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Is Acrylic Paint Safe? Potential Dangers & Safety Tips

Acrylic paints are water-based paints that are popular due to their washable and primarily nontoxic nature.

Although acrylic paints are typically viewed as harmless artistic supplies, it is important to be informed about the potential dangers inherent in their use, as well as how to safely paint with them.

Is acrylic paint safe? There are many different kinds of acrylic paints that contain varying substances. As long as you choose acrylic paint with nontoxic ingredients and use it in a ventilated space and on appropriate materials, acrylic paint is perfectly safe.

Whether you’re an amateur painter or an old pro, it’s always the right time to learn about the safety of the paints you choose to use. 

In this article you will learn about potential toxins within acrylic paints, how to safely use acrylic paints around children and animals, and how to properly dispose of acrylic paints in a manner that is safe for the environment and for you.

Is Acrylic Paint Toxic?

While many acrylic paints are nontoxic and a safe choice for artists and workers alike, they can also contain certain chemicals and substances that can be harmful to human health.

Dangers Associated With Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is one of the safest paints as far as toxicity goes, but there are still some important issues to be aware of when utilizing them.


Acrylic paint is ordinarily a low-fume paint, but it’s still essential to use acrylics in a ventilated area.

Choosing naturally derived acrylic paints or low or zero-VOC content acrylic paints can help to reduce exposure to potentially harmful fumes.

Skin Irritation

Even acrylic paint that is labeled as “nontoxic” can irritate the skin.

The nontoxic label applies to the intended surface for the paint, which includes materials such as wood or canvas, but it is not cosmetically rated for skin safety.

(Learn how this applies to face painting with acrylics here.)

Paint Thinners/Solvents

One of the great things about acrylic paint is that it can be purchased in high-flow consistencies, rendering the need for paint thinner obsolete.

Harsh solvents do not need to be used to change the consistency of acrylic paint, as it can also be thinned using water or nontoxic acrylic mediums.

However, whenever acrylics not labeled as nontoxic, thinners, reducers, or other acrylic mediums are used, it’s important to careful follow all recommended safety guidelines.

Ingesting Paint

Many artists have inadvertently drank from their paint water cup, and ingesting small amounts of acrylic paint should not cause too much harm.

However, if larger amounts of acrylic paint are ingested, acrylic paint poisoning can occur, and it is important to call poison control and to get medical assistance right away.

Hazardous Ingredients To Be Aware Of

Acrylic paint can contain potentially hazardous ingredients, including lead, chromium, cadmium, cobalt, manganese, ammonia, and formaldehyde, among others.

Potential Dangers When Airbrushing Acrylic Paint

It is not healthy to breathe in acrylic paint when airbrushing.

When airbrushing with acrylic paint, be sure to wear a respirator (like this comfortable half-face model) or high-quality face mask, and work in a well-ventilated spray booth or an area with open windows and doors.

3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6300, NIOSH, Four-Point Harness, Comfortable Fit, Dual Airline Supplied Air Compatible, Bayonet Connections, Painting, Sanding, Cleaning, Large
  • NIOSH-APPROVED: NIOSH, a USA federal government regulatory agency, has tested and...
  • COMFORTABLE: Soft, lightweight facepiece with easy-to-adjust head straps for a customized...

Sanding Acrylic Paint: Dangers & Safety Measures

Sanding acrylic paint can create a fine powder that is not good for your lungs. Be sure to wear a mask, goggles, and gloves when sanding acrylic paint.

Is Acrylic Paint Toxic When Dry?

As long as it does not contain lead, acrylic paint is not toxic once completely dry.

Can You Get Cancer From Acrylic Paint?

Paint dust, solvents, and toxic chemicals that can be found in certain types of acrylic paint have been shown to cause cancer after long-term exposure. 

Choosing acrylic paints that do not contain cancer-causing chemicals and working with appropriate protective gear in open spaces are excellent ways to reduce ill health effects when using acrylic paint.

Is Acrylic Paint Safe?

Acrylic paint is used every day all over the world and is one of the safest paints available.

Many acrylic paints are nontoxic and can be used without worry for a variety of projects.

However, it is imperative to know what is in acrylic paints and how to properly use them.

Safety Precautions When Using Acrylic Paint

It’s important to choose nontoxic acrylic paints and to be informed as to what ingredients they contain.

Work in a well-ventilated space, and use protective gear for skin and clothing as needed.

Is Acrylic Paint Safer Than Oil?

Oil paints are not inherently more dangerous than acrylic paints. One big difference between acrylic and oil paints are the chemicals needed for cleanup.

Cleaning up acrylic paint usually does not require the use of toxic solvents, such as turpentine or mineral spirits, that cleaning up oil paints necessitates.

Is It Safe To Breathe Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint can contain harmful chemicals and should not be used in cramped or close spaces.

It’s a good idea to work outdoors or in a large room with open windows or to use a fan when painting with acrylics.

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Skin?

Acrylic paint is water based and washable, but it is not suitable for the skin.

While it is easy to remove from the skin with soap and water when wet, it can become more difficult to remove as the paint dries.

Acrylic paint can cause skin irritation, and it should not be used as a substitute for face or body paint.

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Kids?

Although many acrylic paints are labeled as nontoxic, they can still contain chemicals that can be harmful to children.

Make sure to determine the ingredients of the acrylic paint you intend to use before painting with children.

Look for acrylic paints that are hypoallergenic, nontoxic and free of chemicals such as lead, cadmium, cobalt, manganese, and chromium.

