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View Full Version : How do you avoid toxic fumes while oil painting?


CLS Portrait Artist
01-24-2007, 12:50 PM
I know that the cadmium and colbalt oil paints are toxic but are their fumes harmful or is it just the need to make sure I clean my hands well after using these paints that I need to be concerned about?

Are there any solvents to clean brushes that are non-toxic? Some people say that mild soap and water are all that is necessary to clean brushes. Some have even commented that baby oil is a good way to clean brushes. Is this correct?

Are there any mediums (the ones to speed drying and thin out the paint) that are non-toxic?

What kind of ventilation method do you use while oil painting inside your home or studio? Especially during the winter months.

Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much in advance for your time! :)

Tyzack
01-24-2007, 02:16 PM
I've heard that turpentine shrinks the lining of the brain???

You're not going to escape inhaling fumes whilst painting. It's an occupational hazard. - wear a respiratator and gloves if you're really worried? Having good ventilation is probably a good idea. My first art school had air con, which didn't work well, so there was never any fresh air and when the sun beat through the windows you can imagine the sweat and fumes. They even allowed smoking in the studios in those days!! It's no wonder I keep forgetting things...

I'm not sure if cadmium and cobalt pigments would be on general sale if they were particularly toxic - cadmium is probably synthetic these days anyway. But someone else here will tell you if that's the case or not. The victorian watercolourists were in trouble when they licked their brushes to get a point!

Andrew

Tyzack
01-24-2007, 02:20 PM
I've just read that you asked about ventilation - I'm fairly ok in my studio as its an old granary and is naturally well ventilated if you know what I mean...In the winter (and it's never very cold) I wear a thermal all in one suit with hat, gloves, scarf, long johns etc and it's ok.

rroberts
01-24-2007, 07:52 PM
Oil paints do not emit fumes of any kind.
Solvents produce fumes.
Open a window if the fumes bother you.

lotusguy
01-24-2007, 08:17 PM
I have an exhaust fan in my winter studio, and I wouldn't be without it. When the weather is nice I paint outside. If your spouse can taste turpentine in her cooking, the solvent smell is too strong.

Just the opinion of one old fool,

TTFN,
Dennis

dbclemons
01-24-2007, 09:33 PM
No harmful fumes in oil paint. Keep your hands clean, don't rub your eyes, cover open cuts, don't lick your brush, etc.

Turpenoid Natural is non-toxic, as are other citrus solvents like Eco-House, but I find them to not be that much better at cleaning, and felt like they left a residue behind in the brush that was hard to remove. They also still require proper ventilation.

As for the mediums, there are some that contain lead, solvents, and things your shouldn't eat, but for the most part they're pretty harmless. Just avoid getting them inside you.

I rarely use any solvents when painting, or even cleaning. The only time they're heavily used is in the varnishing stage which I do in warm weather. Still, you should make sure the air vents away from you and out of your work area while your working with solvents.

Ribera
01-24-2007, 10:35 PM
Dear CLSPortArtist,
A few recommendations on how to keep painting safer. Use two window fans at a time, one on intake, one, exhaust; i.e. keep the air circulating. I suggest leaving them running even after your done painting for a while too. As much as possible, utilize turpentine alternatives, like Turpenoid & Gamsol. They're less toxic, Not Non. Beware though, they will not break down resins. Wear disposable gloves. -They make non-latex ones if you're allergic.
Hope this Helps,
r.

palettetalk
01-24-2007, 11:32 PM
I think you are fine opening an window from time to time while you paint is all that is necessary. I have to worry about it getting too cold at this time of the year but in Arizona that shouldn't be a concern! I wouldn't leave ay oil paint on my skin - clean it off immediately. Allow paintings to dry in a garage or at least somewhere with some ventilation.
I first clean my brushes by swooshing in odorless mineral spirits, wiping as clean as possible with paper toweling then I wash them with Murphy's oil soap (found in any grocery store in the detergent aisle) and lots of cool water. I work the soap through the brush thoroughly from the bottom up and keep rinsing and more soap and more rinsing...
Cheers,
Susan

gunzorro
01-25-2007, 01:26 AM
If it is still a concern (it shouldn't be), switch to watercolor, gouache or acrylic.

janetbowser
01-25-2007, 04:09 AM
I have started wearing Platex Living Gloves while doing my final brush cleaning. Then I can clean them using my hands and the gloves even have a little bit of abrasion on the palm, just enough to get them clean. I feel that scrubbing that paint into my hands was really dangerous, but how else to get them clean.

I wish I could wear gloves while painting. I have blue all under my thumbnail.

