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.