Breathing paint fumes while sleeping

Safe Home Painting: A Primer

When it comes to do-it-yourself projects, a fresh coat of paint can brighten your living space inexpensively and with a minimum of effort. But you want to take as much care to protect your health as you take to do a neat job. Paint fumes aren’t just unpleasant to smell — they can harm you in other ways. So before you pick up a brush, apply these safe painting tips as part of your planning.

Know Your POV on VOCs

“There are many different kinds of paints, including some organic choices,” says Gene Kennedy, a state-licensed building and roofing contractor with Saltwater Home Resources in Florida, and they’re readily available at home improvement stores.

The trend in organic comes from concern over paint fumes created by certain ingredients found in standard paint — volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs can cause a number of reactions, from headaches and skin irritation to nausea and dizziness. They are most hazardous to professional painters who work with them on a daily basis, but even weekend warriors need to take precautions, especially when painting indoors. That’s because, even with good ventilation, you’re exposed to far higher levels than when painting outside.

The Environmental Protection Agency has established acceptable levels of VOC emission for paint products. Some states have even stricter standards that limit the kinds of paints that can be used in specific settings. But you can go even further by choosing paints labeled low- or no-VOC.

Kennedy cautions that contractors and painters have to meet only the local building code or state standard, which might not be as tough as your own personal standards. So if you’re outsourcing the paint job, talk with your contractor about your preferences before the job is done. And when you’re doing the buying, Kennedy says, read labels carefully.

How to Paint a Room: Healthy House Paint

You have three basic types of paint to choose from — in addition to a rainbow of colors and finishes:

  • Latex. Latex paints have fewer VOCs than some other types of paint because they have a water base rather than a petrochemical base. You can easily find organic, low-VOC latex paints.
  • Natural. Natural paints use ingredients such as casein, chalk, citrus oil, and linseed oil instead of petrochemical bases. They may emit some VOCs, and if you’re sensitive to certain ingredients, such as citrus oil, a natural paint could still irritate you. The finish from this type of healthy house paint may not be what you’re used to, so you might want to test it on a small area before committing.
  • Oil. Oil paints are highly durable, but they have a petrochemical base and emit the greatest amount of VOCs.

How to Paint a Room: Safe Painting Tips

Prepping for painting should protect you as well as windows, floors, and furnishings and may take longer than the actual painting, but it’s time well spent. Keep these healthy painting tips in mind:

  • Protect floors and furniture. Lay plastic sheets or tarps over floors and any furniture that can’t be moved to another room.
  • Mark out the paint space. Use painter’s tape to define the space you’ll paint. Use it to protect areas you’re not painting, such as the outside edges of windows, window trims, and baseboards.
  • Maximize ventilation. Even with low- or no-VOC and odorless formulations, you should still ventilate as much as possible. Open the windows and, when you’re done, turn on a fan in the area. Even when you’re using the healthiest paint choices, fumes can aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma.
  • Cover up. “Your skin can absorb chemicals,” warns Kennedy. Wear gloves, long sleeves, pants, and a painter’s cap to guard against getting paint on your skin.
  • Practice ladder safety. Kennedy suggests using a ladder with a wide base and support bars and recommends brands with adjustable legs that allow you to safely paint on stairs or different levels. Before you use any ladder, inspect it to make sure it’s in good condition.
  • Don’t paint if you’re pregnant. Though morning sickness might turn you away from this type of project anyway, painting when pregnant is generally not be a good idea for other reasons. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health suggests that exposure to certain paint fumes during the first trimester could result in birth defects. It is also never safe to get up on a ladder during pregnancy.

After You Paint

In most cases, says Kennedy, you can sleep in a painted room the night you paint it, especially if you used safe paint, ventilated well, and started early in the day. However, if any lingering smell makes you feel ill or lightheaded or if you have a headache, sleep somewhere else.

While painting is a common home improvement project that adds to the curb appeal of any home, most parents are very concerned about the safety of their children. Paint can be dangerous, especially in homes where there are children. Typically, it is possible for you to withstand the paint fumes odors; however, you will want to be mindful if you are choosing paints for decorating your little one’s room. Using paints that emit toxic odors could cause adverse health effects to your children.