I am still getting a headache every single time I paint, but I figure once Spring comes I will get that window open.

I feel my brain lining shrinking......

vhere
01-25-2007, 04:34 AM
I only use solvents occasionally to thin paint and never for cleaning.

I've said on other threads, I use oil - the printworkshop I belong to brought it in as it's more environmentally friendly and so I use it at home now.

The cheapest cooking oil for cleaning brushes and baby oil for hands - you can use either for both if you want. The simply soap and water to clean the brushes. It's kinder to hands and brushes as well as the environment.

i also paint with the thin disposable gloves on that doctors wear because I started having skin problems. I hated them at first but have got used to them now

E.Tutt
01-25-2007, 09:03 AM
The simply soap and water to clean the brushes. It's kinder to hands and brushes as well as the environment.

Does everyone wash their brushes in the kitchen sink? I don't have a studio sink. What about polluting the water supply and your eating area?

I know that the cadmium and colbalt oil paints are toxic but are their fumes harmful

I don't think all the cobalts are highly toxic if eaten - cobalt voilet light that is cobaltous oxide arsenate is particularly poisonous.

I paint with gloves, not vynil or latex as your skin can't breathe if you wear them long, I use two layers of cotton gloves. A thin disposable pair that I've had for years under old white church gloves. They have a coating of dried oil paint on them now.

As Robert said - it is the fumes of solvents or the dust of pigments that are harmful.

dbclemons
01-25-2007, 09:36 AM
Avoid washing brushes in the kitchen if you can. It just adds to the risk. If there's no better option, you could keep a large wash bucket with soap and water in your studio.

If you use a semi-drying cooking oil to clean your brushes make sure you wash them well afterwards, or for a non-drying mineral oil (baby oil) wash before you start painting again.

gunzorro
01-25-2007, 11:09 AM
It just amazes me how hyper-toxic peoples' concerns have become! Painters have been following procedures for painting, solvent use and cleaning for hundreds of years without ill effects, but suddenly everyone is freaked-out about the oils, pigments and mild solvents! :)
Janet -- I highly recommend against washing your brushes while wearing those Playtex gloves, especially washing the bristles into an abrasive palm area. The absolute best way to wash brushes it the way you are avoiding -- washing into the washboard of fingers, squeezing between fingers, and rubbing in the palm of the hand! This is the gentlest way to thoroughly clean a brush, and washes any contaminants off your hands! A win-win situation.

Teft
01-25-2007, 11:51 AM
It is good to be concerned with toxicity of art materials. Some on WC seem to get a little tweaked by this, saying that the materials have been used a long time, etc. In my opinion there is nothing "wrong" with either avoiding toxic materials or using them carefully. But we can't say that they not toxic. From what I can tell, most artists here know the hazards and take good precautions.

Cads and cobalt blues are toxic but they don't give off fumes. What you need to be aware of with them is if you sanded them after they are dry and inhaled the dust. A very good site to find the answers to all your concerns is Gamblin. They have extensive articles on studio safety (how to set up your studio) and toxicity of mediums, paints and solvents. Great amount of infor there.

I use M. Graham oils with walnut oil and walnut oil alkyd medium. The walnut oil is non-toxic and you can not only thin with it but for cleaning brushes it is fantastic. Very simple for me. I have my paint, my walnut oil (for thinning and cleaning) and walnut oil alkyd (for increasing drying time). No funes, just fun.

Hope this helps,

John

E.Tutt
01-25-2007, 01:48 PM
I have my paint, my walnut oil (for thinning and cleaning) and walnut oil alkyd (for increasing drying time). No funes, just fun.

If you leave the walnut oil in the brush - after wiping it of course - the bristles don't set and become unbendable?

I used to use just linseed oil a long time ago and I found they used to harden. The same if I used turpentine witout soap and water afterward. I use paint thinner now and wipe the brushes on paper towels in my hut outside. If I just apply gentle pressure on the bristles against a smooth surface in a few days or a week after washing, the bristles will not "set up" if I leave them for a long time.

It just amazes me how hyper-toxic peoples' concerns have become
People are born inherently with different chemical sensitivity thresholds. I for one am one of the super-sensitive. The fragrance of most laudry detergents makes me feel bad and causes my skin to break out in a rash if I wear it. So some people are hyper-sensitive. I know artists in the past that have missused toxic materials and have either become very ill or died as a result.

If you are not one of these people that's fantastic! You get to use the lead paint, turpentine etc. You don't have to worry about the research to figure out how to paint in oils without getting sick! I've been painting in oils 20yrs+ and have used lead paint in the past but after being exposed to all kinds of solvents and toxic dusts (including lead) on construction/historic preservation jobs and becoming ill enough to have to lie around in bed all day, I know my limits. And I admit I am hyper-freaked out about revisiting my excessive chemical exposure!

