Painting and Pastels

Woman painting
Choosing water-soluble paints helps reduce your exposure to harmful solvents.

Painters and pastel artists may work with hazardous chemical products that can harm their health, such as:

  • Turpentine, paint thinner, lacquer thinner, citrus solvent and other toxic and combustible solvents.
  • Flammable and toxic spray fixatives and adhesives.
  • Pigment powders and pastel sticks containing toxic metals such as antimony, cadmium, lead, and nickel.
  • Toxic driers in aqua oils and other products.

Protect Your Skin and Eyes

  • Wear chemical-resistant gloves when working with solvents, spray fixatives, and spray adhesives.
  • Wear a snug-fitting dust mask or respirator when sanding dry paint from surfaces.

Protect Your Lungs

  • Switch to water-based or water-washable materials to reduce toxic solvent vapors.
  • Oil and aqua oil painters should position your palette and easel close to an exhaust fan to carry solvent vapors away from you and out of your studio.
  • Keep containers of solvents and thinners covered when not in use to minimize evaporation.
  • Only use aerosol sprays with local exhaust ventilation that pulls the vapors away from you and outdoors.

Use Safer Practices and Materials

  • Purchase pigments already mixed in liquid or wax to minimize exposure to dust.
  • Choose water-soluble paints to reduce exposure to harmful solvents.
  • Water-washable oils or light oils (like baby oil or walnut oil) are preferable to solvents.
  • When transferring solvents into another container, attach a label with the original product container’s name and warnings, like flammable or toxic.
  • Store and use flammable solvents away from sources of heat and electrical outlets.
  • Avoid solvents with the words "chloride" or "chloro-" in their names, such as methylene chloride. Also avoid hexane, toluene, and xylene.
  • Odorless mineral spirits are a safer alternative to toxic turpentine for paint thinning and brush cleaning. Other safer solvents are listed on EPA's Safer Chemical Ingredient List.
  • Apply solvents with a brush, rather than spray-applying.
  • Keep containers closed when not in use.
  • Visit the Art Supplies page to learn about safety warnings on product labels.

Safely Dispose of Painting and Pastel Wastes

  • Empty containers can be disposed in the trash once almost all the materials they held are gone.
  • Dispose of partially full containers of aerosols, paints, solvents, and adhesives as hazardous waste.
  • Rags contaminated with oils should be wrung out and then hung to dry. Once dry, dispose in the trash.
  • Rags that are slightly contaminated with solvents should be enclosed in a tightly closed plastic bag, then disposed in the trash.
  • Collect rags that are visibly wet with flammable solvents in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid and dispose as hazardous waste.
  • Brush washing:
    • Wipe excess paint from brush.
    • Soak the brush vertically in paint thinner or water inside a container.
    • Cover with a plastic lid that has slits cut in it that brushes can slide through.
    • Settle the pigments.
    • Decant the good thinner into a second settling container so it can be used again.
    • Pour the pigment sludge into a waste container for eventual disposal.
  • Whenever you create art, make sure the waste you generate is properly disposed. Learn more about waste disposal for artists.


Toxic Solvents in Painting and Pastels

Art Gallery Chemicals and Hazards