What would the world look like without paint? Pretty dull if you ask us. Paint is an essential instrument when it comes to bringing ambiance, setting the mood, and creating artistic illustrations. In addition to being an instrument of beauty, it is also a protective element in woodwork, metalwork, and construction.
Today, the average person will engage in some sort of painting at least once in their lifetime – whether you’re working on a grade-school art projects, a fine art course, or some DIY home renovations.
If you are a passionate painter, you must be familiar with a range of paints and thinners present in the market. You know all about water-based paints, oil-based paints, and more, and you probably have strong preferences and opinions on each one!
Often we get mesmerized by the charm of paint in our homes, workplaces, or the streets and forget that it can be deadly as well.
If you don’t know enough about paints from a safety standpoint, you should know these fluids are typically formulated using pigments, binders, and solvents that can not only be toxic but pose other serious health concerns as well.
While choosing, applying, and disposing of paint, you may find yourself wondering:
Is paint flammable? Paint may or may not be flammable depending on its composition. Typically, water-based paints are not flammable, whereas oil-based paints do have the potential to be flammable due to the solvents used to make them.
If you’ve only been protecting your lungs from paint fumes, oblivious to it also being a fire hazard, there might be more danger lurking around the old paint jar in the garage than you know.
By reading this article you will learn more about the flammability of different types of paints. You will also find useful information on the necessary safety precautions to take when using flammable paint and how to dispose of them safely.
How Is the Flammability of Paints Determined?
To characterize flammable and volatile materials, one of two tests are usually carried out: a flashpoint or auto-ignition point test. What is the difference between the two tests?
The flashpoint is the lowest temperature at which any liquid gives off sufficient vapor to form an ignitable mixture. This is what a flashpoint test looks for. This is the predominant test that is frequently used to assess the fire hazard of liquids, paint included.
On the other hand, the auto-ignition point is the lowest temperature at which a material vaporizes into a gas that ignites without the need for the presence of a flame. This is what the auto-ignition point test tries to identify.
Solvent-based paints and coatings with flashpoints below 100°F (38°C) are considered flammable.
The flammability of paints depends on the type of solvent used to mix different ingredients that give it color and texture.
In oil-based and aerosol paints, the solvent used is derived from a petroleum solution. It can include hazardous elements such as mineral spirits, toluene, and xylene, which are highly flammable when subjected to high temperatures.
The pressurized gases in aerosols can also trigger flames. Nonetheless, the solvent in latex paints is water and, therefore, a safer alternative.
Flammability By Type
Since the flammability of a particular paint depends on the type – and specifically whether its components are flammable – let’s take a look at individual types of paint.
Is Water-Based Paint Flammable?
Water-based paint is nonflammable.
It does not contain any flammable elements such as petroleum, methanol, or ketones. The pigments and binders in water-based paints use only water as a solvent carrier.
It is known for its color retention, ability to dry faster, and subtle to non-existent odor. This is owed to the absence of heavy oil-based ingredients and volatile compounds that are common with oil-based paints.
Still, some manufacturers may use flammable binders in their specialized formulas. In this case, the water-based paint may be flammable once the particles dry. Although water-based paint should be non-flammable, it is worth checking the components and even checking with the manufacturer.
Is Acrylic Paint Flammable?
No, acrylic paint is not flammable. Only water is used to act as an emulsifier for acrylic polymer, therefore making acrylic paint a nonflammable paint. This is the case when it is wet.
However, once acrylic paint dries, it becomes a different type of substance – a plastic polymer that is highly flammable and should be kept away from flames.
Since its invention, acrylic paint has provided artists with an alternative to toxic, pricey, and slow-drying oil paints and has, over time, consistently improved in quality.
While the solvent of acrylic paint remains water, we recommend that you use it under a well-ventilated room because it constitutes other ingredients that may be toxic to inhale in large volumes.
You should also beware that the cured coating will easily catch fire and surfaces coated with acrylic paint should, therefore, be kept far from open flames.