There has got to be an agent out there that can be put in paints to mimic what lead does for paint.

janetbowser
01-25-2007, 04:18 PM
Here is something sort of related. We had a 100 year old house which partially burned eight years ago and we stayed in the house while rebuilding because we couldn't afford to move out. Bad insurance coverage. We did all the demolition work to save money, taking out lath and plaster and putting it by garbage cans into a 20 yard dumpster. I filled two of those dumpsters by myself, can by can.

We all got lead poisoning because lead is in the old paint that was on the old walls that we ripped down and it is in creosote (product of wood fire found in smoke/soot). Lead poisoning makes your joints ache, your head ache and every morning each of us who lived in that house would feel like our legs and feet were going to break apart with the first steps that we took each day.

We would have never known that we were all suffering from lead poisoning, except for a routine checkup for my 9 month old son. His lead level was high above normal. We all went on the chelation diet for lead. No fats, no calcium, no dairy...lots of green veggies and citrus. The lead went away and we ended up moving out of the house soon after it was rebuilt anyway.

But my point here is it doesn't take a lot of heavy metal to poison you. And everyone is susceptible, even if they don't think that they are. Sometimes the damage is irreversible. Turned out I was pregnant at the time that we were doing all that rebuilding. My son was born with severe autism. Was it the lead in the first trimester? Who knows. But I am careful with the paints and the thinner!

Phantelope
01-25-2007, 05:02 PM
I don't worry about this at all. I have a small container with odorless solvent that I use to thin paint and rinse out brushes, don't really use any other toxic things. Some mediums I have are toxic and smell very bad, I rarely use those and if then only in summer with open windows and closed door. I just can't imagine that what little might evaporate from my solvent would harm me in any way. I'd be willing to bet that it's less toxic than driving 5 miles at rush hour.

I could not paint with gloves or a mask or anything like that, but I also don't fingerpaint or splatter stuff all over. I also could not have a fan blowing and humming away all the time, would drive me crazy (and thus be much more dangerous than the fumes) Being common sense careful with that stuff should be sufficient I think.

Of course, if I'd get headache or any other complaints I'd take a closer look at things. And it's certainly true that some are more sensitive to things than others.

They do make vent contraptions that clamp to your easel (mostly for pastel painters I think) and blow the air either outside or through a filter. I could not live with the noise, but it might be something worth looking into if somebody is more sensitive. And if you're handy with tools it would be easy to build such a thing yourself with a in-wall bathroom fan and some flexible duct pipes for example.

But really, as long as you don't splash that stuff around and don't have open buckets, I can't see it being all that dangerous.

Oliver

gunzorro
01-26-2007, 02:44 AM
Janet -- I can understand your concern, but your family health issue was a complication of breathing lead dust and not wearing protection. Fortunately, in painting, we are not dealing with lead dust unless we are mixing our own paints from dry lead pigment, or sanding down a painting surface composed largely of lead. Both those scenarios are easy to guard against.
Tutt -- sorry, there is nothing out there to replace lead, if lead is the pigment you want. Nothing else handles or blends like lead. No other pigment lends the strength to the paint that lead does. Simple hygiene is enough for the average person to safely handle lead in paints.

Tripod
01-26-2007, 02:55 AM
I always have a window open in my studio, right through the year. I like the smell of turps and my wife doesn't object when it premeates onto the landing which is not a lot. Have gone more to turps than using Liquin which I started in oil painting.

nicanfhilidh
01-26-2007, 08:32 AM
I use M. Graham oils with walnut oil and walnut oil alkyd medium. The walnut oil is non-toxic

The other drying oils commonly used in oil painting (linseed, poppy, safflower) are not toxic, either. Walnut oil is not special in this respect.

E.Tutt
01-26-2007, 09:12 AM
Janet - I sympathize with your story.We would have never known that we were all suffering from lead poisoning, except for a routine checkup for my 9 month old son.

I agree that it does not take much. I too went on a diet withour fat or oil (this included the fumes from my linseed oil paints, believe it or not!) or dairy. I used masks. I used a respirator until the latex it was made of began to bother me. In your case it did change your family story. I have an ADHD step-son and can relate a bit.

I think this thinking about the toxicities of artist (and construction) materials is something that unless you have had an incident of it bothering you other people can not relate very well. I certaintly did not worry about it before. So if you make your own paints do it outside and wear your mask!

