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  • Solvent toxicity in oil paintingApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2018-01-30 17:25:17 ... Most recent comment 2018-01-31 17:31:55
    Health and Safety Oil Paint Solvents and Thinners

    ​It's fairly easy to find information regarding Chronic Solvent-induced Encephalopathy/Chronic Painter's Syndrome. CSE is a nervous system disorder that is characterized by cognitive impairment and other psychological changes following long-term exposure to organic solvents, even below threshold levels.

    A question that comes to my mind is: how much at risk are artists? All CSE studies I've read involved industrial painters/cleaners who inhaled a lot of xylene, toluene, mineral spirits, and other substances as a part of their daily work routine. However, most oil painters nowadays would likely be exposed to at least one kind of organic solvent on a daily basis as well. I was wondering if there is any information regarding the following products:

    • Odorless Mineral Spirits (the regular mineral spirits are already known to most likely cause CSE)
    • Turpentine
    • Oil of spike lavender
    • Naphtha

    and other solvents likely to be found in the studio, with regards to the neurological damage they can cause? How much turpentine/OMS/etc. can I inhale on a daily basis without risking health damage? Is there any substance on the list which is safe given chronic exposure? (I read that oil of spike lavender is supposedly safe, but retain some scepticism, given its solvent strength)

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Much of the apparent solvent strength of spike oil has to do with its very slow evaporation rate and, therefore, ability to swell/dissolve the lower layers over time. This is really unrelated to whether it is a health hazard or not. We have forwarded your question to our Health and Safety experts/ moderators.

    Brian Baade
    2018-01-30 18:53:27
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    The 2008 study, Allergic contact hobby dermatitis from turpentine (Barchino-Ortiz L, Cabeza-Martínez R, Leis-Dosil VM, Suárez-Fernández RM, Lázaro-Ochaita P.) details some of the health consequences of turpentine exposure by painters. ('Boo hiss' for the term 'hobby') A 2002 review of toxicology literature for turpentine can be downloaded here:​

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2018-01-30 19:11:17
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Here are 3 references for Stoddard Solvent (mineral spirits):

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2018-01-30 19:16:42
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Exposure limits aren't really as simple as what volume of a chemical you can use in a day. The simplest answer is that you should reduce your exposure to ANY chemical to the lowest amount possible, with proper ventilation and personal protective equipment (goggles, gloves, respirator). 

    Every chemical you use should have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) available from the manufacturer. The exposure limit for inhalation will be listed on there as a concentration in air in parts per million (ppm) as either a TLV (Threshold Limit Value) or PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit). These values are the concentration that you could be exposed to --if you worked 8-hours a day, day after day, over a work lifetime--without seeing health effects. Not every chemical has a TLV or PEL. Also, there's no real way to know what concentration is in your work space without instrumentation as it depends on the ventilation, your work practices, evaporation rate of the chemical, etc.

    The lower the TLV, the more toxic the chemical. So for example both Odorless Mineral Spirits and Turpentine have TLVs=100ppm, whereas ethanol is 1000ppm.

    The SDS will also include any information on health risks associated with the chemical (neurological, reproductive, carninogenicity). However, it will be based on available data, and for a lot of chemicals there isn't enough research. So, just because a health effect isn't listed, doesn't mean there isn't one---could be there just isn't any data available.

    As for oil of spike lavendar, there isn't a TLV value and it looks like different manufacturers have different formulations. The one from DickBlick states: "High density vapor irritates respiratory organ, and induces dizziness, headache, anesthesia, slumber or the effect to central nervous system. Spirit of petroleum: Chronical excess inhalation in long time of mist induces inflammation of lung, and may cause fibrosis on pulmonary artery." Which would pretty much keep me from using it in any situation were there wasn't proper ventilation. Another lists limonene as a component, which is a controversial chemical because it's marketed as a "safe and natural" alternative. There is no US exposure value, but European values are 5ppm (remember turpentine is 100ppm and lower is more toxic.) There are lots of "natural" things that are poisonous.

    Inhalation is just one route of exposure (probably the most relavant for artists if you're just using artist's materials in a normal way), but ingestion and absorption are other routes, which is why personal protection and proper work practices are so important. There's no way to know if one particular person will develop a health problem or solvent sensitivity when another will not.

    Kerith Koss Schrager
    2018-01-30 22:54:54
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    Thank you for the answers, everyone.​

    2018-01-31 17:31:55

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