Acrylic paint is a durable paint that dries waterproof. It’s easy to use and can produce vibrant colors that can be built upon, and it works on virtually almost every surface, from canvas to fabric and even wood.
If you’ve ever used acrylic paints, chances are you’ve seen some claims that it’s “non-toxic.” You’ll see this label right on the front of the paint bottles on most acrylic paint that you can find in the store or online. However, does it mean that it is not harmful to the children or pets in your home, and are there any precautions that you should take while working with acrylic?
Is acrylic paint toxic? Acrylic paint is water-based and generally non-toxic to work with in a ventilated area. However, some pigments such as cobalt and manganese can be harmful to pets and children. Acrylic paint should never be swallowed, as this can lead to serious health concerns.
In this article, let’s take a look at whether acrylic paint is as non-toxic as it claims and whether you will need to take any safety precautions to work with this type of paint.
Acrylic Paint Ingredients
When it comes to painting, you have probably heard that acrylic paint claims to be non-toxic, while oil paint is definitely harmful to work with. While that is definitely true to some degree, you should know that acrylic paint and oil paint have the same pigment but make use of different types of binders.
Acrylic paint use acrylic polymer emulsions, which are less toxic than oil paint binders. This means when the acrylic paint dries, it only releases negligible amounts of propylene, glycol, ammonia, and water into the air. Some of these substances can be irritants when breathed in, but only at higher volumes. However, propylene glycol can be damaging to the environment.
When used properly, this water-based paint is generally non-toxic. However, that doesn’t mean that acrylic paint is completely safe. Keep in mind that the pigment is the same as in oil paint, and some pigments definitely contain toxic substances such as cobalt or manganese that can be harmful to pets and children.
If you are not sure, you can refer to the paint’s labels to read the instructions on how to use the paint safely and what to do when you accidentally inhale or swallow the paint. This is required per regulations, and there are also emergency numbers you can call to get help when needed.
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic If Swallowed?
Being non-toxic doesn’t mean acrylic paints are safe to consume. If swallowed in large amounts, the paint can cause serious health problems.
In some mild instances, if acrylic paint is swallowed in a small amount, you won’t see any serious health effects or maybe mild allergy symptoms that can go away after a day. However, if the symptoms are drastic or worsen over time, you need to contact Poison Control or call your doctor immediately.
This is a reason why acrylic paint is probably not safe to use as finger paint for young children under three years old. Toddlers always put everything in their mouths, so if you let them play with acrylic paint, there may be some serious consequences.
If your child has swallowed some paint, you need to stay calm and wash the paint off immediately with water. Gargling with salt water will also help. In most cases, if you treat it quickly enough, there won’t be any serious health consequences.
If you are painting with young children, consider non-toxic and allergen-free tempera paints instead, as these pose less of a threat, but still should not be consumed.
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic When Dry?
No, generally acrylic paint is completely non-toxic once fully dry, as the chemicals within it will evaporate as it dries. However, as with any paint, acrylic paint can release harmful gases while drying. These include various chemicals such as ammonia, acetone, and xylene, which can cause health issues when inhaled in large amounts.
This is why being in a well-ventilated area is important when painting with acrylics, especially with applications such as spray painting or airbrushing. This minimizes your exposure to the harmful chemicals that the paint releases as it dries.
Are Acrylic Paint Fumes Toxic To Breathe?
As we have mentioned above, while acrylic paint claims to be non-toxic and won’t cause any issues when ingested in small amounts, acrylic paint can still emit toxic fumes as it dries, so ventilation is needed to reduce this risk.
Some applications of acrylic paint can be riskier than others. For example, if you are thinning acrylic paint with paint thinners (which can sometimes be toxic) to use for airbrushing, your risk of being exposed to toxic fumes becomes much greater, and you will need to take the proper precautions to protect yourself from the toxic fumes.
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic on the Skin?
For most adults, acrylic paint is not toxic when it touches the skin. However, young children with very thin and sensitive skin can experience allergic reactions when the paint touches their skin.
This is also true for people with sensitive skin or those who are prone to allergies. Your skin can become very irritated, especially if the paint contains certain chemicals (such as cadmium, cobalt, manganese, or chromium). While these chances are very small, you should still wash the paint off immediately after it touches your skin to prevent any allergic reactions.
Is Acrylic Paint Safe For Kids?
Since acrylic paint takes pride in being non-toxic, many parents use it to create handprint and footprint art with their young children. These are adorable paintings that can be really fun to create and make great gifts for grandparents and relatives.
However, we have already established that acrylic paint can sometimes irritate young children’s sensitive skin. Young children also love putting their hands into their mouths, so the likelihood of them swallowing some paint is quite high. Therefore, we don’t recommend using acrylic paint for children under three years old.
Toddlers who are three years or older and have learned some discipline can probably use acrylic paint for finger painting because they are less likely to swallow the paint, and their skin has become strong enough to not become irritated by the chemicals.
These children can use acrylic paint when under strict supervision. When possible, you should make your kids wear gloves to minimize the paint’s exposure to the child’s young and sensitive skin. You should never use acrylic paint to paint directly on a child’s face.
However, it’s still definitely recommended to find child-safe options like tempera paint that you can be sure won’t harm your child.
How To Find Kid-Safe Acrylic Paint
While all of the acrylic paints that you can find in the store are water-based and labeled non-toxic, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when you are intentionally buying acrylic paint for children to use.
