Unfortunately, spontaneous combustion is not an unrealistic concern with oil paint. Unless you carefully store the paper towels and rags that you use to clean your brushes, they can spontaneously combust. Not only that, even the solvents that you use can be quite flammable.
So, if you are interested in oil painting and want to know more about painting safety with tips and tricks you can follow, you have come to the right place. This article discusses everything in depth whilst we answer the question Can Oil Paint Start a Fire?
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Are Oil Paints and Other Supplies a Fire Hazard?
While working on your oil paintings, you mostly worry about the composition and subject matter and whether or not your colors and tones are blending in together. Questions like can oil paint start a fire should be the last thing propping up on your mind.
Some oil paint supplies are toxic and hazardous because of their composition. Paint thinners such as turpentine are highly flammable materials. Drying oil, particularly linseed oil, is capable of being self-combusting and can be a risk in your house.
Oil-based paints are prone to spontaneous combustion, unlike acrylic paint. Artists use different cloths and oily rags, even paper towels, to wipe their tools when painting.
If there are blotches of paint left on the combustible cloths, they can slowly heat to the ignition point in contact with the oxygen in the air because of the oxidation process and catch fire.
So, you must be cautious during clean-up to ensure that you are not leaving behind a stain. As for the rags and cloths used, they must be properly disposed of before the oil dries.
Find airtight containers or something with a tight-fitting lid. A metal container is the most standard recommendation, but even an old biscuit tin would work just fine. Just make sure the lid is airtight.
You can also choose some good quality and thick disposable bags. Just throw in the oily rags and fill up the rest with water. Seal it tight to cut off the oxygen and stop the oils in the soaked rags from oxidizing and generating heat so that they do not burn.
If you are unsure of the proper disposing methods, check with your garbage disposal company to follow the right steps. Most of the time, you will be able to throw them into a trash can without any trouble.
A lot of artists use turpentine as a paint thinner to mix with pigments and create their own paints, as well as to clean any solidified oil-based paint. But this solvent is considered combustible when it is mixed with paint.
The paint is no longer flammable after the solvents evaporate and dry, but it is still susceptible to spontaneous combustion. It will have a higher flashpoint. That is, the temperature at which the oil paint will release enough vapor and produce heat to catch fire will rise considerably.
Usually, the flashpoint of paint wet with solvent to burn is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But once it dries, it undergoes an oxidation process, and the flashpoint becomes slightly higher but does not reach 200 degrees. So, it feels like a rather slow combustion process.
Mediums are used to add or reduce the glossy sheen on your topcoat, add texture and varnishes, or change the consistency of your paints and brush strokes. Fortunately, they are not very flammable and are at risk of combustion, but they can be quite toxic.
So, you would need to work in a well-ventilated place to avoid irritating your skin and eyes. Remember to read the labels and keep them out of reach of pets and children.
Fire and Safety Rules to Follow
Advancement in printing technology has reduced the risks and dangers of paints. Both traditional and WMOs (Water Miscible Oils) contained toxic pigments that even led to death.
However, safer alternatives to these pigments are now used, which has also led to the introduction of water-based paints. In any case, these are some basic safety tips you can follow:
Keep Them Away from Your Food
Do not eat or drink in your studio to prevent accidental digestion. If you like to sip on something, make sure it is in a lidded container so that no paint or solvent falls in.
Keep Away from Fire
Try not to smoke in your studio. Safely store your solvents, paints, and mediums, keeping them in different places and not in a messy pile.
Read the labels for ingredients to determine the best way to do that. If not, they can persist as severe fire hazards and cause a fire in your house as soon as it meets smoke or other heat sources. In fact, it is best not to store any combustible material in a large amount.
If using turpentine, make sure there is no flame near the wet paint.
We already talked about this earlier. Make sure to use airtight or seal tight bags to starve the oil-stained rags of oxygen, so they do not suddenly start burning and spread through your entire house.
What Supplies Can You Use Instead?
If you do not want to use a flammable solvent like turpentine, you can instead opt for something water-based or like Gamsol. Gamsol is a solvent made by the company Gamblin specifically for personal artistic use, unlike other industrial-grade products.
It is a petroleum distillate leeched of its aromatic solvents with only .005% remaining. The exposure limit value is also higher than similar products with a higher flash point, so it will not be considered as a hazardous material in cargo.
Gamsol also consists of no odors, so you will not have to deal with harsh chemical smells and put your lungs at risk anymore.
At the beginning of your painting session, just pour a little Gamsol into a container. After finishing a session, you can store the remaining amount for the next use.
Remember to replace the lid and let it sit overnight for the solids to settle at the bottom. You can then pour the ‘clean’ Gamsol into another container and re-use it.
If the paint solids do not contain any toxic materials, you can dump out the solids from the first container and use paper towels to wipe them down. But if there is anything hazardous, you can collect the solids into a separate jar and then later dispose of them properly. You can even turn them into a neutral grey color!
Linseed oil is a great substitute for turpentine for cleaning brushes. Take two jars of linseed oil: one with reused oil for the first wash and the other for a light rinse afterward.
Soak the bristles in the dirty jar first, swirling them around to loosen up any solidified particles. Wipe off the excess oil on your rag, and then rinse them in the other jar.
You can also use WMOs that do not require any solvent for cleaning, just water. They have similar composition to traditional oil paints except for one molecule so that the pigments can be soluble in water. However, if you choose these paints, you will need to purchase water-based linseed oil as well.
Traditional oil paints were severely combustible and used to pose serious health risks and fire risks. While it is considerably reduced nowadays, they are still combustible and flammable. Especially if a stain is not cleaned up and rags soaked in oil paint are not disposed of properly.
Fortunately, if you do them correctly and take the right precautions, they are extremely safe to use and have around. And you hardly have to worry about questions like can oil paint start a fire or not.