If you are an avid painter, you must be familiar with the various kinds of paints and thinners available in the retail market.
You have latex-based paints, wax-based, oil-based, and many others based on your needs.
A lot of house painters and DIYers prefer oil-based over any other kind of paint.
Paint thinner is specifically made for oil-based paints and is used for various purposes like:
- Cleaning paint stains from the surface
- Keeping the paint from drying and cracking
- Dissolving the paint and also reducing its thick consistency
Despite the popular use of paint thinner, it poses an enormous threat to those who are in constant contact with it.
It contains dangerous hydrocarbons that can cause irreparable damage to your respiratory and nervous systems.
Long exposure to paint thinners can also lead to lung inflammation, irregular cardiac activity, liver, or kidney failure, and in the worst scenario, it can even cause anemia or leukemia.
Yet, the biggest disadvantage of the paint thinner is its flammability.
How Flammable is Paint Thinner?
There have been certain unfortunate incidents in the past involving paint thinners.
According to OSHA, a paint thinner is considered a category 3 flammable object with a flashpoint of range 73.4-140 F.
These categories are based on the flashpoint and boiling point of the material.
The fact is they comprise volatile hydrocarbons which makes them combustible, rather than extremely flammable.
The difference between flammable and combustible is that flammable objects catch fire easily, even at normal working temperatures.
Whereas combustible liquids tend to catch the fire at higher temperatures that are usually above working temperatures.
Since paint thinners are said to be flammable and tend to pose a danger to everyone these should be stored and handled with the utmost care.
What Makes Spray Paint Flammable?
Paint products such as aerosol paints, oil-based paints, and other solvent-based paints (like alkyd, epoxy, varnish, urethane, or polyurethane) are all considered to be flammable.
While water-based house paints (like latex, acrylic, or vinyl paint) are not flammable, oil-based paints when dried on the surface become non-flammable because their flammable solvent components have dissipated when they have gone through the drying process.
Spray paints are mostly made from three different materials that are: solvents, pigments, and propellants.
And these are the responsible materials that will make the paint flammable. The ratio in which they are present will majorly decide how flammable they are.
The greater the number of flammable materials present in the paint; the higher will be the flammability.
Particularly it’s the propellants or the gasses (such as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs) that force the paint out when sprayed.
If not used safely these can be dangerous and highly flammable.
Many house paints also include VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds. These can make the liquid paint evaporate even under normal atmospheric conditions.
When emitted as fumes, gasses, or vapors these can also prove hazardous.
10 Safety Tips While Working with Paint Thinners
Unless we get a better alternative, paint thinners, no matter how toxic and flammable, will still be a part of this industry.
So, it becomes our own responsibility to take proper care and precaution while working with paint thinners.
However, this won’t be hard to do with these 10 safety tips for the paint thinners:
1- Mix it With Paint Only
Paint thinners are highly reactive, and mixing them with something other than the paint can cause deadly reactions.
Hence it is recommended that you use these liquids only to mix/thin the paints (generally oil-based).
Also, make sure that you buy only a genuine products from a reliable paint store.
2- Make Use of Safety Equipment
The first step to protecting yourself from paint thinners is to make sure you wear safety equipment at all times.
You must wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from harmful fumes.
Respirators should be used to prevent harmful and toxic elements from entering your system.
3- Don’t Work with Them in Closed Spaces
It is inadvisable to use paint thinners in closed spaces.
This is because they release toxic fumes and strong chemicals, and prolonged exposure can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and breathing problems.
Continuous exposure may also lead to respiratory problems convulsions, unconsciousness, depression of the central nervous system, and other lifelong health diseases.
To prevent this, keep windows and doors open for more ventilation.
In case that is not possible, you can try exhaust fans or similar appliances.
4- Provide First aid to the Affected Person
If you are working with someone and notice intense coughing or any of the aforementioned symptoms, ask for medical help immediately.
The part of your body that was in contact should be immediately washed with cold water.
