Paint Side Effects: Avoiding Toxic Fumes From VOCs




What are the health dangers that you should be aware of when you are painting your house? Well, there are short term or temporary paint side effects which will eventually disappear. However, there are long term side effects from paint fume exposure and inhalation which could have a more damaging impact to your health.

First, here are the short term side effects:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, lungs
  • Burns to the skin and eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Visual disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Fatigue
  • Memory impairment
  • Irritation contact dermatitis
  • Respiratory tract irritation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Influenza-like symptoms
  • Tightness of the chest

Long-term side effects could be any of the following:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Asthma
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Lung cancer or abnormal reduction in lung function
  • “Painter’s syndrome” which is prolonged inhalation of paints and solvents resulting in brain damage, damage to the reproductive system, and kidney or liver damage
  • Cancer
  • Sensitisation of respiratory systems (i.e., it becomes abnormally sensitive to stimulus)
  • Emphysema
  • Central nervous system dysfunction

The toxic substances which causes the above health conditions are known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs. It is worth noting that VOCs are found not only in paints but in other building materials such as varnish and vinyl floors as well as in home and personal care products such as air fresheners and moth balls.

paint side effects to health

Here’s a list of items, courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Health, where VOCs may come from:

Building Materials:

  • Carpets and adhesives
  • Composite wood products
  • Paints
  • Sealing caulks
  • Solvents
  • Upholstery fabrics
  • Varnishes
  • Vinyl Floors

Home and Personal Care Products:

  • Air fresheners
  • Air cleaners that produce ozone
  • Cleaning and disinfecting chemicals
  • Cosmetics
  • Fuel oil, gasoline
  • Moth balls
  • Vehicle exhaust running a car in an attached garage

Minimizing exposure to VOCs will go a long way in helping you avoid the paint side effects mentioned above. Here are some things you can do to minimize exposure:



  • Increase your indoor ventilation by opening your windows and doors. Install exhaust fans if necessary.
  • Buy the quantity you need so you don’t have to store the ones you did not use. Opened paint cans are sources of toxic VOCs.
  • If you have to store paint (and other products with VOCs), make sure you store them in areas not normally used by people and out of reach of children. Ensure that these products are in sealed/closed containers that do not release VOCs in the air.
  • Use alternative products that do not give off VOCs.

Minnesota Health makes similar suggestions which are as follows:

1. Source control: Remove or reduce the number of products in your home that give off VOCs. Only purchase amounts of chemicals that you know you will use and carefully follow directions on product labels. Remove unused chemicals from the home because stored chemicals in closed containers can sometimes “leak” and release VOCs into indoor air. Check with the city or county for household hazardous waste collection sites.

For new items consider purchasing: floor models that have been allowed to off-gas in the store, solid wood items with low emitting finishes, new products that contain low or no VOCs (environmentally preferable products)

2. Ventilation and climate control: Increase ventilation by opening doors and windows, use fans, maximize air brought in from outside. Keep both the temperature and relative humidity as low as possible or comfortable. Chemicals will off-gas more under warmer conditions with high humidity. If you have a choice, perform renovations when home is unoccupied or during seasons that will allow for additional ventilation.

Can you think of other suggestions to reduce VOC exposure and avoid the bad side effects of paint fumes? Do tell in the comments.