Many paints have toxic components that cause concern for personal and environmental health. With acrylic paints increasing in popularity, they can have toxicity concerns as well. If you are planning on using acrylic paints, take note of which ones pose a toxic threat.

Some acrylic paints are toxic because they contain components that cause skin irritation, respiratory issues, organ failure, or cancer. However, there are non-toxic acrylic paints available that are generally safer to use. In all cases, any kind of acrylic paint should be kept out of reach of children and pets and used in well-ventilated areas.

Ultimately, it is best to know more about the specific toxicity of a product that you are using. Read on below to find out what you should know.

Is Acrylic Paint Toxic?

Acrylic paint is water-based with suspended, granular pigment particles that are dispersed in the paint. The pigments are organic, inorganic, natural, or synthetic. 

A clear acrylic polymer acts as a binder that keeps the pigment in place once the water evaporates and the paint dries. The clear polymer creates a film-like barrier that keeps the pigment in place, resulting in a water-resistant, permanent seal.


While some formulations of acrylic paint are labeled as non-toxic, unfortunately, others are toxic. This poses dangers or risks to human, animal, and environmental health.

These risks are highest if acrylic paint is consumed, sanded, heated, inhaled, or dispersed into the air (spray painting or off-gassing fumes).

Water-based paints are generally safer, yet some acrylic paints contain harmful ingredients such as lead, chromium, cadmium, cobalt, or manganese. For example, lead is regulated in the United States, but if your paint comes from overseas, it could be in the formulation. 

Some paints have other heavy metals that are linked to cancer or organ disease. They can accumulate in the body and if exposed to them in high quantities could cause fatal organ failure.

Conversely, even non-toxic acrylic paints can cause skin irritations or allergic reactions. 

Acrylics are thermoplastics which means that they have a plastic compound that can soften with heat and harden when cooled. If acrylic paint is heated up, it will release chemicals into the air that are not safe to breathe.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paints are popularly used to make beautiful and colorfully bold projects on a variety of surfaces such as metal, wood, and drywall.

There are several factors to consider when choosing acrylic paint. 

When health is at the forefront of your mind, consider the ingredients used in the formula and any toxins that could be present. 

Consider where you are working on the project and the safety precautions that should be implemented.   

Viscosity, quality, and the drying time of acrylic paints are also good things to consider when choosing them for your project.

Formula Ingredients

Acrylic paints are water-based, but this does not mean they are all non-toxic.  

Overall formulations can vary by color and brand of paint. Generally, they are about 40% water, and 30% polymer binder and the rest are pigments and additives.  

Check the label for the presence of heavy metals such as lead, chromium, cobalt, manganese, or cadmium. 

If they do contain these, make sure to keep them out of your mouth, and off of your skin, and do not spray them since this will disperse fine particles into the air (and then into your lungs).

Polymer binders contain ammonia which is toxic to breathe in and can harm wildlife and the environment. Follow the usage instructions on the paint’s label.

Toxin Presence

Refer to the product label to look at the formulas and the presence of any toxins. Look for “non-toxic”, ASTM, or AP information. 

ASTM stands for the “American Society for Testing and Materials”. This international organization uses standards to evaluate the safety of products for consumer use.

You may also see an Approved Product (AP) seal, which identifies art products that are safe and certified as the result of a toxicological evaluation. These could have some toxins, such as heavy metals, but not at a level to cause significant harm.

If your acrylic paint has toxins in it that are harmful either to humans, wildlife, or environmental health, you must dispose of it properly. 

Generally speaking, this means that you should not pour paint down the drain or onto the ground. It should be allowed to dry out naturally, or by adding cat litter to absorb the leftover paint. 

Once the paint has dried, it can be thrown away in the garbage. Conversely, many local towns and cities have collection days where they safely and responsibly recycle old paint for you.

Workplace Safety

Due to the presence of potential toxins and off-gassing fumes from acrylic paints, you should take precautions for workplace safety.

