Colour palette full of bright acrylic colours and painted artist's hands in top view against a dark background.

Are acrylic paints harmful to health? - We test the artists' paints in the air-Q Lab

Strictly speaking, acrylic paints are plastics and emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they dry. In our test, we find out whether the artists' paints are toxic and how they change the indoor air. You can find our results and a short video of the test here.

Author:

Undine Jaehne

Date:

11.3.2022

To ensure that the particularly luminous and colour-intensive acrylic paint remains fluid and is easy to work with, for example, dries quickly, certain compounds are used. Thus, manufacturers mix colour pigments, binders (acrylic binders), thinners (usually water) as well as various additives for the artists' paint. All these substances can, but do not necessarily have to be contained in the paints. In individual cases, you will find the instructions for the colour composition on the product sheets. 

How dangerous are the VOCs contained in acrylic paint for the respiratory tract?

With some paints, odours that are perceived as unpleasant indicate increased outgassing. However, the mere absence of such an odour does not necessarily mean that the acrylic paint does not release VOCs. It is not so much the acrylic that is toxic, but rather the pigments and formaldehydes dissolved in the paint. The term VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds / volatile hydrocarbons) covers many different substances. More information and limit values can be found in our blog article on VOCs and our wiki on VOCs.

Two children in front of a table on which are colors n different glasses
Acrylic paints emit VOCs - the air-Q air measuring device measures the values and warns when limit values are reached.

Health effects of VOCs

While a low concentration of volatile organic compounds is completely odourless and therefore often not noticed, larger quantities can already be harmful to health. How toxic the chemical substances and their outgassing affect our bodies depends on the type and source of the VOC. Elevated VOC levels alter the perception of smell and taste. In addition, the outgassing can irritate mucous membranes and eyes and lead to fatigue and headaches. The higher the concentration in the room, the more pronounced these symptoms become. Currently, there are no studies on the long-term effects of exposure to volatile organic compounds. Nevertheless, experts suspect that the increase in allergic reactions, especially in small children and infants, could be related to these substances. In addition, many assume that a high VOC concentration is potentially carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductive.

How does painting with Acyl paint affect air quality? - our practical test

The level of volatile organic substances in your indoor air can be measured using a resistive sensor. We used our air-Q air meter for our test and let it analyse the room air while painting with acyl paint. Our test in a small room started around half past eight in the evening and a VOC value of just under 200 ppb (parts per billion). After a short time, the VOC concentration rose significantly. The constantly growing curve showed a doubling of the VOC values after only 10 minutes. After about 35 minutes, the VOC load reached a peak of over 600 ppb, and after another half hour, the peak of just under 700 ppb. The room was then ventilated for 5 minutes. After that, the VOC levels drop significantly. Our experiment shows that painting with acrylic paint increases the VOC concentration almost fourfold.

In our video you can watch our painting attempt in fast forward.

To reduce your exposure to VOCs when painting with acrylic paint, ventilate the room sufficiently both during and after painting. It is also advisable to monitor the VOC level with an air meter such as the air-Q. Also, use paints that have a lower VOC content. Please note that even low-VOC or even VOC-free acrylic paints are not necessarily completely free of these compounds.

(Featured image: Shutterstock/ Superlime, Featured image: Shutterstock/ Olena Yakobchuk)

References
Are acrylic paints harmful to health? - We test the artists' paints in the air-Q Lab
air-Q Air Quality Meter

Monitor air quality, all air components and environmental influences with the air-Q. For your health and performance.