How long after painting a room, is it safe for a baby to sleep in? The duration for which to wait after painting a room will depend on the type of paint used. Some paints dry quickly, which reduces exposure to VOCs, while others take a lot of time to dry.

As a parent, you need to identify which paints are safe for your child and which ones emit dangerous fumes. In this article, we are going to learn about paints that are extremely safe for children and how long it will take for the room to be considered safe for the child to sleep in.

Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing Paints for Your Child’s Room

1. Type of Paint

There are different types of paints available in the market. The type of paint you choose will determine how much paint fumes will be released once you apply them.

  • Zero-VOC Paint
    The best paint for a child’s room is one that is labeled ‘Zero VOC.’ Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemical gases that can have adverse health effects like nose and eye irritation and nausea. Volatile Organic Compounds can also cause long term health effects like damage to the liver, central nervous system, and kidneys. The zero-VOC paint contains no VOC and does not release toxic chemicals. It is also nearly odorless because it has a much lower smell limit concentration than other types of paint. This, therefore, means that you or your child can sleep in the room the same day after painting it. There is no need to wait over 24 hours for your baby to sleep in the room.
  • Low-VOC Paint
    Low VOC paints have a ‘Green seal’ logo, and it is entirely safe to sleep in the same room after applying the paint. However, some studies show that children sleeping in rooms with fumes from low-VOC water-based paints are 2 to 4 times more likely to get allergies or asthma. Low VOC paints may contain PGEs, which can be damaging to your child’s health. Also, while the paint has few VOCs, it is not entirely odorless, and the smell could last for 2-3 days after painting. It is therefore recommended to keep the room well ventilated when the paint is applied.
  • Oil-Based Paints
    Oil-based paints have mineral oil and are common for outdoor use. This is because they dry hard and can withstand moisture. Although the paint dries within 2-8 hours, it contains lots of toxic VOCs, which could take two weeks to decrease. The VOCs are harmful and could produce adverse health effects like allergic reactions, headaches, as well as eye and sinus irritation.
    Also, when swallowed, they can cause stomach upset and breathing problems caused by the presence of the mineral oil in the lungs. This means that you should wait for at least two weeks for the paint to cure before sleeping in the room.
  • Latex Paints
    Latex paint dries quickly, and it is easy to wash with just soap and water. Nonetheless, it causes mild irritation on the skin and mouth, although, if someone swallows, it causes stomach upset or vomiting. Small pieces of latex paint can also cause choking. Nonetheless, it is not very lethal, and it doesn’t poison the body.
  • Solvent-Based Paint
    Solvent-based paint is not a safe option to paint a baby’s room since it is more harmful than oil-based paint and latex. These paints contain several volatile organic compounds (VOC) like xylene, toluene, and ethanol as a liquid. When using solvent-based paint in a poorly ventilated room, symptoms may occur, such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Also, this paint can be lethal if inhaled with the intention to get high.
  • Organic Paint
    The organic paint is completely non-toxic, and it doesn’t produce or emit any dangerous fumes. Although these paints are not as durable as other conventional paints, they are safer in terms of VOCs.

2. Check the Labels

When choosing paint for indoor use, you need to carefully look at the label and ensure that the product is safe enough for children. Although most products that are labeled ‘non-toxic’ may appear harmless, they may pose a risk of poisoning after long-term use. Looking for the ‘AP’ label, especially for art paint, will assure you that the product is safe for children.

3. Painting Procedure

When using paint that emits harmful VOC fumes, it is essential to choose the appropriate time for painting when you can open the windows for 2-3 days during and after application. Avoid times like summer and winter when you cannot leave your doors and windows open or even use a fan.

4. Safety Precaution

Make sure that your children are not in freshly painted rooms when the VOC fumes are most intoxicating. If possible, take them to a friend or relative for some days until the smell of fresh paint decreases. Another safety precaution is using a box fan or air purifiers to direct the fumes outside. If you reside in an apartment complex, be sure to alert other tenants since the paint fumes could be harmful to them also.

Safe disposal of old/remaining paint is important, and it depends on where one lives. In most countries, oil and solvent-based paints are disposed of as hazardous materials. For water-based paint, you need to let the paint dry out first and then discard the can together with other household items. Before you dispose of your old paint, check your countries or local regulations.

