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Classes Underpainting Scumbling_Glazing Digital_Color Drawing


Using Oil Painting Materials Safely

Artist's Oil Paints contain compounds which are highly toxic if absorbed. If you have small children in the house, keep your paints under lock and key; as most of them are poisonous if ingested in quantity.

Artists' Pure Oil  pigments are usually made from organic materials, and do not contain out-gassing chemicals such as Xylene, petroleum distillates, etc. which are common to commercial Oil-based and Alkalyd paints.

Artist's Oil Pigments are usually bound in a Linseed Oil base instead of a solvent base, which allows them to be washed off somewhat with soap and water before they dry, and which helps (not guarantees) the material not to directly absorb into your skin.

Artists' Oil Paint pigments do contain highly toxic substances, and precautions should be taken to avoid any absorption by the human body. These toxic compounds can be absorbed by:

  • Eating the paint.
  • Breathing paint dust.
  • Absorbing paint through the skin.

To avoid absorption, take these precautions:

  • Never eat while painting.
  • Never lick your paintbrush.
  • Wash your hands very well after painting.
  • Wash your sink after washing your brushes; use a separate sponge than the dish sponge.
  • Wear a separate set of clothes when painting.
  • Do not wash your painting clothes in the washing machine or dryer.
  • Throw away your painting clothes when soiled or hand wash and hang dry.
  • Never sand-paper your paintings, never sand White Lead Primer coats.
  • Use a drop cloth under your work area, and occasionally shake it off outside (do not vacuum it clean).
  • Do not burn paint rags in your fireplace or wood stove.
  • Wear disposable gloves when painting
  • Never paint with your bare fingers, hands, or feet.
  • NEVER use solvent to remove paint from your skin.
  • Remove dried paint from your skin by scraping it off (outdoors) with the edge of a quarter.
  • Remove wet paint from your skin by first wiping it off with a dry towel, then wash with soap and water.
  • Always keep a special clean rag for wiping your hands on while painting.
  • Try not to handle solvent and paint covered rags with your bare hands.

Likewise, be careful how you dispose of your solvent:

  • Solvent fumes themselves are toxic. It's an open question whether  pure turpentine fumes,  petroleum distillates, white spirits, and some alternative solvents are more or less toxic, and I don't know the answer. Treat ALL solvents as potentially hazardous. Always be sure that your workplace is well ventilated.
  • Smelly solvent such as Turpentine may be preferable because you can smell them and adjust your ventilation accordingly. Beware using scent-less solvents.
  • To dispose of a used solvent can; let it sit for a week, drain off (and strain if needed) any clear liquid for re-use. Let the remaining solvent evaporate outdoors until the sediment has dried and hardened. Dispose of the whole can at an accepted hazardous waste drop (either for oil-based paints, or for lead). You can keep it around and add your paint-tubes to it until it's full.
  • Rags: Clothes-pin these outdoors to let the solvent evaporate. Once they are dry, you can re-use them. Do not wash them in the washing machine or clothes dryer. Do not burn the rags. Really crusty rags can go with the can & tubes.
  • Never put wet rags into a closed container, plastic bag, or trash can. The fumes can collect and cause fires. But if driving with wet rages, seal them in a bag until you get home.


  • Varnishes DO contain petroleum distillates and out-gassing chemicals. Whenever possible, varnish outdoors, with windows and doors wide open, and wear a respirator if you experience headaches, dizziness, or any type of reaction.
  • Do NOT rinse varnish brushes in your paint solvent can; Use a very thin flat brush for varnishing. Wipe and wring as much varnish out of the brush as possible, then wring with a solvent-soaked rag, then wash the brush thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Always wear gloves and avoid skin contact with varnishes because they contain solvents.


About_Painting      Palettes   Materials                 Safety          
Classes Underpainting Scumbling_Glazing Digital_Color Drawing

Jess Bates
PO Box 497 Aspen CO 81612
Reproduction allowed with attribution

jessbates (at) gmail.com