You should do the following when working with acrylic paints:

  • Block off the work area so that small children and pets cannot enter
  • Open windows to create a well-ventilated area
  • Wear rubber gloves
  • Wash any paint splatters off of your skin immediately
  • If sanding a surface, work outdoors
  • Wear a painting respirator or mask to avoid breathing in dust or paint particles
  • If possible, opt for acrylic colors that do not have harmful pigments (more on that below)

Viscosity Or Consistency 

The viscosity, or consistency, of acrylic paints, can vary. Paints of various viscosities can be mixed to create a custom blend. 

Generally, there are 4 levels of viscosity:

  1. Heavy-Body: Very thick, like oil-based paint, applied with a brush or a knife; often used for fine detail work
  2. Fluid: Thick liquid, but spreadable with a brush or sponge for use with fine detail work or coverage over large areas
  3. Ultra-Fluid: Primarily fluid; applied with pipette-dropper; used often for blotting, watercolor, or staining
  4. Misted: Aerosolized spray paint

Choose the paint thickness that works best for your particular project. Misted acrylic paint can pose the greatest concern for respiratory health. However, all consistencies should be used in a well-ventilated area regardless.

Overall Quality 

The overall quality of acrylic paint is another factor to consider when choosing which one to use. Acrylic paints come in student- or artist-grade for crafting or painting. Others are designed to be used for large areas such as drywall.

The grade, brand, formulation, and so on can all affect price and quality. First, you should choose a paint that works for the surface that you wish to paint. Then, read reviews and become an informed consumer to get the best quality and price.

Drying Time

Since acrylic paints are water-based they can dry-to-the-touch very quickly anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. However, it can take longer if the paint has a thick viscosity or if it is a humid day. 

It is important to note, that even though paint feels dry, it may not be fully cured (hardened) for a couple of days. It is recommended that you wait a couple of days before using the painted object.

If acrylics dry too quickly, it can make your project difficult to cover evenly if you end up overlapping applications or if you are trying to blend it with other colors.

Advantages Of Using Acrylic Paint

Consumers find that there are many advantages to using acrylic paint.

These include the following:

  • Versatility: Acrylics can be used on a variety of oil- and wax-free materials and surfaces.
  • Quick-Drying: Acrylic paints can dry to the touch in as little as 10 minutes.
  • Easy To Clean: They are water-soluble, making it easy to clean up and wash off while it is still wet.
  • Less Toxic: Many formulations are less toxic than other paint options.
  • Customization: Acrylic paints can be mixed to get different shades and textures.
  • Durability: Acrylics harden to surfaces, yet are more flexible meaning that they do not easily crack or peel.
  • Water- & Ultraviolet Light-Resistant: Once dry, acrylic paints are water-resistant and are not prone to yellowing with UV-light exposure.

Risks to Consider When Using Acrylic Paint

There are some risks to consider when using acrylic paint. This includes issues if it comes into contact with your skin, is breathed in as particles or fumes, ingested, or is used around children and pets.

Contact With Skin

As mentioned, acrylic paints can contain toxins, heavy metals, or allergens. If these come into contact with the skin, they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Increased or prolonged exposure to these can cause organ failure. Both toxic and non-toxic formulations of acrylic paint can also cause skin irritations or allergic reactions.

If you get paint on your skin, it can be washed off with soap and warm water, however, the act of scrubbing the paint off could also cause skin irritation. Acrylic paints are not recommended for use as body or face paint.

It is best to wear gloves to avoid any skin issues.

Breathing Acrylic Paint

Breathing in acrylic paint particles or fumes can be harmful to the respiratory systems of adults, children, and pets.

For example, manganese is an essential trace mineral that is consumed and found in foods such as whole grains and leafy green vegetables. However, if it is inhaled, it is toxic to the nervous system.

Breathing in acrylic paints fumes or particles can cause issues such as headache, dizziness, or nausea. 

