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Paint Fumes Guide: Volatile Organic Compounds

Oil Based Paint and Toxic Volatile Organic Compounds

Paint fumes are made of vapors called volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  These vapors derive from organic solvents such as ethylene, toluene, xylene, acetone and methylene chloride. They can cause headache, eye irritation, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.


Backed By Science

Before I discuss the details of these 4 simple techniques let me first provide you with more information about paint. Learn how paint manufacturers make different types of paint. Better inform yourself about the potential hazards of the ingredients in paint. Understand why your painting contractor recommends certain types of paint that have VOC’s.


  1. When will the paint be dry?
  2. How long will the paint fumes last?  
  3. How can I remove the paint smell from my house?
  4. When is it safe to sleep in the freshly painted room?

The answer to these questions depends on the type of paint that you use.  A painting contractor will have the expertise to know which type of paint is best for each surface material application.  First, learn the precautions you need to take before, during and after the painting has been completed.


  • Solvent
  • Binder
  • Pigment
  • Extender
  • Additives


Add solvent to paint and it gives it viscosity. All other ingredients dissolve in the solvent and it becomes a liquid.  The two common types of solvents are water-borne and organic solvents from petrochemical feedstock. 

Binder is a polymer resin that holds the pigment in place.  Pigment is what gives the paint its color.  Extender is larger particles of pigment that saves on binder, improves adhesion and strengthens the paint film when dried. 

Additives are extra ingredients that enhance attributes of the paints performance. The reason why some paints dry quicker or are more resistant to mold or UV rays is because of the additives that are particular to that brand of paint.


  • Acrylic
  • Alkyd
  • Epoxy

The type of paint is based on the type of binder and solvent that is in the paint. Latex paint has acrylic binder and is a water-borne emulsion. Oil-based paint uses an alkyd binder.  Epoxy has an epoxy binder and is carried in a solvent or as dispersion in water as a true emulsion.


You can apply latex paint to both interior and exterior surfaces.  Unlike oil-based paint that has a thick enamel, latex paint requires an extender to improve adhesion and increase the strength of the film. Latex paint has low VOC’s or zero VOC’s.

Oil-based paint is best for priming raw wood, concealing stains, and coating surfaces that are high traffic areas.  It will dry into a smooth glossy finish and has a hard enamel that is more resistant. For these reasons it is a great product for cabinets, doors and trim. The downside is that these paints have VOC’s in the solvent that produce very strong vapors that can be harmful to your health.

Commercial painters use Epoxy for industrial coatings. Residential painters use it for interior concrete floors. Most homeowners don’t use epoxy unless it is for their garage floor or basement floor. The majority of products are epoxy resin in an organic solvent rather than water. First you add a hardening agent to the epoxy. It self levels after application and eventually cures depending on the temperature.


Latex paint can typically dry within an hour or less in room temperature.  To speed the process you can increase the heat in the room and thus speed up the process of the evaporation of the water-borne solvent.

Oil-based paints don’t contain water to evaporate.  Instead, there is a slow chemical process that takes place as the binder in the oil-based solvent polymerizes when it comes into contact with oxygen.  The process can take up to 24 – 48 hours.

Epoxy usually cures within 72 hours. It is best to keep the temperature warm and let it cure slowly. Epoxy is similar to oil-based paint in the fact that it is more of a chemical reaction rather than water evaporation process.


If your painting contractor is using latex paint there won’t be any strong paint fumes. Alleviate any smell you are sensitive to with minimal ventilation. There are no hazardous vapors to worry about. You can also mask any smell with a scented candle or incense.

On the other hand, if your painting contractor is using oil-based paint there will be strong vapors. It is important to first shut off the central air prior to painting so that these vapors are not recirculating in the home. If possible, shut a door to contain the vapors and open windows inside of the work area to dilute the air. The painters should be using a respirator and take intermittent breaks to breathe fresh air.

Ventilate and control the air circulation to dilute the contaminated air. Even after the oil-based paint has dried the smell from outgassing will persist. Avoid sleeping in the painted room for 2 – 3 days.


There are a few extra precautions that you can take for anyone concerned about the health hazards of VOC’s. The most common method as I have discussed is ventilation. Control the air space that has contaminates and dilute with fresh air by opening the windows. You can try some of the following techniques as well to speed up the process.


One easy way to clean the air in your home is with an air filtration system. If you don’t want to invest that much you can just follow this simple hack. Order a 20″ x 20″ Merv 13 HEPA filter and use duct tape to secure it to the back of a 20″ box fan. The box fan will pull the air through the HEPA filter and catch particles that are in the air. Run the filter fan in the controlled space with the windows open.


Materials such as activated charcoal or zeolites can be placed into a room to remove odors from mildew or chemical fumes. These materials do not give off an odor to mask the smell. Instead, the VOC vapors from the oil-based paint will bond with these materials because of Van der Waals force and be removed from the air and materials in your home. To learn more about adsorption click here.


Your painting contractor has finished the job. Now you can begin to bake-out the vapors by closing all windows and turning on the heat. Set the thermostat to 95 degrees and let all of the materials in the home heat up. After about 8 hours open all of the windows and doors and blow fresh air into the home with a fan and pull air out of the home with a fan. Continue this process for a few days. Click here to learn more about how to bake-out your home.