In the United States, there are regulations that require products to be labeled clearly when it is and isn’t safe for children. Normally, the label “ASTM D-4236” means the paint has been approved by the American Society for Testing Materials, which means it is generally safe.
When you are buying paint for children, look for paints with the Art & Creative Materials Institute’s Approved Product (AP) stamp. This is the mark of approval that lets consumers know that the materials they’re purchasing are safe to use and don’t contain any harmful chemicals.
All of the paints that you buy usually have clear instructions for when they are safe to use, what not to do, and what to do when you, a child, or a pet have accidentally consumed the paint. Before using the paint, you should read these instructions carefully so that you can act quickly should an accident happen.
Even if you are buying kid-safe paint, you should never use it for children under three years old. Babies and young children are especially sensitive to everything around them, and acrylic paint, however safe, still contains chemicals that can irritate your child’s skin and cause harmful health consequences if they inhale or consume the paint.
Paint tubes are usually more dangerous since the paint can easily get on the child’s skin, and they can even accidentally consume it. If you want the acrylic paint quality, you can always get acrylic paint markers with the same safety labels, which are generally much safer for children to use.
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic To Animals?
Pets are very curious, so sometimes, they may lick the newly painted surfaces or even your paintbrushes. Since acrylic paint is largely non-toxic, your pet should be okay if they have only swallowed a minimal amount of paint.
However, if they ingest a large amount, they could develop some severe symptoms such as vomiting, difficulty breathing, tremors, and diarrhea. In these instances, you should get them to the vet right away to get the care that they need.
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic To Dogs?
Since acrylic paint is largely non-toxic, if your dog swallows or ingests a small amount, the paint is usually not harmful to them.
In some instances, if the dog eats a large amount of acrylic paint, it may vomit or suffer from diarrhea. When the paint is completely removed from their system, it should be fine.
The bigger danger to the dog is actually the plastic paint container. If your dog eats a whole can of acrylic paint, including the plastic tube, you may need to take them to the vet immediately.
If the tube is small enough, it can pass through their system after a few days. However, in some instances, the vet will need to physically remove the paint tube.
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic To Cats?
Although acrylic paint and paint fumes are generally harmless for cats, inhaling and ingesting large amounts can cause a variety of issues.
When consumed or inhaled in small amounts, the paint can irritate the cat’s skin and mucous membranes, but it should not cause poisoning. If your cat ingests a large amount of paint, be on the lookout for signs of vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing.
If your cat has licked acrylic paint, make sure to rinse their mouth thoroughly and remove any paint residue from the cat’s fur or paws. If the symptoms worsen, we recommend you take your cat to the vet for more specialized treatments.
How To Work Directly With Acrylic Paint
Creating a safe working area is just as important as selecting a non-toxic paint. As we have mentioned above, acrylic paint is non-toxic, but when it dries, it can releases chemicals that can be dangerous to inhale.
When you are working with acrylic paint, you need to be in a well-ventilated area, in a room with an open window or outside, or somewhere with a good ventilation system. This will ensure that you won’t inhale too many toxic fumes that can damage your health.
When you are sanding acrylic paint, remember that dry acrylic paint can be toxic, so the paint dust caused by the sanding can be toxic as well. In these instances, you will need to wear a protective mask to keep from inhaling the paint dust. In addition, we recommend that you work in an outdoor area to keep the exposure to a minimum.
If you are working with paint thinners, such as turpentine, mineral spirits, or other thinners, keep in mind that paint thinners can also contain toxic and harmful chemicals as well. You need to read the instructions for the paint thinners carefully since they usually have separate health warnings that you need to consider.
Paint thinners should never be used in any projects that involve children. Acrylic paint can be thinned using water, so if you need to thin acrylic paint for children, you should use water instead of chemical paint thinners.
While acrylic paint is generally non-toxic, certain applications can be more dangerous than others. For example, if you are thinning the paint for airbrushing or if you are using spray paint, the likelihood of inhaling paint fumes is much greater.
If that is the case, you should always wear a protective mask and work in a well-ventilated or outdoor area to minimize the risk. Children should not work with spray painting or airbrushing applications.
If you intend to keep your paint away from your pets or young kids, then you should work in a separate area that the kids and the pets do not have access to.
After you are done working, make sure to wash your paintbrushes and palette thoroughly and close all the paint tubes. This will reduce the chance of the kids and pets being exposed to the paint out in the open.
If you are drying a painted surface, keep the object outdoors or in a well-ventilated area that your pets or children cannot access. This will keep your workplace safe, and your painted surface won’t be damaged by a pet or a child.
Disposing Of Acrylic Paint
While acrylic paint is usually non-toxic for craft use, it can still be very harmful to the environment if it is not disposed of correctly.
As mentioned, the propylene glycol released when acrylic paint dries can be toxic to the environment. That’s why you should never pour acrylic paint directly down the drain when you are done, because it may pollute your water system, especially if it is a large quantity of paint.
If you have a lot of acrylic paint to dispose of, you can put it in a sealed container and bring it to a local chemical disposal center, which will help you safely dispose of the paint without harming the environment.
Of course, when you paint with acrylic paint, you also have rags, used canvases, and paintbrushes that may need to be thrown away.
You should put these things into a separate bag and label the bag clearly as “containing cadmium,” which will help the garbage disposal company sort and dispose of the bag safely for you. If you have a large quantity, you can bring it to the chemical disposal site as well.
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