The Risks of Paints

When working with paints, be aware of the following risks.

  • Respiratory problems – This is mostly caused by applying paint indoor without enough ventilation.
  • Skin problems, including burns, irritations, and dermatitis.
  • Sensitization can occur as a result of too much exposure to paint fumes. When a person becomes sensitive, even a small amount of allergen can lead to a serious allergic response.
  • Life-threatening problems like neurological disorders and cancer

Symptoms Caused by Paint Fuming Poisoning

  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Irritation of nose, eyes, and throat
  • Nausea
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sore eyes, nose, and/or throat
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • Headaches
  • Visual impairment and memory loss
  • Fatigue

Actions to Take when your Child Gets any Symptoms from the Paint Fumes

Here are some actions to take when your child shows the symptoms that occur due to paint fume poisoning:

  • Keep the sick child off the room that has been painted and ventilate the room well.
  • Seek medical help for the symptoms.
  • If paint of any kind gets on the skin, wash it with water and soap. Avoid paint removers as these can irritate the skin.
  • If paint is swallowed, give the victim a small amount of milk or water. The swallowed paint will be eliminated in a day or two through stool.
  • If paint gets into eyes, rinse it off with running water for about 15-20 minutes. Contact Poison Control if you experience pain or have trouble with vision.
  • If you cannot leave the windows and doors open for a long time, then you can opt to paint Little Knights once the old paint has dried up. Applying Little Knights paint is a clever strategy since it will seal the noxious paint and prevent the emitting of VOCs.

Prevention Tips

  • When painting, ensure that there is enough circulation in the room by opening the windows and doors open if possible. If you feel dizzy or nauseous, leave the room for a while and get some fresh air. If this doesn’t help, take a warm shower and wash down your hair.
  • Only use interior paints when painting your home or other indoor facilities. Do not use paints that are meant for commercial use because they contain harmful ingredients like fungicides.
  • Get immediate help if you suspect that someone has accidentally or intentionally inhaled the paint.


The question of how long to wait after painting your children’s room is often asked by many parents who are planning to undertake painting projects. Just as we have seen above, there are different answers to this question, depending on which paint you use. With children’s safety in mind, it is important to choose a paint that contains no or low VOCs. This way, you can be sure that your children will be safe even if they sleep in the room on the same day of application. Parents are also advised to keep their windows open when painting the rooms.

This question is commonly asked by homeowners, especially when children or elderly family members are involved.

The answer depends entirely on what type of paint you use in the bedroom.

  • It is completely safe to sleep in a room the same day it is painted if you use Zero-VOC paint. Zero-VOC paint is virtually odorless and does not emit toxic chemicals that can produce long-term adverse health effects when inhaled. Two great VOC-free paints are Benjamin Moore’s Natura® and Sherwin Williams Harmony®.
  • If you are using a low-VOC, water-based paint with a “Green Seal” logo of any kind, it is also okay to sleep in the room the same day paint is applied. However, the paint will still smell for 24 hours or more. Typically the smell will lessen in 2-3 days if you keep a window open and/or a fan blowing. If it is a child’s room, you may want to wait 16 -24 hours after painting to let your child sleep in the room.
  • Paint that is not eco-friendly or is oil-based may take quite a bit of curing time. Although the paint may dry within 2-8 hours after painting, it could take a few weeks for the smell to disapate. Most oil-base paints are safe even after a few hours after application, but check with your local paint store if you have a concern.

To learn more about Green and Eco-Friendly Paints before your next painting project, visit this short article we wrote.

In order to play it safe, we recommend using only Zero or Low-VOC paints for all home interiors. However, almost all paints on the market today are safe for the home because of the strict EPA regulations (especially in California), so you don’t have to be overly concerned.

If you have any further questions, contact Chism Brothers at 858-454-3850.

Are Paint Fumes a Health Concern? Here’s What the Latest Science Says

If you’re one of the many homeowners considering using this summer to repaint your house or apartment, you might have been concerned to hear that, according to a just-published study in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, women exposed to common paint chemicals at work are more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder. Further, the greater the exposure, the greater the autism risk, the study found. These risks remained even after the researchers adjusted their data to account for other potential autism factors, such as a woman’s smoking history, alcohol habits, and age at the time her child was born.

