Does watercolor paint have a smell?

Paints, in general, tend to have a distinct smell, so it is only natural to wonder if watercolors do as well. Can watercolors smell?

Since watercolor is mostly pigments and binding agents, it does not have a strong smell. In contrast, paint in tubes may smell due to their different ingredients. Painting on paper will always smell, largely because of the paper itself, though.

watercolor paint with a brush

Why doesn’t watercolor smell?

Watercolor doesn’t usually have a strong smell.

Pigments don’t have a smell and binding agents have little to no smell, but would probably be responsible if you smelled something. 

It wouldn’t be apparent when you walked into a room, as you’d have to get really close to notice it.

Your only smell would be from your water, which might be dirty or have a certain chlorine smell to it, but other than that you won’t smell anything.

While painting, your palette and the container you use to store your water may also emit a smell, but this is generally due to not thoroughly cleaning them.

I have written guides on how to clean watercolor brushes and sponges properly. To read the guides following this article, click the respective link.

I’d also recommend reading my article on the surfaces you can paint watercolor on, you might find out some new stuff.

Is it bad to inhale watercolor?

For some mediums, like oil, you should definitely keep a window open at all times, in order to keep the room’s air well ventilated.

Watercolor, on the other hand, does not have this problem.

Occasionally, you should let some air in, but in general, watercolor painting does not produce toxic fumes.

As long as you don’t eat or drink it, you should be fine.

But as I just mentioned, having paint pigments in the air around you is definitely not beneficial either, so you should keep your room ventilated at all times.

If it’s too noisy or too cold outside, you should at least open a window every 30 minutes for a while, just to get some fresh air in – but that’s general advice.

If you’d also like to know whether watercolor can be erased and how it might be possible, check this article out.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

Does watercolor grow mold?

The majority of things that have a certain smell, like cheese or juice, tend to mold more quickly.

People tend to think watercolors cannot mold since there is very little in them, apart from pigments and binding agents, so bacteria shouldn’t be able to survive, right?

This is a common misconception about watercolor. As a matter of fact, mold can grow, and will if you do not treat your materials and paints appropriately.

While it does not take a lot of effort to prevent watercolor from molding, it does require some.

Cleaning is obviously the most important part. Keep your brushes, paints, and palettes clean regularly to prevent bacteria from growing and eventually mold from forming.

Your palette and brushes will accumulate a lot of stuff that bacteria can feed off of, like your skin cells and crumbs

It’s best to simply clean your brushes after each use – which you should do anyways to extend their life span – and to clean your palette every two weeks quickly.

It doesn’t require a lot of effort, since the most important thing is to just get it clean, but you must stay consistent.

However, the most important thing is not the cleaning process, but rather the drying process. Let your painting equipment dry completely before storing it away again.

Once you’re done, try to dry everything a little with a piece of cloth or a towel, but I recommend letting everything air dry so no humidity is stored in materials. Doing so will prevent molding in the long run.

If you’d also like to find out how to make watercolor dry faster, you can click here.

Is watercolor harmful to the environment?

The majority of watercolor paints are pretty safe for the environment, since they don’t contain many toxic ingredients.

However, there are some brands and palettes that are toxic, especially the older ones that were contaminated with heavy metals like lead and cadmium.

Those kinds of paint can harm the environment and a human being, so you should avoid getting in contact with them and especially avoid ingesting them.

Reading the packaging or researching the manufacturer’s website is always a good way to check for these kinds of ingredients.

In case you cannot find anything on there, ask around in facebook groups or the local arts & crafts store, as a lot of people have gained knowledge in these areas over the years and are happy to assist.

watercolor painting next to watercolor paint, brushes and a jar of water

Can watercolors go down the drain?

Most watercolor paints are not toxic, as we just established. 

Furthermore, the pigments aren’t very large, but are big enough to be filtered out fairly easily. 

Thus, if you run watercolor paints down the drain, the paint won’t clog your pipes, but can be filtered afterwards

In order to make sure that nothing is blocking your pipes or staying in them, I would recommend running hot water down the drain alongside the watercolors and watercolor water.

This is particularly important for acrylic paints, which if they are not dissolved in enough water can clog up pipes.

I would also recommend cleaning your sink after washing your watercolor brushes, palette, sponge, etc., as pigments may adhere to it over time.

Especially if you also wash your dishes in this sink, you should thoroughly clean it. However, I would not recommend using the same sink for both purposes.

If you’d like to learn more about watercolor painting, I’d recommend reading my posts Why do watercolors crack? (And how to fix it!) and Does Watercolor Stick To Acrylic Paint?


Watercolor does not have a smell. Only the water itself could have a smell, but it’s also rather subtle. Nonetheless this does not mean that watercolor paints and paintings cannot mold. You can prevent that by properly cleaning your supplies regularly.

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