Painting Safely

When you paint with spray paint or acrylics it's super important to protect yourself and your health! I'm going to go over the safety issues and offer some solutions. You are responsible for making sure that you are safe and protected at all times. I want you to be happy and healthy, having lots of fun painting. To do that, you have to take precautions to protect yourself every time and place you paint.

Here are some of the issues you need to be aware of and do something about!

(P.S I haven't personally tried the products from every link I give you...that would be impossible!  I either paint outdoors, perhaps with a fan, or I paint in a garage with a downdraft table plus some fans, or in a room with a window and 3 different fans directing the airflow.  My next studio I will probably install an oven hood with a dust collector. I'll keep you posted on how it works.  But choose your products carefully! I haven't checked them all out.)


The first rule of painting is DON'T BREATHE PAINT!

The first thing to notice about where you are painting is the ventilation situation. In other words, is there enough airflow to remove the dust of your paint?

This is important with both spray paint and air brush. Even though the air brush paint is water based, it is still not good to breathe! Plus it's combined with other stuff like Windex, reducers, sealers etc that you don't want to be breathing.

There are many things that can help remove the paint dust and vapors from your air. The easiest thing to do if you have the opportunity is paint outdoors in gentle wind.

This is especially important when using spray paint cans and paints that have solvents in them. You want a wind that is gentle but constant. Put yourself in a place where the wind blows the dust away from you and does not disturb your work. Obviously this isn't something everyone can do; especially if it's too cold or too hot out. But it's worth looking for a good spot as your first option. Painting outdoors is always better because you have no walls and there's lots of places for the air to go.

You can work to moderate the wind and protect from dust and debris by folding paper or putting something else around the edges of your painting service, or partially blocking it in some other way. You can position yourself with a wall on one side to moderate the wind. You can modify the air flow with a fan or two. If it is possible for you to paint outdoors, take some time to look for an ideal spot and ways to modify things so that you can work comfortably. It's well worth your time!

If you cannot find an out door painting spot that works, you will need to paint indoors.

The next best place is somewhere with an open wall (or 2) Such as a garage with the door open. You will need something to direct the air out the door or out any window that may be around. Some options are fans, dust collectors, downdraft tables, spray booths, a shop vac and anything that sucks or blows air.

If you don't have a garage, you need a room with some windows. If that is not available...I would consider renting or building another space to work. You really need somewhere for your air to go when you work.

Stuff you can use to get rid of dust


If you use only fans, I recommend using at least 3. Fans can blow or suck the air. Fans can be near your work space blowing the air out the door or window. Fans can be placed in widows (or anywhere else) backwards so that they suck the air out. Get some good fans that have a strong airflow. Don't cut costs when it comes to your health!

WARNING! If you are painting indoors with spray paint and using fans, a spark can ignite your spray paint vapors! If there is concentrated spray paint, enamel or lacquer vapor in the air do not use regular fans. Get oven fans and other fans that are designed for combustible vapors and are explosion proof. (and do not use space heaters in your studio because they can ignite the vapor as well)

You can use regular fans with acrylic airbrush paint.

Here is an example of an inexpensive ventilation fan from Harbor Freight that is meant for a workshop. Home Depot has tons of fans. Most fans will do as long as they give you enough airflow.

Forced Air

You can buy a system that will feed you clean air inside a mask or a hood.  I have this system and I use it for spray painting when I am doing a massive amount of painting and experiments to protect myself completely from the overspray and solvents.  It's work great! You can email the inventor of this product and he will answer your questions and recommend products.  He has hoods and masks that work with this forced air system.  It is expensive, but if you are only painting at home, it will be the last mask you ever purchase.  If this particular link expires, just google "Turbine Products" and "breathecool" to find it. Then email the owner for a recommendation.

Dust Collectors

Dust collectors can be helpful. They are often used by people with wood shops to absorb the sawdust from their tools but we can use them too! It's like having a vacuum cleaner constantly sucking up your dust. (although you may need to buy the tube and accessories that go with it separately) You will need to take some care in arranging your dust collector and it's accessories so that it gives you better “suckage”.

Here are a few dust collectors from Harbor Freight. You can google “dust collectors” to find more in your area.

These can be a bit noisy, but you can try to find places to put them where the noise isn't so bad if your tube is long enough.


Something useful to help your airflow is an oven hood or dust hood. They concentrate your dust to make it easier to suck out. You can google “dust hood” or “oven hood” to find options in your area. You attach the tube from the dust collector (or shop vac) to the hood and it will suck out the dust from above your work space. (Or you can make one out of cardboard yourself.)