The new study isn’t proof that paint and related chemical exposures cause autism, and should be “interpreted with caution,” the authors write. But the findings are in line with previous studies that found an association between paint chemicals and autism. And there’s a growing body of evidence linking the many chemicals found in paint and its fumes to a number of health issues.

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Benzene, for example, is an established carcinogen that turns up in some paints, particularly oil-based paints, as well as in art and crafts supplies like glue and dry-erase markers, vehicle exhaust, and pesticides. As with other carcinogens, it’s likely people mostly have to worry about long-term or very high amounts of benzene exposure. But spending time in a poorly ventilated and newly painted room could expose people to elevated benzene levels, the ACS states.

Benzene is one of a class of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. People who work in labs—including medical or pharmaceutical research facilities—or who work with paints, in the chemical industry, or as beauticians and cosmetologists are among those who are more likely to be exposed to these chemicals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Breathing in high levels of VOCs can cause a number of short-term health problems, from headaches and dizziness to a runny nose and itchy eyes. Some VOCs may also cause nervous system and organ damage, according to the American Lung Association. Maternal exposure to some VOCs found in paint may raise the risk for low birth weight, which in turn is associated with an increased risk for delayed development or learning disabilities.

Experts are still figuring out just how these chemicals harm the human body. But research has found that some of them can be absorbed into the blood through contact with the skin or through inhalation, and that they can accumulate in the brain or organs of those who are exposed. The liver also breaks down some of these chemicals into byproducts that can bind to and potentially interfere with a cell’s genetic material.

The take-home message from all this research is that paint is potentially toxic—especially for “vulnerable” groups such as pregnant women, young children and the elderly. VOC levels are usually much higher indoors than out, especially if those indoor areas are not well ventilated. And wet or drying paint—particularly oil-based paints—tend to emit a lot of VOCs, says Clifford Weisel, a professor at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute of Rutgers University.

Erin McCanlies, co-author of the recent autism study and an epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, says water-based low- or zero-VOC paints—which are now easy to find—may be safer than older generations of paints. “However, paints may contain other chemicals such as binders, corrosion inhibitors and preservatives that may contribute to their toxicological properties,” she says. And research has found that even zero-VOC paints still emit chemical gases.

So, even if you’re using these, Weisel says it’s a good idea to open windows and doors and turn on a fan. This can increase ventilation and carry away any potentially harmful fumes. Once paint has fully dried—something that happens more quickly in warm, dry conditions—the risk of inhaling harmful emissions is greatly reduced. “Airing a room out for a couple days is usually sufficient,” Weisel says.

The EPA also warns against storing paint in your home. Paint cans may release chemicals gases or fumes even if they’re closed, and so a basement or closet full of old paint cans is bad news. “If you’re following all these precautions, exposure should not be reaching a level that would cause a lot of concern,” Weisel says.

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What happens to your body when you enter a freshly painted room?

When you enter a freshly painted room, a number of things happen to your body. Some things are more recognisable than others. What may seem like just a headache from things such as paint fumes however, is something far more sinister – something a little bit of ventilation and a night sleeping on the couch may not be able to fix. Australia’s approach to addressing these issues are sub standard and hurting us, our environment, and our families. There are however, pragmatic ways to go about rectifying these otherwise unnoticed dangers we create for ourselves.

When we head towards the cleaning supplies aisle in the supermarket or walk into a freshly painted room, we notice certain reactions immediately. They typically include noticing the distinctive chemical smell, akin to paint fumes, irritated eyes, nose, throat, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or even nausea. Some also experience quite severe fatigue and lethargy.

This is caused by VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in the air we breathe. They often have an odour, but not always. VOCs are used in paints, varnishes, adhesives, synthetic fabrics, cleaning supplies, air fresheners and sprays. When used in indoor settings, VOCs make their way to the surface of walls, furniture and other household features. Once on the surface, they ‘offgas’ – meaning their chemicals are emitted into the surrounding air. Most of this occurs when the product is new, however, walls, objects and products containing VOCs continue to offgas for many years after.

