Is Water-Based Paint Toxic?

Randy Charles
Professional Painter

Randy Charles is the owner of, a website dedicated to providing information, tips, tricks, and news about all things paint. With over 10 years...Read more

Water-based paint is a great choice for surfaces. It is non-toxic and friendly to the environment. You can find it in homes and businesses. But, like any paint, there are risks. This article will explore the possible risks and benefits of using water-based paint.

Water-Based Paint
Water-based paint

Overview of water-based paint

Water-based paint is a type of paint made from a mix of water and acrylic resin. It’s popular due to being easy to apply, highly versatile and fast-drying. This type of paint comes in various colors, and its durability depends on its use. It may hold solvents, pigments and other additives which can change the safety of the paint. Generally, it is less hazardous than oil paints. But, some water-based paints may contain VOCs which could be dangerous if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

When painting indoors or outdoors, take necessary safety precautions to avoid risks associated with VOCs or other hazardous ingredients. In general, water-based paints are low in toxicity and safe to use.

Types of Water-Based Paint

Water Based Paint-02
Water based paint-02

Water-based paint is now popular. It has a low VOC and doesn’t affect the environment. It is also safer and healthier to use than traditional paint.

Types of water-based paint exist. Advantages and disadvantages are with each type. Are any of them toxic? Let’s find out!

Acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is water-based. It contains pigments suspended in a synthetic polymer emulsion. Most often, it’s used on canvas, paper, wood, metal, and other materials. It dries quickly and is safe to use in the classroom. This makes it popular for creative activities. Generally, it’s non-toxic and non-hazardous if used properly. However, some companies add harmful chemicals, so read the label and buy from a reliable source.

Thinning acrylic paint is possible with water for better brush flow and application. It can also be blended with oils or gauche to create special effects. Acrylics are fast drying and waterproof when dry, which prevents fading or cracking. This makes them ideal for outdoor work like murals and street art. They should last, depending on the conditions and the type of surface.

Latex paint

Latex paint is the go-to for home projects. It is made from plastic resins like acrylic or vinyl. It dries quickly and can be tinted to any color. Plus, it has many finishes like a high gloss and flat matt! It is eco-friendly and has low VOC with no lingering odors. It is an ideal choice for painting around the house.

Remember to clean brushes and store them in a cool, dry place. Latex paint can last up to 12 months after opening.

Enamel paint

Enamel paint is made of alkyd or oil-based resins. It is often used instead of oil-based paints, as it has a hard, glossy finish that resists stains and discoloration. This type of paint needs a primer before application. It can also turn yellow over time.

Enamels are toxic, as the solvents used in the manufacturing process give off dangerous fumes. Plus, many enamel paints contain VOCs which can be harmful if present in high amounts. Enamel paint must only be used in well-ventilated areas. Also, the user must take necessary safety precautions.

Health Risks

Water Based Paint-03
Water based paint-03

Water-based paints have been growing in popularity in recent years. This is because they possess low odor, are non-flammable and dry quickly. Though they may be less hazardous than oil-based, they still carry certain health risks. These include:

  • Eye and skin irritation.
  • Respiratory irritation.
  • Toxicity if inhaled.

In this piece, we will delve deeper into these risks.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals with a high vapor pressure at normal room temperature. They escape as gases from solids and liquids and can cause short and long-term health effects.

Water-based paints contain pigment and binder particles suspended in a liquid vehicle. The main danger is VOCs. VOC levels differ by paint type, color and brand, but all emit detectable VOCs during and after painting.

VOCs in the air can irritate the eyes, throat, and nose and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and cancer. High VOC levels reduce air quality and are bad for living communities.

To limit exposure,

  • avoid high-VOC paint,
  • minimize use,
  • increase ventilation,
  • wear protective gear,
  • open windows,
  • avoid aerosol cans, and
  • avoid post-application touch-ups.

Consult a professional or local health department for specific requirements about personal protection.

Allergies and Irritations

Water-based paints often contain chemicals that may induce allergies or irritations. Biocides or preservatives, such as formaldehyde, ethylene, ortho-phthalates and vinyl chloride, are commonly used. These chemicals can be odorless and volatile and release toxins over time. The longer the exposure, the higher the risk of allergies and skin irritations.

High levels of environmental exposure may occur if moisture collects inside walls with water-based paint. This increases the chance of fungal growth, which can cause severe respiratory irritation. It’s linked to many chronic diseases, including asthma.

Discuss safe painting methods with a professional painter if your home is prone to high moisture levels. An oil-based enamel might be more beneficial, as it seals out moisture better than latex paints.

Lead-Based Paint

Lead-based paint is a big worry for health risks. Long-term exposure to particles can lead to poisoning that can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, anemia, and nerve damage. It can even cause physical and mental delays in children.

Many products made before 1978 may contain lead. Examples are paint and protective coatings on furniture made before 1950.

Current laws must tell people when products have hazardous components.