I am still on my quest of determining the best pigments, binders etc. to use without lead.

gunzorro
01-26-2007, 09:48 AM
There are plenty of alternatives for people who don't want to use lead, or mercury, or cadmium, or cobalt. . .
And like I said earlier, there are always paints that are completely water-based. No oil, no solvent, no soap.
I am all for choice. I simply don't want to be restricted in my materials by the dictates of others.

Teft
01-26-2007, 01:16 PM
There are plenty of alternatives for people who don't want to use lead, or mercury, or cadmium, or cobalt. . .


Gunzorro,

Have you tried Gamblims Flake White Replacement? They say it is a good alternative to lead white. I would be interested in trying it but don't know if it is a "truly" good replacement.

Thanks,
John

gunzorro
01-26-2007, 05:00 PM
I haven't tried the Gamblin, but I have tried the L&B Flake White Hue. According to Gamblin, you wouldn't know the difference between their alternative and the real thing. I have serious doubts, having worked a lot with various combinations of Titanium/Zinc and resins/mediums. But, give it a try and tell us what you think. :)

tigertiger
01-26-2007, 06:17 PM
Okay, you've peaked my interest now and I'm going to take this in another direction a bit. I am concerned about toxicities too, but have never gone to extremes to avoid any special contact with them. (Maybe I should :D ) However, I have been considering a move of my studio to an another room in the house with better north light, but have been a bit reluctant to do so due to the proximity of several small finches (our wonderful little house buddies). How toxic, if at all, are the fumes from thinners and cleaners to these small birds? Anybody know or have the same issue?

turlogh
01-26-2007, 06:22 PM
But my point here is it doesn't take a lot of heavy metal to poison you.
Huh?!?

The conclusions you draw from your story make no sense whatsoever to me. While rebuilding your house you and your family were exposed to large and unknown quantities of lead pigment dust, as well as a variety of other environmental toxins. Painting with reasonable studio safety precautions is nothing like that. You're comparing apples to porcupines and concluding that apples must be covered in spikes because they're both kind of roundish and made of the same basic elements.

Oil painting is comparable to cleaning your bathtub. Both tasks involve exposure to potentially hazardous materials. Both can be done by competent adults with no significant risk. In both tasks, those rare people with particular sensitivities may need to adapt their procedures.

MonicaB
01-26-2007, 06:35 PM
How toxic, if at all, are the fumes from thinners and cleaners to these small birds? Anybody know or have the same issue?
I don't know for sure, but have heard it's not a good idea to expose them. You may want to do a search on bird in our Studio Tips forum.

David Brown
01-26-2007, 06:54 PM
Here here Turlogh. In case you didn't know the unleaded you pump into your car is just as toxic, if not more so, then the turpentine. We live in a hydrocarbon world.
Open a window.
Stop using Turpentine
don't eat paint.
Cheers

polyrealism
01-26-2007, 09:16 PM
i was taught to never wash my brushes in the studio where i paint...go figure :) between painting and washing i keep them in canola oil. i usually wash them in my bathroom, with the ventilation on, using gloves. i slightly wash in odorless turpentine, then with manual dishwasher liquid - it has the stuff that protects your hands, and the same stuff also protects the brushes. the brushes are preserved quite well so far...

E.Tutt
01-28-2007, 12:33 PM
Oil painting is comparable to cleaning your bathtub. Both tasks involve exposure to potentially hazardous materials. Both can be done by competent adults with no significant risk. In both tasks, those rare people with particular sensitivities may need to adapt their procedures.

This is very true. I have adapted my method for cleaning bathtubs as well.

As an asside, people, as we know, did not know how harmful to humans lead dust could be - ladies at court used to apply it to their faces as face powder! As for titanium oxide, it is in our toothpaste, our soap, used to extend the powdered sugar sprinkled on our doughnuts - just look at the ingredients. The metal is used in our bodies for repairs. In 200 years I hope they don't find out it is actually harmful to humans! For now though, we CAN eat it and do.

Teft
01-29-2007, 01:50 PM
Thanks gunzorro for the info.

I will try the Gamblin and report back.

Take care,
John

tach
01-29-2007, 03:17 PM
Okay, you've peaked my interest now and I'm going to take this in another direction a bit. I am concerned about toxicities too, but have never gone to extremes to avoid any special contact with them. (Maybe I should :D ) However, I have been considering a move of my studio to an another room in the house with better north light, but have been a bit reluctant to do so due to the proximity of several small finches (our wonderful little house buddies). How toxic, if at all, are the fumes from thinners and cleaners to these small birds? Anybody know or have the same issue?

the answer is to get them to wear little masks ! and tiny goggles !