Paints and thinners

Paints and paint thinners (solvents) can be hazardous to your health and to the environment. We have advice on how to use them safely.

For more advice call The Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON).

If a person is not breathing or is unconscious, call 111 immediately.

Make sure you are using the right product for the job you are doing. Water-based paints are often safer than other paints, but sometimes you will need to use a different kind of paint because you are doing a special job, such as painting a car or boat.

Get good advice to make sure you are using the right product, and read the label to make sure you know what you have to do to stay safe.

Using paints and thinners safely Plus

You should read the label on the paint you plan to use to make sure you know how to keep yourself, others, and the environment safe. In general, you should always:

  • wear gloves and long clothes to stop paint getting on your skin.
  • keep a window open if you are working inside to make sure you get fresh air.
  • keep children or pets well away while you are working. They may get into the paint, and could then become ill. 
  • try to fill your paint tray with just what you need to get the job done. That will make it easier to clean up later.

When you are done:

  • Take special care when you wash your painting gear, like buckets, trays, rollers, and brushes.
  • Get advice from your paint supplier about the best way to clean up when you are done.
  • Never wash paint down drains.
  • Try to remove as much paint as possible using ‘dry’ methods, like wiping brushes on rags or newspaper. You can then let the dirty rags or newspaper dry overnight, then carefully throw these away with your household rubbish.
  • If you are soaking bushes or other painting equipment in turpentine, make sure you do this somewhere where children can’t get to.
You can get sick or even die from inhaling paint thinners Plus

It is very dangerous to breath in paint thinners on purpose. Even doing this just once can kill you. Doing this regularly over a long period can cause damage to your brain, nervous system, and other organs. Never ever intentionally inhale paint thinners.

If you think someone is sick from inhaling paint or thinners, call 111 for an ambulance straight away.

You can get more information on this on The Poisons Centre website.

Storing paints and thinners safely Plus

Paint and paint thinners can be flammable, and some can make you sick if you swallow them, breath their fumes, or get them on your skin. Make sure you store your paint carefully to protect yourself, others, and the environment.

  • Keep paint in a secure place that children and pets can’t get to. On a high shelf in a locked shed is a good idea.
  • Try to limit the amount of paint and thinners you keep at home.
  • Keep all paint and thinners in their original tins or bottles. It is dangerous to put them in other containers, especially food or drink containers.
Staying safe when removing old paint: beware of lead Plus

Lead in old paint flakes and dust can make people sick, and is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. Lead was common in paint until the 1980s, so if you are removing old paint you should have it tested to see if it has lead in it. Keep in mind that sometimes people will paint over old paint, so even if the top layer is new paint, there may be old lead-based paint underneath.

This test can be done by:

  • contacting your local public health unit to have it tested for free. There is a link below to help you contact your local public health unit.
  • checking if your paint store or pharmacy provides this service.
  • purchasing a kit to test the paint yourself. These are often sold by pharmacies and hardware stores.

If you find the old paint does have lead in it, you need to take special care to keep yourself and others safe while you remove the paint. Some modern paint does contain lead. It must make this clear on its label.

Getting rid of unused paint Plus

Often when you finish a painting project you will have some unused paint that you need to get rid of. You should check the back of the paint tin to see how you can do this safely.

Check with your local paint store to see if it has a paint recycling programme. You can also contact your local council.