Go ahead and paint with a toddler in the home, but take precautions.

Are Paint Fumes Safe for a Toddler?

by Gina Poirier

Maybe you can withstand the odor of paint fumes when you're redecorating, but your little one is a fraction of your size and is much more sensitive to environmental toxins. As a parent, you'll want to be mindful by selecting paints carefully and applying them with caution. Learn more about what makes paint fumes dangerous and how your toddler can avoid them.

Bad Fumes: Volatile Organic Compounds

You probably know what volatile organic compounds smell like. Any time you catch a whiff of chemicals and start to get a headache or nausea, they're the likely culprit. The Environmental Protection Agency loosely describes them as "emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids." They're in practically everything, including paint, varnish, household cleaning products, upholstery, carpet, office equipment, mattresses and art supplies. Immediate health effects can include irritation of your eyes and sinus cavities, headache, allergic skin reaction, headaches and nausea. Long-term health effects include liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, as well as cancer. Scared? Don't freak out. Just be a more educated consumer who selects products carefully and uses them with care.

Oil-Based Vs. Latex Paints

Oil-based paints are common, particularly for outdoor use, because they dry hard and withstand moisture well. They are also loaded with lots of toxic VOCs. Water-soluble latex paints are relatively safer. However, they do emit formaldehyde, a VOC that can cause headaches, eyes and sinus irritation and allergic reactions.

Organic Paints

Some companies produce completely non-toxic paints that don't release any dangerous fumes. They aren't always as durable as long-lasting conventional paints, but they'll probably make you feel more at ease if you're worried about VOCs.

Safety Precautions

With your family's safety in mind, you might want to choose a paint with low VOCs or no VOCs. When applying the paint, it's best that your tot isn't present for the first 48 hours, when fumes are the most potent. You won't want him around wet paint anyway, fumes or not -- ingesting paint is a whole other danger! During and after paint application, keep the area well-ventilated. If indoors, use a box fan to direct fumes outside.

About the Author

Gina Poirier has a professional background in nonprofit administration and management, primarily with youth development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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