Safety and Latex Paints

In my articles on wall graphics I make a few recommendations on painting with latex paint. What I did not do was make any recommendations regarding safety. Who would  think that there are any health concerns when painting walls with latex paint? I never did. After all, latex paint is water-based and that’s safe, isn’t it?

Hold on a second, according to several of our helpful federal agencies, including the EPA, CPSC and OSHA, you should take certain precautions while painting with these paints. While latex paints are water-based, some of these paints can contain solvents and harmful chemicals. The good news is that the water-based paints are safer than solvent-based paints, which can contain high levels of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs.

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One of the components of latex paints, which is concerning is crystalline silica. If you are an old school sign maker, you are well aware of the health risks associated with silica, when sandblasting a wooden sign. Sanding latex paint can cause the same problems.

Once crystalline silica gets in your lung scarring and tuberous growths can develop. Long term exposure can develop into silicosis, which in turn can develop into cancer.  That’s why, when you are sanding latex paint or any paint for that matter, wear your air respirator. Please note that I specified an air respirator, not a dust mask. When it comes to filtering out crystalline silica, dust masks won’t do diddly. Additional problems can also occur when you are sanding older walls. Many of these older paints contained lead and mercury, which are really toxic.

Indoor latex paints can also contain formaldehyde, which the paint can outgas as it is drying. Breathing formaldehyde can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea as well as irritation of your eyes, nose and throat.  Outdoor paints typically contain high concentrations of other biocides to prevent mold growth. Because the toxicity of these paints is higher, you generally should not use an outdoor paint indoors. Other precautions that you should follow when painting with latex paint are listed below:


  •  When you are shopping for a latex paint, ask the helpful hardware man for a low VOC paint.


  • Before you use the paint, read the safety precautions on the label and the Safety Data Sheet (SDS).


  • Make sure that you and your employees follow the safety precautions, as well as wearing all the recommended safety gear, such as safety goggles, air respirators and gloves.


  • While you are painting, open the windows and use a high volume fan in the window to exhaust the paint fumes. Good ventilation is also important as the paint is curing. During this period, which can be as long as 2 to 3 days, the paint can outgas noxious vapors.


  • Dispose of any unused paint in accordance with federal, state and local laws. In most states, disposal is simply a matter of removing the lid from the paint can, allowing the paint to solidify and tossing the can in the trash. To play it safe, call your local waste disposal company to inquire about proper procedures for your locality.