With its versatility, durability, and adhesive qualities, acrylic paint is best for a wide variety of projects less likely to involve heat such as crafting, collaging, and mixed media works.
Is Latex Paint Flammable?
Latex paint itself is not flammable. However, the newer paints may contain additives such as synthetic resins that are flammable, so you must be cautious with the ingredients in the label.
The term latex is used for water-based acrylic, latex, or vinyl styrene paints. It was originally the name of a type of sap made from the Brazilian rubber tree.
Latex has similar characteristics as those of acrylic paints, since they are both water-based. They only differ in the type of binders used for the polymer microparticles.
There are three types of latex paints; vinyl-acrylic, 100% acrylic, and alkyd-modified latex. Painters love to use vinyl-acrylic for interior work, as it is the cheapest in the market.
Alkyd-modified is given preference for painting exteriors, especially for siding that may have chalked, flaked or peeled. For color retention and great adhesion, 100% acrylic paints are recommended.
In terms of being flammable, latex paint has flashpoints over 200°F (93°C), a minimal chance of it bursting into flames. But you’ll realize that some additives in latex paint will burn, especially when the paint is used as an aerosol. Therefore, you need to be cautious.
Also, the paint has less volatile organic compounds. Still, the fumes it produces pose a small hazard. Substances such as ethylene glycol are common in latex paints, and this can cause mild effects to the body when inhaled.
Is Oil Paint Flammable?
Yes, oil paint is highly flammable, but not when fully dry. Oil-based paints contain oil products and are also thinned with petrochemicals like turpentine which are highly flammable too.
The oil contains a chain of hydrocarbons that will fuel the fire in a flash when exposed to a flame. Turpentine, a resinous extract from the coniferous tree, is mainly the solvent used in the manufacture of these paints.
Turpentine can undergo auto-oxidation when brought into contact with air. That alone can create heat and ignite a fire when in a confined space, classifying it as a volatile organic component. Its use in the manufacture of oil-based paints makes them highly flammable.
Recently, many painters in the artistic industry and construction companies are shying off using oil-based paints, with latex paint taking the place of the master of trades. However, some still choose to use oil-based paints, though this likely won’t be the case for long.
States around the world and environmental organizations are pushing for a phase-out of oil-based paints due to its adverse effects. Strict measures have been imposed on the use of these paints, causing them to lose popularity over time.
If your house or property hasn’t been repainted for over two decades, its walls are likely to have been painted using oil-based paint. And given that regulations are becoming stricter, you may have your premises painted again.
However, while it’s still on store shelves in states without such regulations, painters can still go for oil-based paints if they seek durability and strength.
The good news is, oil-based paints have proven to be harmless on canvas and walls if it dries up completely. It becomes nonflammable when dry. The handling of this type of paint requires professional experience and the right personal protective equipment.
Is Spray Paint Flammable?
Spray paint, also known as aerosol paint is flammable when wet but not when dry. Part of its composition contains propane and butane gases, which are known to be used to fuel fires.
These gas propellants are pressurized into the spray containers for two reasons. One is to help push the paint out of the can. The other is to enable the formation of uniform layers during painting. Let us explain further.
Scientists term propellants as positively-charged particles, so they repel each other. Do you remember the law of motion in grade 6 science class? The repelling is uniform, and when sprayed on the surface primer, it causes a smooth and uniform finish.
To push out the paint, this is what happens. When the valve of the spray can is pressed, it allows a good amount of pressure from within the can to escape. The drastic pressure change causes the propellant at the top of the can to push the paint down below.
All the while, the valve is opened and connected to a tube that extends to the bottom of the can. Therefore, the paint pushes its way into the tube up to the valve and out of the nozzle.
The paint that is released comes out intensely with some amount of the propellant which is still in a highly flammable state.
Because of the propellant and pressurized contents of a spray container, you should be careful not to tamper with the can in order to avoid an explosion. To lower the risk, you can opt for spray paint pressurized using carbon dioxide gas instead. Still, these paints may contain flammable solvents.