Spray Booths

Spray booths are another option. There are spray booths of all sizes and costs. You can google “spray booth” to find options in your area. Make sure to purchase something that gives you enough visibility to see your work and also enough room for your hands. (I've included some links that have spray booths where this might be an issue so that you can see what's available.) You can try to modify them or get several and hook them together to make them work for whatever you are doing.

Here are some examples of spray booths:

(Obviously I can't afford to try all of these and tell you which is best. Buy with care ) These links may change since they are product pages from different companies.  You can always just google "spray booth" or look it up on Amazon.  Feel free to modify your booth to meet your needs.  Put them next to each other and vent them out the window with a "window dryer vent" if it's so cold outside that you can't keep a fan in your window.

Downdraft tables

Downdraft tables are very useful. They are tables that suck the air down through holes in the surface and get rid of the dust before it even gets into the air.

You can create your own by getting an exhaust fan, dust collector or shop vacuum cleaner, putting it in the box, putting a filter (air conditioner filters are cheap and work well) on top and a board with holes drilled in it on top of that. Make sure you use explosion proof fans if you are working with spray paint vapors or any paints that are not water based. Ask in your hardware store if you aren't sure.

Here is some inspiration for buying or building a downdraft table.

For more info, google “downdraft table” and see what you find!


If there is any possibility that there is paint in the air you should also use a mask.

What you want is a mask with organic vapor cartridges that fits your face well.

Get a great spray mask! Please please please get a good one that protects you well.

How do you tell if it works? Here are two ways. One, get a strong essential oil like banana oil and put your mask on and try to smell it…or just test it with a bit of paint thinner. If you can smell it, it’s getting in your mask. Use your first impression to judge as you can get used to the smell and no longer detect it..which can be dangerous.

Two, take off your filters. Put the mask on without filters. Cover the mask holes with your palms. Breathe in. If air is getting in through the sides of the mask that are on your face, you will feel and hear it. With your palms over the holes, you should have no air in there!

(Note this is not true anymore for all masks. Sadly some of the new ones do not let you put your palms flatly over the filter holes.)

I buy Scott masks from this company.

If you google Scott Xcel half facepiece respirator you will find other sources for buying this mask.

They have recently changed the brand of mask they sell. The new brand is Scott Xcel half facepiece respirator. You need the mask and also some filters. Get the 742 series cartridges and filters.

It’s called a half face mask for organic vapors. Tell them it’s for spray painting to be sure they get it right. They come in small, medium and large. They will sell it to you by mail if you call them over the phone and pay by credit card. They don’t have it in their online store yet, but will fill orders by phone. Get lots of extra filters if you paint a lot! They filters should be changed fairly often if you want to take care of yourself well! If you can smell fumes in there which were not there before, time to change filters.

Here are some more mask links. Just google “organic vapor mask” or “organic vapor respirator” to get sources in your area.


One tip: The more hydrated you are, the less solvents your body will absorb! So stay hydrated while you paint.

Also consider a product called “Gloves in a bottle” it makes cleanup much easier.

To remove paint from your hands when finished painting, I use a mixture of pantene hair conditioner and a scrubby kitchen sponge.  The conditioner seems to soften the paint and make it easier to remove.  The more “liquid gloves” you use the easier it will be to remove and the better condition your hands will be in!

Check out the “Recommendations brands and colors” page below to find out which paints are the best and safest to use!

Your responsibility to yourself

Solvents are really really really bad for you! So is inhaling any gunk. You are responsible for your health. Make sure you use proper ventilation, mask and body protection as needed. It is much more important to use Gloves in a bottle, hydrate and/or wear gloves when working with spray paint from a can (instead of with acrylics and an airbrush) ..but why not be careful (and keep your skin moist) and use gloves in a bottle for your acrylic work too!


If you can smell your paint or are coughing a lot or feel weird when you paint, you may be inhaling paint without realizing it. You can get used to it and stop noticing. Check your workspace carefully for air flow and get new cartridges for your mask before you continue.

Checking your airflow

Turn on your airflow equipment. Get something smoky like incense and smoke it up in the place where you are usually painting. Make sure the smoke leaves quickly and doesn't bounce around your room. Adjust things until the smoke leaves quickly before you continue painting. It's worth the time to get it right.

Your health is your responsibility

By signing up for lessons with Spray Paint Art Secrets you have accepted responsibility for taking care of your own health and buying or making sufficient safety equipment.