When children or pregnant women are in a home, extra caution must be taken when dealing with older paint finishes or renovating with scraping and sanding. If unsure if a lead is present, hire an Environmental Risk Assessor to evaluate the area and provide a solution. Or, contact the local government for an approved reference laboratory to test for dangerous components in products like paints and furniture.

Safety Measures

Water-based paints have many uses. But some of them contain toxins. So, it is better to take safety measures. This article will discuss what these safety measures are when using water-based paints.

Use appropriate ventilation

When painting with water-based paint, always ensure ventilation is appropriate. Open windows and have fans running to create air circulation. For solvent-thinner-based paints, wear a NIOSH-approved mask or respirator. This is especially important for enclosed spaces, where fresh air is minimal.

Avoid intense physical activity – perspiration can interact with paint fumes. Finally, use common sense; if you feel uncomfortable, take regular breaks outside for fresh air!

Wear protective gear

When using water-based paint, it’s vital to wear protective gear. This includes:

  • Goggles
  • Dust mask or a damp cloth or towel if a dust mask isn’t available
  • Gloves as water-based paint are toxic and may affect skin if in contact for too long
  • Long-sleeve shirts and pants to protect your skin and clothing from spills or contact with the paint

Eye protection should be polycarbonate goggles, not safety glass.

Follow safety protocols

Protecting skin and eyes from liquid paint and fumes is key when using water-based paint. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings before beginning a painting project.

Secure any pets/children in a separate room and close off the workspace before starting. Ventilation is important. Open windows can help dilute airborne particles. Wear a mask and goggles to protect against splatters. People with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory issues should consult their doctor first.

Wear protective clothing like a long-sleeved shirt or coveralls while painting. Synthetic fabrics are better than cotton or wool. If skin comes in contact with wet paint, rinse it with soap and water. For larger areas or prolonged exposure, seek medical attention after washing with cold water.


Water-based paint has been viewed as an eco-friendly option compared to oil-based paints. But, some may worry about the toxicity of these paints. Fortunately, other paint varieties lessen toxins released into the environment.

This article will explore alternatives to water-based paint and its environmental effects.

Natural Paints

Interior home painting is a safety concern. Natural paints are safer than traditional chemical-based paints because they have little to no volatile organic compounds (VOC).

Some natural paints include:

  • Milk Paint is made of limestone, clay, chalk powder, and casein protein (from cows’ milk). It has a glossy finish and dates back centuries.
  • Lime Paint is made of hydrated or slaked lime. It prevents mildew damage and offers a matte finish.
  • Clay Paint uses clay as its main ingredient. Its earthy hue gives off a subtle hue that won’t overpower interiors.

Natural paints like plant dyes and sustainable minerals can create eco-friendly home décor. Choose one shade or mix multiple hues. Going natural can keep you healthy and help the environment.

Non-Toxic Paints

Not all paints are equal. Some manufacturers offer non-toxic, water-based paints. These paints typically have no lead or other heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and antimony. And they have minimal to zero VOCs.

The best non-toxic paint choices have labels like “Greenguard Gold Certified,” “Eco Seal,” or “Design for the Environment”.

An alternative is natural milk-based paint. This type of paint uses casein (a milk protein). It binds pigments together without chemicals, making it non-toxic and biodegradable/recyclable. It also has superior durability compared to traditional oil-based paints. It won’t chip or fade over time.

Low-VOC Paints

Low-VOC paints are a great substitute for oil and water-based ones. Why? They have less volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are hazardous because they mix with the sun and other air contaminants to make ozone. Ozone is a pollutant that can make people sick if breathed in for a long. Low-VOC paints have fewer VOCs and are considered healthier for indoor air. Also, low-VOC paints are more durable and last longer than traditional oil or water-based paints.

There are several low-VOC paint brands available, such as:

  • Benjamin Moore
  • Sherwin Williams
  • American Pride Paints
  • Farrow & Ball
  • YOLO Colorhouse
  • PPG Timeless Paint
  • Behr Premium Plus Enamel Low Lustre Interior/Exterior Paint

Don’t forget to read the product labels before purchasing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is water-based paint toxic?

Water-based paint is less toxic than oil-based paint but can still contain hazardous substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It is important to read the label on the paint carefully and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use.

What are the dangers of water-based paint?

Water-based paint can contain hazardous substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can cause various health problems, including eye and skin irritation, headaches, and dizziness. Proper ventilation and wearing protective clothing can help reduce exposure risk.

Is water-based paint safe for children?

Water-based paint is generally considered safe for children, but it is important to read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It is also important to provide adequate ventilation and to wear protective clothing to reduce the risk of exposure.

Randy CharlesProfessional Painter

Randy Charles is the owner of, a website dedicated to providing information, tips, tricks, and news about all things paint. With over 10 years of experience in the painting industry, Randy has become an expert in the field and is passionate about helping others learn more about painting. He has written numerous articles on the subject and is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information to his readers.

Leave a Comment

fourteen + 12 =