To avoid these problems, work spread should be well-ventilated, and consider wearing a paint respirator or mask.

Children Safety

Even if you are using non-toxic paints they should be kept out of the reach of children at all times. Toxic and non-toxic paints are not intended to be consumed. 

Children often put their hands in their mouths, and so should be kept out of your work area until the paint has fully dried.

Exposure to chemicals via the mouth or inhalation can be even more harmful to children’s smaller and still-developing bodies. Children’s skin tends to be more sensitive to substances as well.

If young children want to help you paint, it is best to only use paints that are labeled as safe for them to use.  

Harm To Pets

Acrylic paints can cause harm to pets, including non-toxic ones. Animals respond to chemicals, heavy metals, fumes, and more at a high-sensitivity level.

Pets are also curious by nature and will wander into work areas. If they brush up against wet paint or step into it, they will try to lick it off, ingesting things that they should not. 

Also, animals can smell thousands of times better than we can, and these odors can make them sick.

With exposure to paint, pets can show symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, lethargy, tremor, diarrhea, depression, or difficulty with breathing or motor function.

Take extra precautions when painting around pets. Keep them out of the work area until it is fully dry. Consider keeping them in a closed-door bedroom with water and ventilation while you work. 

Paint in a well-ventilated area as well, and keep all paint products and tools in storage out of reach when you are done.

Cancerous Concerns

Acrylic paints can contain carcinogens that with high exposure could increase the likelihood of cancer. Typically, non-toxic formulations of acrylic paint will not have any scientifically recognized carcinogens in them.

For example, cadmium is a colorant used in some acrylic paint formulations. It is a probable carcinogen that is considered toxic. Titanium dioxide is another ingredient that is considered a possible carcinogen.

Accidental Swallowing

Accidental swallowing of acrylic paint can mean that heavy metals and other toxins have been ingested. Contact poison control for help if this happens. Make sure you have the product’s list of ingredients to get the right kind of help.  

Ingestion can cause digestive issues such as vomiting, heartburn, and diarrhea. A person may experience irritation throughout the digestive system such as in the mouth, throat, or stomach.

Excessive amounts of certain chemicals or heavy metals can lead to organ damage or failure or death.

If someone is allergic to any of the ingredients, this could result in hives or more severe cases an anaphylactic reaction.

What Are Some Non-Toxic Acrylic Paints To Use?

Non-toxic paints are less likely to cause issues overall. If you are concerned about safety, there are some options that you can use to keep yourself, your children, and your pets safer.  

Look for paints that have safety certifications such as an AP certification, ASTM testing, and a non-toxic label. Even then, read the ingredients list to see what is in there, including if you are trying to avoid a known allergen.  

Arteza Acrylic Paint 

Arteza Acrylic Paint comes in a set of various rich-pigmented colors in squeezable tubes. These are certified with an AP non-toxic seal and are ACMI-certified. These paints are non-fading, smooth, and consistent.

Each tube is labeled with a color name, pigment information, lightfastness rating, and transparency level. Each tube also has a screw-tight cap. 

This paint has a high viscosity for mixing and creating texture, with a light-resistant and glossy finish once it dries.

Speedball Acrylic Paint

Speedball Acrylic Paints are professional AP-certified paints. They are acid-, cobalt-, and cadmium-free and available in a large variety of colors. 

These paints are lightfast and easy to mix. They also offer screen-printing paint, bases, and primers to make customizable colors or set up a foundation for your project.

FolkArt Acrylic Paint

FolkArt Acrylic Paints come in easy-to-use squeeze bottles, in a large variety of colors. They are commonly found in craft stores or aisles. 

These are non-toxic and AP-certified. They take longer to dry making them ideal for blending and mixing, and are highly pigmented for excellent coverage. 

They offer a matte finish and can be used on surfaces such as wood, paper, styrofoam, and more.

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