San Francisco Department of the Environment

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Should I be concerned about the odor I smell when painting?

The paint you use might have an undesirable effect on your health.

The paint you buy from your local retail store may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are common chemical ingredients also found in caulks, adhesives, carpeting, and many other products. In house paint, VOCs are released into the air during the drying process. Exposure to VOCs from fresh paint can cause a variety of negative health effects including dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and asthma. Extended exposure to high levels of certain VOCs can cause liver or kidney damage.

Here are some useful tips to minimize exposure to VOCs when painting:

  • Avoid using oil-based paint when possible. Use water-based (latex) paint with no or low VOCs.
  • Keep windows and doors opened when painting and remove yourself from the area until it has completely dried. Fans can help speed the drying process.
  • Keep pregnant women and young children away from freshly painted rooms for at least 2-3 days.

Additional Resources

Clearing the Air: Understanding VOCs
EPA’s report on VOC’s impact on indoor air quality
California Air Resources Board Suggested Control Measure for Architectural Paint
Identifying green-certification labels
EPA’s healthy indoor paint practices
Nature article on VOCs risk on asthma and allergy
Guide-to low and zero VOC paints


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