Always supervise children when working with acrylic paints, and be sure to paint in a well-ventilated area. 

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Dogs?

Acrylic paint is safe to use around dogs as long as they do not ingest a large amount of the paint.

Take the same precautions as you would when painting near children: work in a well-ventilated area, and keep acrylic paints out of the reach of your pets.

If you’re looking to create paw pad art from your puppy’s precious prints, avoid acrylic paint and choose a nontoxic body paint that has been rated for human safety (like this set of 20) instead.

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Birds?

In general, it is safe to use acrylic paints around birds. If you are painting in a room that contains a bird, make sure that you keep the area properly ventilated.

When painting a birdhouse, avoid painting the inside, and be sure to allow the paint to fully dry before hanging the birdhouse.

To protect the finished product from the elements, use a bird and environmentally friendly finish such as shellac or a water-based sealant. 

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Use During Pregnancy?

Due to the unknown amount of safe exposure to potential toxins, the American Pregnancy Association recommends that women avoid using paint at all during pregnancy.

However, if you do choose to use paint during your pregnancy, they suggest that acrylic paints are a safer choice than oil paints. 

If you must paint while pregnant, it is advised that you limit the amount of time you spend painting, be sure to use protective gear, and to work in a well-ventilated area. 

Is Acrylic Paint Bad for the Environment?

Acrylic paint can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants, which can contribute to air pollution.

Acrylic paints are also a plastic material, which means that they are not biodegradable. 

For these reasons, it is always a good idea to refrain from washing acrylic paints down the drain and to be mindful when sanding acrylic paint down, as the sanding process can create an environmentally harmful powder.

Safety Precautions When Using Acrylic Paint

While acrylic paint is predominantly harmless, it’s still a good idea to take safety precautions when working with most types of paint.

1. Paint In A Well-Ventilated Area

When using acrylic paints indoors, it’s always a good idea to open a window or use an exhaust fan to disperse potential fumes and air pollutants.

2. Read The Label

Always know what is in the acrylic paints that you are working with.

If you are painting with a brand or color that contains toxins or hazardous chemicals, be sure to take extra precautions. 

If there is no information about the ingredients on the label, see if you can obtain a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer.

3. Wear Protective Gear

Wearing plastic gloves and an apron can help to keep acrylic paint off of your clothes and skin.

How To Choose the Safest Acrylic Paints

Picking paints that list their ingredients on the label is one of the best ways to choose a safe paint.

Some paints may advertise themselves as “green” or “eco-friendly,” but the only way to know for sure what is in them is to read the label or research the company that makes them.

The phrase “zero-VOC” stands for “zero volatile organic compounds” and is used to describe materials that do not contain chemicals that may have negative health effects.

Choosing primers and paints that are zero-VOC is a good way to keep potential exposure to harmful chemicals to a minimum. 

Hazardous air pollutants are air toxins that have been known to cause cancer, and are not included under the zero-VOC label.

Cadmium and chromium are two common hazardous air pollutants that some acrylic paints may include.

Acrylic paints that do not include hazardous air pollutants are a safe choice, especially for those sensitive to chemicals.

Some acrylic paints are not created from petrochemicals and instead are made from natural sources, such as plants and animals.

For a truly safe paint, look for acrylic paints that are made from organic pigments and that advertise themselves as hypoallergenic, nontoxic, free from solvents, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, and additives.

How To Safely Clean Up After Using Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a water-based and washable paint, making it much easier to clean up than many other forms of paint.

However, there are best practices for cleaning up and disposing of acrylic paint that are safe for you, your family and home, and the environment.

How To Clean Acrylic Paint From Skin

Use soap and water to gently cleanse damp acrylic paint from the skin.

If the paint has dried, rub baby oil into the stains, using your fingers to softly scrape the paint off of the skin.

If paint still remains, apply rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball and wipe the remaining paint from the skin.

How To Clean Acrylic Paint From Surfaces

Acrylic paint can be easily removed from most surfaces while it is still wet. Use soap and water to clean damp acrylic paint from hard surfaces.

If the paint has dried, rubbing alcohol or vinegar can safely be used to saturate the stain before wiping it off.

How To Safely And Responsibly Dispose of Acrylic Paint

Never pour acrylic paint down the drain! It can clog drains and pipes and can be harmful to animals and the environment.

Allow leftover paint to harden or dry before throwing it in the trash.

You can also always call your local waste management company to find out their specific recommendations for acrylic paint disposal.

Some recycling centers may accept old or leftover acrylic paint.

Related Questions:

Does Acrylic Paint Have Plastic in It?

Acrylic paint does contain plastic. Acrylic paint is a combination of pigment and a polymer binder created from petroleum.

Is Acrylic Paint Waterproof?

While acrylic paint is water resistant, it is a water-based, washable paint, which means that it is not waterproof.
Constant exposure to moisture or the elements will eventually erode acrylic paint, making it critical to use multiple coats of paint and to cover finished outdoor acrylic projects with a waterproofing finish.
Varnish, polyurethane, lacquer, and shellac are all suitable products when it comes to waterproofing acrylic paint. 


Acrylic paints are an excellent choice for painting projects of all types.

It’s important to be informed about the ingredients that acrylic paints contain and how to safely use and dispose of acrylic paints.

Understanding the chemical makeup of acrylic paints and the range of nontoxic options available is the best way to paint in a way that is healthy for you, your children and pets, and the world around you.


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