paints. Many other paints are available in low-VOC options.

To Paint or Not to Paint?

After reading all this, you may be thinking it would just be better to hire a professional painter and not have to worry about all these risks. Depending on the size of the job, that might be the better option. Paint Gnome is here to help, whether it’s just a bedroom or the whole house. In any case, remember to keep yourself safe while painting or being around freshly painted surfaces.

Main Image Credit: Spiderstock / Canva Pro / License

Alissa Cassidy