These symptoms are just a small part of the problems VOCs create for your body. Being exposed to these chemicals, as you might when you walk into a freshly painted room, can be so harmful that it causes serious illnesses. This includes an increased risk of bladder and lung cancer, especially for those working with paint or household cleaners. For those either working or living in places that have been freshly painted, or use high VOC products in any form, issues beyond the immediate symptoms can be shortness of breath and coughing, fevers, muscle aches, asthma, an allergic response, and heightened cancer risks. Even a weekend paint job can do more harm than you might think.

Most Australians spend more than 90% of their time indoors, leading to a concern about the possible impacts of indoor air quality on our health. This concern is justified when indoor pollutant concentrates exceed outdoor levels! When it comes to air pollution, we tend to think in terms of the outdoors – we worry about smoke stacks, traffic jams, and other industrial factors that pump pollutants into the (outdoors) air we breathe. But we often ignore our indoor air quality, which can be just as toxic for us, and sometimes moreso. Paints and other products containing VOCs will continue to offgas immediately after painting, and for a long time following. Even after the smell has disappeared, it isn’t safe. And these emissions are not only harmful to our health, but contribute to environmental degradation, such as ground-level ozone formation. Furthermore, a CSIRO study found that established buildings have higher VOC levels compared to outdoor levels, and much that levels are much higher in new homes.

Unlike the US or European guidelines on VOCs, Australia has unclear and easily skirted around guidelines for labelling. Meaning that unless you choose a paint, varnish, or cleaning product that clearly labels ingredients and contains no (rather than low) VOCs, in Australia unfortunately it is impossible to know what kind of risk you are exposing yourself and others to. Advice is to eliminate VOCs from the home by selecting non-toxic paints and varnishes, as well as cleaning products, ensuring that what literally covers more than 80% of all surfaces in your house isn’t causing you and your family ill health. Opening doors and windows several times a day to exchange the air and reduce the build-up of VOCs and other indoor air contaminants is also useful, however, seems more like a band aid solution. As a last resort, indoor plants are known to help clear the indoor air of toxins – but again, this doesn’t address the root problem.

Low indoor air quality is the source of too many health problems in Australia, stemming from the avoidable situation of VOC exposure from painted walls and many other household objects. It is easy to overlook these health hazards – they’re common, and invisible to untrained eyes – however, there are easy and affordable alternatives, and the health risks simply from walking into a freshly painted room are far too high to ignore.

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Is It Safe to Sleep in a Freshly Painted Room?

Something that comes up a lot with our lovely clients is whether it’s safe to sleep in a room that still has paint fumes lingering. You’ll be glad to know that the answer is yes! But….. there’s always exceptions to the rule and it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you suffer from

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • headaches
  • sensitive to smell

Then you might prefer not to but if your house painter has used paint with a low VOC rating then you are technically fine.

What interior house paint we recommend so it’s safe to sleep if paint fumes are lingering

You’ll be happy to know that we use and recommend Taubmans Endure paint which is approved by the National Asthma Council Australia’s Sensitive Choice Program. It has a low VOC rating of 16g/1L for their interior range which is fabulous.

If you are able to leave the room for 24 hours before sleeping in there then do so and make sure you keep the room well ventilated. When it comes to a child’s room or baby nursery you might prefer to be cautious though and leave until the smells leaves altogether. Peace of mind is everything!

Be aware the hazards of paint fumes

Just in case inhaling paint fumes does affect you, it’s good to know what to be aware of too. So, if you experience any:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • breathing problems
  • eye irritation
  • throat and lunch irritation

Open the doors and windows if you are in the room that has been painted. Or if the smell is lingering throughout your home then take yourself outside. If you are concerned, then it’s always best to get checked out by medical personnel too. You can never be too careful when it comes to your health.

Some wonderful ways to help neutralise paint smells are:

If you want to dry and improve or remove the smell as quickly as you can and opening the doors and windows isn’t quite doing enough. You can try the below natural remedies too:

  • to open all windows and doors, of course, to help clear the smell.
  • cut up an onion and place around the painted room. The onion absorbs any smells.
  • a bowl or two of vinegar in the room also helps to neutralise the air.

Call in the professional house painters

At the end of the day call in the professionals to paint your home and if you are concerned about any lingering paint fumes. Why not spoil yourselves and have a night away at a hotel. Or if it’s the bedrooms that were painted you can always have a family sleepover in the lounge. The kids will love it!


Call us today 02 9973 3131

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