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Spray Paint Fumes

  • Overview
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • Symptoms of Spray Paint Fumes
  • Spray Paint Fume Extraction
  • OSHA Spray Paint Regulations
  • Hygiene Report


Spray paint fumes can present several occupational health hazards to the operator as well as anyone in the immediate vicinity. These health hazards are common because most professional-grade spray paint cans contain VOCs. According to the US EPA , these compounds are composed of several different chemicals that have short and long term health effects of the individuals exposed to the spray paint fumes.

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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are organic chemical compounds whose composition makes it possible for them to evaporate under normal atmospheric conditions. These compounds are emitted as gases and/or vapors from certain solids or liquids and include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and/or long-term adverse health effects.1

Harmful VOCs are typically not acutely toxic, but instead have compounding long-term health effects. Researching their effects is difficult because the concentrations are usually low and the symptoms are slow to develop.5

List of Common Volatile Organic Compounds(VOCs)

  • Acetic Acid - vinegar
  • Acetone - nail polish remover, furniture polish and wallpaper
  • Alcohol - common solvent for home and professional use
  • Butanal - candles, barbecues and gas stoves
  • Carbon Disulfide - chlorinated tap water
  • Ethanol - glass cleaners, dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents and many other cleaners
  • Formaldehyde - molded plastics and lacquers
  • Methylene Chloride - paint removers, aerosol solvents and other flame retardant chemicals
  • Toluene - crude oil, and is used in oil refining and the manufacturing of paints, lacquers, explosives (TNT) and glues
  • Xylene - airplane fuel and gasoline

Symptoms of Spray Paint Fumes

Common VOCs found in most spray paints include Acetone, Xylene and Toluene. The chart below outlines exposure limits, symptoms and organs affected by these VOCs.2

VOC Exposure Limits (ppm) Symptoms Organs Affected
Acetone NIOSH REL: TWA 250
Irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; headache, dizziness, central nervous systems depression; dermatitis Eyes, skin, respiratory systems, central nervous system
Xylene NIOSH REL: TWA 100
Irritation to the eyes, skin, nose and throat; dizziness, excitement, drowsiness, incoordination, staggering gait; corneal vacuolization; anorexia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain; dermatitis Eyes, skin, respiratory systems, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, blood, liver and kidneys
Toluene NIOSH REL: TWA 100
Irritation to the eyes, nose; weakness, exhaustion, confusion, euphoria, dizziness, headache; dilated pupils, lacrimation; anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia; paresthesia; dermatitis; liver, kidney damage Eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system, liver, kidneys

Common symptoms reported by occupants exposed to VOCs:

  • Itchy, watery, or burning eyes
  • Skin irritations or rashes
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

The degree to which a chemical exposure can affect health depends on:

  • How much of the chemical is present in the building / building air
  • How often a person comes into contact with the chemical
  • How harmful the chemical is to human health
  • How sensitive a person is to the chemical

While chemical concentrations are typically [recorded] at low levels, severe symptoms are possible under extreme [concentrations]. Severe symptoms include kidney and liver damage, and damage to the central nervous system.4

Spray Paint Fumes

The basic principles for controlling the occupational environment consist of substitution of less hazardous materials; isolation of the hazard; and the use of local and general exhaust ventilation to remove contaminants from the workroom. Experience has shown that occupational hazards can be controlled by the use of one or more of these principles. 6

Ventilation is one of the most important engineering controls available to the industrial hygienist for improving or maintaining the quality of the air in the occupational work environment. Broadly defined, ventilation is a method of controlling the environment with air flow.7

When choosing a ventilation system, make sure to gather sufficient information about air volume and performance. Strong suction at the inlet of the booth is important as it will provide an effective source capture and containment of overspray particulates. This results in protecting the operator’s breathing zone as well as preventing unwanted spray particulate and odors from entering the general work area.

Sentry Air Systems, Inc. provides this information as a customer service, but cannot be responsible for its accuracy or completeness. It is recommended that competent legal authorities as well as safety and hygiene professionals be consulted.

OSHA Spray Paint Regulations

OSHA defines a spraying area as “any area in which dangerous quantities of flammable vapors or mists, or combustible residues, dusts or deposits are present due to the operation of spraying processes.”8-a

In order to reduce exposure to these hazardous compounds, OSHA recommends that “all spraying areas [should] be provided with mechanical ventilation adequate to remove flammable vapors, mists, or powders to a safe location and to confine and control combustible residues so that life is not endangered. Mechanical ventilation shall be kept in operation at all times while spraying operations are being conducted and for a sufficient time thereafter to allow vapors from drying coated articles and drying finishing material residue to be exhausted.”8-b

An example of a proper ventilation system is a spray booth. OSHA defines a spray booth as “a power-ventilated structure provided to enclose or accommodate a spraying operation to confine and limit the escape of spray, vapor, and residue, and to safely conduct or direct them to an exhaust system.”8-c

For light-use spray paint touch ups, a ductless spray hood is a comparable and oftentimes less expensive alternative to ducted exhaust units. Ductless spray hoods act as a respiratory safety engineering control for the extraction and purification of aerosol spray paint fumes and particulate. While OSHA does not have explicit regulations regarding the definition and standards of ductless ventilation systems, these units utilize a series of pre-filters and filters to adequately remove hazardous particulates before air is vented back into the room; removing the need to duct into an exhaust line.

Hygiene Report

Sentry Air Systems designs and manufactures high quality air purification and fume extraction systems. To demonstrate how effective our products are at removing hazardous fumes from workspace air, we use third parties to test our products.

The industrial hygiene reports listed below were specifically tested on commonly used VOCs in spray paint.

The reports below detail how our ductless spray hoods stand against rigorous testing.


  1. "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)" EPA. Environmental Protection Agency

  2. "NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards" CDC. Center for Disease Control

  3. "Spray Operations" OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  4. "Indoor Environmental Quality" CDC. Center for Disease Control

  5. "Volatile Organic Compound". Wikipedia

  6. "Recommended Preventative and Control Measures to Reduce the Risk of Obstructive Lung Disease among Workers in the Microwave Popcorn Packaging Industry" OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  7. "Ventilation". OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  8. "Spray finishing using flammable and combustible materials". OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration