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Is Oil Painting Safe? What To Know To Minimize Risk

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Most oil paints consist primarily of pigment and oil (ingredients that aren’t inherently harmful on their own), but they still seem to have a reputation for being dangerous.

This is mostly due to the historical use of colors that were made with toxic chemicals, such as Orpiment (a deep orange-yellow color) that contained arsenic or Vermillion, which was traditionally made from cinnabar, a type of mercury sulfide. 

Oil paints’ bad rap may also come from the fact that some of the solvents and mediums used in oil painting put off toxic fumes.

Is oil painting safe? When you pay attention to labels and use the supplies in the manner intended, oil painting with modern materials is completely safe. Avoiding the use of more toxic oil paints, such as cadmium, cobalt, and lead white, can help to add another layer of protection.

In the following you will learn how to minimize toxicity when oil painting as well as best practices for safely cleaning up after and disposing of oil painting materials.  

Potential Hazards When Oil Painting

While oil paints and their associated materials are safe when used as intended, there are a few things to be aware of when painting in order to keep exposure to harmful chemicals to a minimum.

Is Oil Paint on Skin Dangerous?

Oil paint on your skin is not dangerous. There’s no need to panic if you get a little bit of oil paint on your skin.

Simply remove it as soon as possible by applying a small amount of glycerin to the affected area. Then wash the area with soap and water.

Wearing gloves and long-sleeved clothing can help to protect your skin from splatters and spills.

Is It Bad To Breathe in Oil Paint?

Oil paints are generally safe to breathe around. Most oil paints are perfectly fine to use when painting indoors.

However, it’s always a good idea to open a window or door when using paints that contain toxic chemicals, such as cadmium or lead-white. 

Know that the solvents used with oil paint can be harmful when inhaled, so it is important to use materials such as mineral spirits or turpentine in a well-ventilated area.

Should I Wear a Mask When Oil Painting?

You don’t have to wear a mask when oil painting. If you have an underlying respiratory condition or will be painting with more toxic paints or for longer periods of time, wearing a mask is a good idea.

Nevertheless, many hundreds (if not thousands) of people have used oil paints without wearing a mask to no ill effects.

Is Oil Paint Bad for the Environment?

In general, oil paint is not bad for the environment.

Most oil paints consist of pigment and oil (typically linseed oil), and as long as the pigments don’t contain any toxic chemicals, oil paint can be considered environmentally friendly.

The solvents used to thin oil paint or clean up are potentially toxic, however, and need to be disposed of with care. 

Is Oil Painting Safe While Pregnant?

Oil painting should be avoided while pregnant. The American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding painting while pregnant as there have been no studies conducted on the effects of painting on pregnant women and the growing baby.

If you do choose to use oil paint while pregnant, be sure to paint in a well-ventilated area, wear protective gear, and take breaks often. 

Safe Practices When Oil Painting

It’s easy to safely paint with modern oil painting materials by taking a few simple precautions.

1. Check the Label

Make sure to read labels when buying oil paints and associated materials and to follow any directions for safe use.

2. Make Wise Choices

Choose less toxic colors or lower odor solvents to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. 

3. Skip the Solvents

You can also choose to paint without the use of a medium or with a solvent-free medium.


If you’re really concerned about the potential toxins associated with oil painting, you can always use water-mixable oil paints, a newer medium that was designed to be cleaned and thinned with water instead of solvents. 

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How To Clean Up Safely After Oil Painting

To decrease the need for cleaning your brushes with solvents, you can designate different brushes for different colors and use a rag to clean the brushes as you paint.

You can also use brush cleaners and soaps, baby oil, or dishwashing soap as safe alternatives to solvents. 

If you do choose to use solvents, cleaning your supplies outdoors is another good way to minimize your exposure to chemicals.

Use an old rag to wipe any extra paint from your brushes and palette knives. Stir the brushes in your brush cleaner or solvent to loosen dried paint (make sure to shape your brush tips before putting them out to dry!).

Solvents used for cleanup can be reused, simply keep them in an airtight, labeled container, and make sure to keep it closed when not in use. 

Store solvents and any rags or paper towels you used to clean up in airtight containers. Once they are full, you can dispose of the containers at a hazardous waste facility. 

Related Questions:

Do You Need Paint Thinner for Oil Paints?

Oil painting often comes in a high-viscosity form, meaning that it can be quite thick straight from the tube.
If you’re looking to avoid the use of paint thinner, you can use colors that are more fluid or you can use water-based oil paints. 
You can also use linseed oil instead of mineral spirits to thin your paints.
Poppy seed, walnut, and safflower oil are other popular oils that can be used to thin oil paints, but keep in mind that they will extend the drying time.

Does Water Ruin Oil Paint Brushes?

It is perfectly fine to use soap and water to clean your oil brushes. Use warm, not hot, water to protect the bristles. Just be sure that the brushes are completely dry before you use them again.


Oil paints in and of themselves are generally not toxic.

While there are a few oil paint colors that have a more toxic makeup, the solvents and mediums used with oil paints are the items that can have a tendency to put off noxious fumes. 

If you’re looking to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals, be sure to read the labels and follow directions, paint and clean up in a well-ventilated area (or better yet, outside), and properly store and dispose of any solvents or rags used during cleanup.

Oil painting can be a safe and fun experience and is an activity that has been enjoyed by artists around the world for centuries.

Fear of the unknown is easily remedied with a little knowledge, so don’t let safety concerns stop you from oil painting!

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