The Dangers of Paint Fumes

By Delialah Falcon. May 7th 2016

A freshly painted room can do wonders for improving the look of your home. However, the process of achieving that freshly painted look can have an undesirable effect on your health. Read on to find out how paint fumes can be dangerous to people and their pets.

What Makes Paint Fumes Dangerous?

There are several potentially harmful substances in paints, depending on the type of paint being used. The most well-known toxic substances in paint are volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs.

VOCs are a byproduct of either solids, liquids or a combination of both in paint. When paint is applied, the byproduct is released into the atmosphere in the form of a gas (paint fumes). VOCs are generally at a higher concentration when indoors (as much as 10 times the amount of outdoor paint).

The term “volatile organic compound” refers to a variety of different chemicals, many of which have a negative effect on a person’s health. In addition to paints, VOCs are also found in many other products, including:

  • Lacquers
  • Varnishes
  • Cleaning products
  • Pesticides
  • Office printers
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Glues
  • Adhesives
  • Permanent markers
  • Photocopiers
  • Fuels
  • Cosmetics
  • Crafting materials

Health Effects Of VOCs In Paint Fumes

There is a wide variety of both short-term and long-term negative health effects associated with VOCs in paint fumes. The severity of the health effect depends on several different factors, including both the length of time and the level of exposure. Some examples of short-term, temporary side effects include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat or and/or respiratory tract
  • Visual disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Fatigue
  • Memory impairment

Some of the conditions above can become chronic in individuals who are consistently exposed to VOCs in paint fumes either in the home or at work on a daily basis. Long-term health effects of VOCs can include:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Asthma

Do VOC’s Disappear When Paint Dries

The odor that emits from paint when it is freshly applied is a result of the ingredients within the paint that turn it to a liquid substance. These substances are evaporated into the air while wet paint is drying. The more wet the paint, the more substances in the air and the stronger the odor. As the liquid part of the paint continues to evaporate, odorous paint fumes continue to form. Along with evaporation comes the process of dispersion.

Dispersion occurs when the fumes mix with the air and are dispersed into the environment. As dispersion occurs, more and more of the fumes are carried throughout the air, which makes them less concentrated, and the odor less strong. When the fumes are completely dispersed, the paint is dried entirely and the odor eventually disappears. VOCs are at their highest concentration when paint is freshly wet.


Many health care professionals recommend that women avoid painting when they are pregnant. Some of the VOCs in paint are believed to be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. Babies and young children should not be exposed to wet paint as they are more susceptible to damage from its effects.


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