Painting protects and makes our things look nice, but paints and paint thinners (solvents) can be harmful for you, your whānau, and the environment.
111 in an emergency
Healthline on 0800 611 116 for medical advice
National Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 for poisons advice
Make sure you are using the right paint or thinner for your job. Water-based paints are often safer than other paints, but sometimes you'll need to use a different kind of paint for a special job – like painting a car or boat.
Before you start
Before you buy any paint or thinner, get advice from an expert and read the instructions on the product's label to learn how to use it safely.
In general, you should always:
- wear gloves and long clothes to stop paint getting on your skin
- keep a window open if you are working inside to make sure you are breathing fresh air
- keep children or pets well away while you are working – they may get paint on them that could make them sick
- only put enough paint in your tray to get the job done: this will save you wasting expensive paint and make it easier to clean up later.
When you are finished
Get advice from your paint supplier about the best way to clean up when you are done.
- First, use old rags or newspaper to clean as much paint as possible from your gear. Let the dirty rags or newspaper dry overnight, then carefully put them in with your household rubbish to be thrown away.
- Never wash paint down the drain.
- If you are soaking bushes or other painting equipment in turpentine, make sure you do this somewhere children can’t get to.
Getting rid of unused paint
Often when you finish a painting project, you can have paint left over that you want to get rid of.
- Check the instructions on the paint tin label to see how you can do this safely.
- Ask at your local paint store to see if it has a paint recycling programme.
- You can also contact your local council to see if there is a recycling centre that takes old paint.
Storing paints and thinners
Paints and thinners can be flammable, and some can make you sick if you swallow them, breath their fumes, or get them on your skin. Keep yourself, others, and the environment safe by storing paints and thinners carefully.
- Store paints and thinners in a secure place that children and pets can’t get to – on a high shelf in a locked shed is a good place.
- Try to limit the amount you keep at home.
- Keep all paint and thinners in their original tins or bottles. It is dangerous to put them in other containers, especially food or drink containers.
You can get sick or even die from inhaling paint thinners
It is very dangerous to breath in paint thinners on purpose. Even doing it just once could kill you or make you very sick. Doing it regularly over a long time could damage your brain, nervous system, and other organs. Never inhale paint thinners on purpose.
If you think someone is sick from inhaling paint or thinners, call 111 straight away to get an ambulance.
You can find out more about the dangers of paint thinners on The Poisons Centre website.
Beware of lead in old paint
Lead was common in paint until the 1980s. Lead can make people sick. It is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. If you need to remove old paint, first get it tested to see if it has lead in it. Sometimes people paint straight over old paint, so even if the top layer is new paint, there may be old lead-based paint underneath.
There are three ways to have your paint tested:
- Your paint store or local pharmacy might test paint.
- You can buy a kit to test the paint yourself. Some pharmacies and hardware stores sell these test kits.
- Your local public health unit will test the paint for free. Find your local public health unit on the Public Health Unit Contacts webpage of the Ministry of Health website.
If your old paint has lead in it, you need to take special care to keep yourself and others safe while you remove the paint.
Some modern paint also contains lead. All modern paints must clearly say on their labels if they contain lead. Always read the labels carefully before you use any paint.