Is Acrylic Paint Toxic To Inhale?

Cover image: Is Acrylic Paint Toxic To Inhale

Many artists prefer acrylic paints over oil as their medium because acrylics dry faster and suit beginner painters. Given the popularity of acrylic paint, one might wonder whether it is toxic when inhaled.

Acrylic paint is generally not toxic to inhale. However, you might still find harmful ingredients in certain products, like cadmium, cobalt, or manganese. Because of this, you must always check the paint’s label to avoid health risks while using toxic acrylics.

In this article, I’ll discuss some potentially harmful chemicals in acrylics. Keep reading to know which ingredients are toxic and how to stay safe when using acrylic paints and answer Is Acrylic Paint Toxic To Inhale?

Potentially Toxic Ingredients in Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paints are water-based paints. Water-based paints are generally safer than oil-based ones. Most artists prefer acrylicsOpens in a new tab. over other paints because they dry faster, dissolve in water, and apply to various surfaces.

Acrylic paints contain fewer toxic substances; hence they are not always harmful, even when dry. However, some acrylics contain environmentally unfriendly substancesOpens in a new tab., which you should dispose of properly. The composition of most acrylic nowadays typically includes the following:

  • Water (10-50%)
  • Pigments and extenders (25-50%)
  • Acrylic polymer solution (20-60%)
  • Biocides (less than 1%)
  • Additives (10-20%)

Some acrylic paints contain volatile organic compoundsOpens in a new tab. (VOCs), which can be dangerous when inhaled in higher concentrations or over long periods of exposure. These compounds come in paint as pigments and additives. A few examplesOpens in a new tab. of VOCs include:

  • Benzene 
  • Formaldehyde 
  • Toluene 
  • Xylene 
  • Acetone

Some products also contain heavy metals as ingredients. These are the most common heavy metals in paints.

  • Cobalt 
  • Chromium 
  • Cadmium
  • Manganese
  • Lead 

You can avoid these chemicals by checking the label before buying an acrylic product. You can even tell if the paint contains too much if it smells unpleasant.

A study in 2018Opens in a new tab. involved panelists smelling small amounts of acrylic paints. At the end of the research, they determined that the fouler the odor is, the more contaminants there are in the acrylic. You can distinguish them through the following odor attributes:

  • Rubber or plastic-like
  • Mushroom-like 
  • Turpentine-like
  • Geranium leaf-like or metallic
  • Pungent

Therefore, VOCs or other harmful substances in the paint contribute to the acrylics’ unpleasant smell. The low purity of the thinner in the mixture and the high content of benzene derivatives and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons cause the odor. Be careful when you already sense this smell, as long exposure to these harmful chemicals may lead to health risks. 

Health Risks of Inhaling High Concentrations of VOCs 

Let’s say you chose an acrylic product with contaminants and painted with them or sprayed them on your canvas in large amounts. What are the symptoms of heavy exposure to acrylic paint contaminants?

You can experience short or long-term side effects. In the short term, you may feel the following negative effects.

  • Discomfort of the nose or throat
  • Headache 
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Nausea 
  • Difficulty breathing 

If you experience any of these symptoms, leave the room to get some fresh air. Minimizing your exposure and taking frequent breaks can make you feel better. If you’re working in a closed space, open the windows and door to let in some fresh air.

Higher concentrations of VOCs may damage the following.

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Nervous system 

Tips on Minimizing Health Risks From Acrylics

At this point, you may now be worrying about the health risks I mentioned. The good thing about this is that you can minimize health risks from acrylic if you follow the tips listed in this section.

One – Choose the Right Acrylic Product

Refrain from getting acrylics that contain harmful substances if possible. Plenty of acrylics have little to no toxic ingredients, so check the label before you buy the product.

Here are a few non-toxic acrylic paints you can check out.

  • Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint SetOpens in a new tab. (available on With its matte finish, this product comes with 18 two-fl oz (59 ml) paint bottles in different colors per set. It’s even safe for children to use!
  • ARTEZA AOpens in a new tab.cOpens in a new tab.rylic Paint SetOpens in a new tab. (available on If you are willing to spend a little more, this paint set comes with 14-fl oz (414 ml) bottles in various colors. This product has a semi-gloss finish that is perfect for your painting.
  • HissiCo Acrylic Paint SetOpens in a new tab. (available on This product offers a full gloss finish. Each set contains 24 or 36 2-fl oz (59 ml) multicolored paint bottles.
  • MEEDEN Phthalo Blue Acrylic PaintOpens in a new tab. (available on This paint is perfect for large paintings or wall art. Each container holds 67.6 fl oz. (2 L)  of acrylic paint and conforms to ASTM-D4236, AP, and CE standards, so they are certified non-toxic!
MEEDEN Phthalo Blue Acrylic Paint with Pump Lid, 1/2 Gallon (2L /67.6 oz.) Heavy-Body Non-Toxic Rich Pigment Color, Perfect for Art Class, Wall Painting, Painting Party & Creative DIY
  • QUALITY MATERIALS: The MEEDEN acrylic paints are made of high-quality pigments and can provide a...
  • 100% NON-TOXIC: We conform with ASTM-D4236, AP, and CE standards to ensure that our pigments are...
  • BEST BUDGET CHOICE: Certain colors is consumed in extreme amounts in daily use? Get 1/2 gallon for...

Last update on 2024-06-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

These paints are perfect for those who have limited space to work in.

Two – Paint in a Well-Ventilated Area

Painting in a well-ventilated area is essential. Whether you use paints with toxic ingredients or not, proper ventilation prevents the harmful effects of paint fumes and other products like thinners.

If your art room has a window, leave it open while you work. You can place a small fan to keep the air circulating if the space is enclosed.

Three – Keep the Windows Open for as Long as Necessary

Similar to the previous point, keeping your windows open while you work is essential to your safety. This step is especially important if you use an aerosol spray or paint your walls.

Keeping your windows open allows the gases from the dried paint to dissipate outside the house. While it’s drying, keep everyone outside the room.

Four – Wear Face Masks and Other Protective Gear

Wearing face masks can keep you from inhaling toxic paint fumes. If you use a regular face mask or scarf around your mouth and nose, take regular breaks to leave the room and breathe in some fresh air.

You might also find wearing other protective equipment like eyewear and hand gloves helpful. This safety gear will protect you from getting VOCs inside your system through the eyes and nose.

Final Words

While non-toxic acrylics are available these days, some products still include harmful ingredients. It’s important to be aware of these chemicals and check the label before you buy your paints.

However, most acrylic paints are only harmful in exceptional circumstances. Even those with toxic ingredients aren’t very harmful in small quantities. However, it’s best to take precautions for your safety.

Art Prof: Create & CritiqueOpens in a new tab.
Was this article helpful?


Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

Recent Posts