Spray paint is not combustible and nearly inflammable once dry. In fact, high-end spray paint is made to be fireproof after application.
Is Paint Thinner Flammable?
Many people will buy paint thinner from a hardware store, but only a few will ask, “Is paint thinner flammable?”
In one form or the other, paint thinners have been involved in certain unfortunate incidents. They contain volatile hydrocarbons, which make them combustible rather than flammable. But what is the difference?
Flammable objects catch fire easily at normal working temperatures, whereas combustible liquids tend to ignite when subjected to more elevated temperatures than usual.
The extent to which paint thinners become flammable or combustible varies as different manufacturers can have different formulas for their paint thinners.
Because of the components of paint thinner, you should open and use paint thinners in well-ventilated rooms. Its vapors can be toxic as well. A large amount of paint thinner liquid can be a fire hazard too.
Unless we get a better alternative, paint thinners will always remain part of this industry, no matter how flammable or combustible. So safety precautions and guidelines must be taken while handling these materials.
Safety Precautions When Handling Paint
Painters must always be aware of the hazards associated with flammable, combustible, or toxic paints. Therefore if you want to handle paint, we recommend you follow the following guidelines for safety;
- Use paint only from labeled containers so that you can view its contents. All paint must be labeled as flammable or nonflammable. Report missing or illegible labels.
- Inspect cans for punctures, dents, and malfunctioning nozzles and/or valves. Do not use if damaged.
- Don’t mix paints with other substances, including water, unless the user manual tells you to do so.
- Paint containers need to be properly sealed when not in use to prevent air from getting in. Failure to close the cans tightly, especially with oil-based paints, may result in an auto-ignition due to contact with air particles.
- Store all paint in a cool and dry place away from any source of heat or direct sunlight.
- Be careful when working on ladders and scaffolds to prevent falls. Also, ensure that your skin is well covered to prevent contact with highly toxic paints.
- Water-based paints are not considered hazardous and may be disposed of with ordinary trash in solidified form. (To solidify, add mulch, cat litter, shredded paper, or paint hardener).
- Organic solvent-based paints should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of according to approved procedures in your state.
- Avoid careless behavior that poses risks of fire, such as smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages while near open cans of flammable paints.
- When painting, it would help if you always kept the area flowing with ample fresh air by opening doors and windows. Use an exhaust fan to remove fumes from your workspace.
- Never paint or use oil-based paints or paint thinners near an open flame.
- Avoid sleeping in freshly-painted rooms.
- Be extra cautious around electrical outlets and consider turning off the main power supply before starting any paint job.
- Rollers and paintbrushes are not exempt from precautionary measures. They are dangerous if not cleaned thoroughly after each use.
How to Dispose of Paint Containers Properly
Paint as a fire hazard is not just limited to storage or application of paint but also disposal.
Paint and thinners have to dry up completely before they can be disposed of. Whether you used all the paint in the can or not, you need to let the empty can dry with the lid before disposing of it. It is best to dispose of it at a hazardous waste collection facility.
For aerosol paint, it is proper procedure that you ensure all its contents are used up before getting rid of the can. If you wish to discontinue using the remaining product, store it safely until a household hazardous waste collection occurs.
If the spray paint can is empty, it can be placed in the trash. Just be sure to contact local waste officials to find out if recycling of aerosol cans is available in your community or if the cans may be placed with other waste in the trash bins.
Do not forget rags and sponges used for painting. They are a fire hazard too and should be disposed of appropriately. You can put them inside a container filled with water, ensuring the lid is tightly sealed before discarding them.
So, is paint flammable? It depends on many factors because all paint is not created equal. In a nutshell, oil-based paints and spray paints are flammable but safe when dry. Water-based paint, including latex and acrylics, are nonflammable. However, they may be flammable in their dry state if they contain polymer and resin particles.
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