Bad-smelling oil paints – All Questions Solved

There are many beginners who don’t try to start oil painting because they think it is bad for their health. But there are so many other things that make oil painting an ideal medium of painting.

Today, oil paints that are made by manufacturers are no more that much toxic because they aren’t allowed to use mercury and other toxic elements during production.

One of the concepts which are closely related to health is that oil paints smell so bad. Are your oil paints expired? If not, then why does your oil paint smell so bad?

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why is my oil paint smell so bad?

Oil paints itself have a very little smell but when they get used by so many other materials like solvents, mineral spirits, and paint thinners, they start generating bad smell. Quality of oil paints can also affect, poor quality of oil paints contains bad smell

There is so much content about the smell of oil paints on Google. I want to let you know that there are two words generating with the same search, the first is oil paint and the second is oil-based paint.

Oil-based paints are used by painters to paint a wall. They contain bad smells which usually mispronounce by us and we thought the same about oil paints.

If you are thinking that your oil paints are expired then I want to let you know that expired oil paints don’t cause a bad smell. Oil paints turn hard in the tube which is an indication of expiry but in that condition, they lose their original smell but do not smell bad.

Causes of oil paint smell

There can be several reasons that your oil paint is smelling so bad

  • Your oil paint may be poor in quality, poor quality means it contains a high amount of volatile organic compounds that can generate a bad smell and they can also be toxic.
  • You are using turpentine with oil paints. As turpentine also has a toxic smell which is really bad to breathe.
  • Linseed oil also contains a bad smell, 70% of artists use linseed oil for so many purposes and there is a high use of it which can be a fair reason for the bad smell. Oil paints that come from manufacturers also contain some quantity of linseed oil which can also cause a little bit of smell but this is not going to be toxic.
  • Some of the pigments have their own distinctive smell which can cause irritation only for those who have a strong sense of smell.
  • The presence of a dryer in oil paint can also make it smell bad. The dryer is added in those oil paints which come with a branding of “fast drying oil paints”.
  • The addition of mineral spirits (especially those which you buy from the hardware stores) with paints can also cause a bad smell.

If you have really added some mineral spirits, solvents, and thinners then for sure they will smell bad. But if you have not added them yet but they are still smelling bad, it must be a cheap brand. Original oil paints smell like little bit itchy but not enough to irritate you.

How long does it take for an oil paint smell to go away

First, you need to understand the difference between oil paints and oil-based paints because oil-based paints are those which use for wall paintings and they usually dry within 24 to 48 hours.

But, how long does it take for an oil paint smell to go away? “Oil paints are slow dryers and they will cause a bad smell till they are wet. An average drying time of an oil paint layer can be 2 days up to a week. It means, within a week, you will get rid of the oil paint smell

Oil paints usually emit quite a bad smell only when turpentine has been added. To reduce the smell, you can open the window of the studio to create a path for ventilation. You can also use an exhaust fan which can be a lifesaver here. Just turn the exhaust On when you feel a bad smell.

This bad smell can be toxic if the oil paint has been added with turpentine or any other mineral spirit. If you don’t know, turpentine is a traditional solvent that allows artists to dilute the oil paint and dry it quickly. Turpentine helps the oil paint to evaporate at a faster rate but this evaporation causes toxic fumes which are highly bad for health.

how to get rid of the oil paint smell

If you are allergic to or irritated with the oil paint smell then don’t worry because there are so many techniques that can help to get rid of it.

The oil paint smell can be minimized if you allow some air to enter the studio. Open the window if there is any then turn the fan ON and get it out of the room. Baking soda can also be used to absorb this bad smell, Mix some baking soda in water and put it in a ball, and place the bowl near the oil paint or the painting. Leave it overnight for the best results.

If only oil paint is causing a smell without adding any solvent, then your oil paint is highly volatile organic compounds. VOCs have high vapor pressure which helps them to easily mix in the air. Just change your oil paints because mostly cheaper oil paints have such characteristics.

Removing any bad smell from your oil painting is not going to affect the artwork but it can save you from many health risks. You can use an air purifier which is the same as an exhaust fan or you can say it is an updated version of an exhaust.

If you want to read these complete procedures in detail then you can read how to remove the oil paint smell from the room.

Is oil paint smell bad during pregnancy

Yes, working with oil paints during pregnancy is hazardous, not just for you but also for your baby. If you are a professional artist and still want to work during pregnancy then you should have to follow these important things to avoid any risk for your baby

  • First of all, minimize your work routine. If you were given 8 hours of the day to work then just minimize them and separate them into two shifts of two hours. Now, you have to work 4 hours.
  • Always use a face mask to avoid any contact with toxic fumes.
  • Skip the use of turpentine as I have seen so many artists who don’t use turpentine but they still create a lot of wonderful paintings. The reason is that turpentine is the most toxic solvent, and you can use other solvents such as petroleum spirits or a paint thinner.
  • Working with oil paints can be stressful, so don’t give hard time to yourself and take a rest when you start taking stress.

Side effects of oil paint fumes

Oil paint fumes can only create side effects when they are mixed with solvents such as turpentine. Otherwise, they will not generate any side effects for you.

Oil paint fumes with solvents can cause the following problems

  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Allergic reaction
  • Pain in throat

You can read more here about the health-related effects of oil paint.

Is oil paint smell bad for children

Yes, every oil paint product comes with an age range that is mostly for adults only. Even the smell of student-grade oil paints can also affect children who are below 6 years.

Children must be strongly forbidden to enter the studio. They are always in search of new things to play with. there only does oil paint smell cannot be bad but also they can eat the oil paint which can create severe conditions. Eating oil paint can lead to digestive and lung issues which will be hard to cure.

If you found your child playing with oil paints then you should immediately concern with a doctor or a specialist to seek medical advice.

Is oil paint smell bad for Cats and Dogs

Yes, this smell can be harmful to dogs and cats or any other pet. I have seen a lot of artists who allow their pets to come into the studio, they even take pictures of them playing with oil paints.

Dogs always smell things first which can make them sick after some days. You should not let your pets play with oil paints.

What does oil paint smell look like

“Oil paints have a smell like a fish. This smell is caused by the addition of vegetable oils and also because of the Volatile Organic Compounds”

This smell does not remain the same because some oil paints also have a fine smell due to the change in the pigment. But mostly, they smell like fish or fish liver oil. This smell is not harmful to the health unless you add some solvents to it.

Final Words

I am glad that you have taken it seriously to research the oil paint smell. The truth is that the oil paint smell is itself not harmful. If it has a bad smell without adding any solvent or mineral spirit then don’t worry because it will go to create an impact on your health.

The only thing you have to take care of is that when you mix oil paint with turpentine or another mineral spirit then it generates highly toxic fumes which are harmful not just to you but also to children, pets, and the environment.

Health is linked with your understanding of the toxicity of solvents, mineral spirits, and other thinners. Just quit the use of turpentine from your oil painting technique and start using any substitute. In this way, you don’t have to get worried about anything.


How to tell if oil paint is bad

First of all, check the manufacturing and expiry date then take some amount out of the tube. If you notice any oil layer separating from the oil paint then your oil paint is bad.

What does linseed oil smells like

Linseed oil has a fish or fish liver oil-like smell.

What does turpentine smell look like

Turpentine has a strong, itchy, and pine-like scent.

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