Can watercolor paints give off fumes?

It is important to keep a window open and take regular breaks when working with oil paints because they can be toxic. Do watercolors produce toxic fumes in the same way?

Watercolor paints emit no fumes at all. Unless the watercolor paint contains lead, cadmium or similar ingredients, you would not have to worry about its toxicity. Modern watercolors are usually made without these additives and are nearly entirely plant-based, but it is always good to double-check the labels.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

What kind of fumes do watercolor paints emit?

Watercolor paints do not produce fumes. Watercolors are basically just water mixed with some colored pigments and binding agents on some paper. That’s it. 

Watercolors can still be toxic in some cases. It is true when the paint contains toxic materials, which I will discuss in more detail later. 

If you pay close attention to the next chapter, you shouldn’t have to worry too much even if these ingredients are in your paints.

If you’d also like to find out how to remove watercolor watercolor paint from your clothes, you should check out this article.

What should you watch out for when painting with watercolors?

Watercolor painting, and painting in general, should always be done with a window open. Make sure the air in your room is always circulated. 

If not, everything that gets sent out into the air will fly around you all the time, accumulating quickly.

You can avoid this issue by keeping a window and door open at all times or opening them every 15 minutes or so for a short period of time.

But there are two more things, when it comes to hygiene while painting, which I will get into now.

You should wash your hands regularly

After painting, you should always wash your hands. Despite your best efforts, your hands will probably still get dirty, even if you don’t see them.

In order to prevent getting all kinds of pigments and dirty water into your system, wash your hands whenever you stop painting and do something else. 

It won’t hurt if you do it every now and then while painting, too.

Regularly clean your materials

You also have to regularly clean your materials to prevent bacteria and mold from growing.

It is not necessary to deep clean your brushes and your palette every time you use them, but you should clean them quickly after each use.

I have easy step-by-step guides for cleaning both. For brushes, click here, and for watercolor sponges, click here.

Otherwise, bacteria will grow pretty quickly, especially if there is water or humidity present.

Your materials will also last longer and maintain their quality over time.

Furthermore, if you use a cloth or towel to clean your brushes etc. while painting, you should wash it every now and then. After a while, these things will become dirty.

If you want to find out whether you can laminate watercolor paintings, I’d advise reading this article about it.

watercolor painting teacher and student

Do not store Away wet brushes and sponges

Artists tend to store wet brushes, sponges, and towels in a box or something similar without letting them dry completely

As a result, bacteria will grow, weird smells will develop, and mold will form. 

It will ruin your painting experience and your materials, so it’s a lose-lose situation.

It doesn’t even take much effort to let your materials dry properly before storing them.

Lay them out on a dry surface like a table, newspaper or a towel and wait. Once they are dry, you can store them away.

What makes watercolor paints toxic?

We’ll now talk about watercolor paint’s toxic ingredients.

There are fewer watercolors being produced today that contain such ingredients, so this is more of a problem with older ones.

Generally speaking, you need to watch out for heavy metals, like cadmium, lead, etc. Try to keep these away from your body and skin since they can irritate it and are toxic to the human body.

You should check the packaging of your watercolor paints if you are unsure whether they contain those ingredients. In most cases, there will be an ingredient list on there, so you can see what’s in it.

Check the manufacturer’s website or contact them directly if you can’t find anything or are still unsure. They should always be able to assist you.

Also, the people in old arts and crafts stores tend to be knowledgeable about those kinds of things, so feel free to ask them.

I go deeper into the topic of watercolor’s toxicity, in this article.

watercolor brushes next to watercolor paint

What other types of mediums are toxic?

In general, oil paints tend to be toxic. In order to avoid getting dizzy or experiencing similar symptoms while painting with such mediums, you must ventilate your room.

In addition, you shouldn’t flush oil paint down the drain, but rather dispose of it at a waste facility if it is toxic.

As with watercolors, acrylic paints are water-based, but they often contain heavy metals like cadmium, lead, etc.

Sometimes they’re toxic, sometimes they’re not. To be sure, check the packaging again or follow the steps I laid out previously.

In addition, I would only flush acrylic paints down the drain if they are followed by hot water to avoid clogging the pipes.

Make sure you only purchase non-toxic paints, so that you’re sure of what you’re painting with.

If you’d like to learn more about watercolor painting, I’d advise reading my posts on How long do watercolor paints last and Can you iron a watercolor painting to flatten it?


Watercolor paints only contain fumes and are toxic if they contain heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead. Identify whether this is the case for your paints by checking the packaging or contacting the manufacturer. While painting, you should always keep the room ventilated,wash your hands and clean your materials regularly.

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