Do not hesitate to seek medical help as negligence can cause more complications.
5- Keep Paint Thinner Away from Acidic Substances
Paint thinners comprise harmful hydrocarbons that are highly reactive and combustible.
If someone were to come in contact with any acidic substance, it will have a toxic reaction and release harmful gases that are detrimental to health.
It’s good to not carry thinners if you are working close to acids like nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, carboxylic acid, sulfonic acid, etc.
6- Do Not Eat on Premises
Paint thinners are known to release toxic gases and poisonous fumes.
Edible items might get infused with toxins and gases and enter your bloodstream.
This can cause irreparable damage to your digestive system.
If possible, avoid eating in the room where the lacquer thinners are used. If you wish to eat, make sure you’re a few meters away from that area.
Your hands can also be dangerous if they have been in contact with paint thinners.
So, before you eat, wear clean latex gloves to avoid problems.
7- Do Not Take it Near Combustible Material
It is believed that a man once threw his cigar in a paint-thinner vessel.
This caused a terrifying fire at the house and ended up destroying the entire structure.
Therefore, it is necessary to keep the paint thinner away from all the combustible materials as this can cause a huge explosion.
It may lead to unforeseen casualties and damage.
8- Do Not Use it as a Cleaning Substance
Paint thinners are also used for floor, counter, or wall cleaning.
It is important to note that paint thinners contain extremely toxic substances.
Cleaning the counters with it is like inviting trouble. It can cause an explosive fire because of its flammable nature.
Apart from that, it can also damage the surfaces as it is highly reactive and corrosive.
9- Wash Thoroughly
Once you are done with using the paint thinner, look out for the remnants of it on your body or hands.
Wash them thoroughly with soap and cold water.
Not washing them properly may lead to infection through your mouth, and eyes, or cause skin irritability.
10- Proper Storage
The last safety tip is to store the paint thinner properly.
Since it is highly reactive and flammable, loose containers can cause leaking of gases and also reactions.
Keep it somewhere inaccessible and far from the reach of children, pregnant women, or anyone who might be at a greater risk.
For companies and commercial units who want to store the flammable thinners and other combustibles in bulk, there are also specially designed safety storage cabinets and services available that can hold more than 50 gallons of paint thinners.
Eco-Friendly Paint Thinners that are Less Flammable
With all the information in mind, you may be wondering whether there are any environmentally friendly paint thinners that are less flammable and less poisonous?
Fortunately, the answer is – Yes
With increasing risks associated with chemical-based flammable paint thinners and mineral solvents, many companies have already developed natural alternatives that are less toxic, and Eco-friendly.
Some of the best Eco-friendly thinners I have personally tried my hand on include:
- Eco Solve Paint Thinner
- Bioshield Citrus Thinner
- Real Milk Paint Citrus Solvent
- Klean-Strip Green Paint Thinner
- Sunnyside Green Envy Paint Thinner
- Eco-House Extra Mild Citrus Thinner
All of these are natural alternatives to highly toxic paint thinners and solvents that are also highly flammable.
Among all, citrus-based Bioshield Citrus Thinner is my top favorite as it comes with neutral pH which is mild on surfaces and safe for skin contact.
This also means that, unlike other harmful thinners, these do not irritate your skin.
Plus, as they are non-toxic and non-flammable they can easily be disposed of without any pollution.
The bottom line
Paint thinners are considered to be dangerous due to their ability to catch fire fast.
How fatal it can be will however depend on the type of thinner you are using and how much safety.
Plus, paint thinners can even kill you if inhaled in huge quantities.
There are also instances reported when people consumed (or ingested) it intentionally has caused fatal death.
The above-mentioned are just some safety tips to help you out in a harmful situation.
However, if you wish for more eco-friendly green alternatives like Bioshield Citrus thinner, Eco-solve, etc., they’re just a click away!
Since they limit pollution to a higher degree and are less flammable, not only these are good for the whole planet but also for your body.
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Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.