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How Long Does Paint Thinner Smell Last?

Paint is an essential part of any home design project, and when using paint, you'll inevitably come across paint thinners. Paint thinners are known to leave a strong odor in the room even after the project has been completed. We've done our research, so you'll know just how long you can expect that strong smell to last, and the potential effects it may have on your health. 

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Paint thinner smells come from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) being released into the air. The duration of the smell will depend on two things: ventilation and surface area.

In a well-ventilated room, the strong paint thinner smells can last anywhere from 36-48 hours. The smell can stay for over a week in unventilated rooms or rooms with lousy ventilation systems.  

The surface area where paint thinner is applied or mixed can affect the duration of that lingering smell. For example, a spilled can of paint thinner on the floor evaporates faster than if it was just in the can with an open lid. 

But, the smell may be the least of your concerns. Keep reading to learn more about paint thinners' potential effects on your and your family's health. 

The thinner bucket and paint bucket wait for operate in the spray booth - How Long Does Paint Thinner Smell Last

Can paint thinner damage lungs?

Repairman doing renovation repair in the house with paper wallpa

As we mentioned above, the pungent smell from paint thinners comes from VOCs being released into the air. The same air you or your family might be breathing. 

Two studies on mice exposed to paint thinners over an extended period showed significant effects on the mice's health. The first study reported that mice exposed to paint thinner fumes for 2-5 weeks had chronic inflammation. Interstitial fibrosis was detected in the lungs.

While the second study reported that exposure to paint thinners for 6-12 weeks resulted in the mice developing emphysema similar to a chronic obstructive disease, another survey of solvent addicts showed pulmonary abnormalities in their lungs. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  also suggests no less than 8 hours of exposure to 500 mlg of Toluene (a standard component of paint thinners) to avoid potential health damage.

In summary, paint thinner damages the lungs but only in long periods of exposure.

Prolonged paint thinner inhalation may also cause: 

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches 
  • Eye Watering 
  • Nausea 
  • Muscle twitches 

While severe exposure may also cause the effects discussed above and: 

  • Convulsions 
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Death

If you are experiencing any symptoms, please move to a space free from the paint-thinner vapors. In severe cases, administer oxygen. 

So now we've established that the smell and the potential health risks come from the VOCs released in the air when paint thinners evaporate; you might ask yourself, "what about odorless paint thinners?" The following paragraph will discuss your question.

Is odorless paint thinner safe?

The can with a thinner from the upside view. Blurred background with other thinners and paint.

The most common odorless paint thinners are usually mineral spirits. These types of paint thinners are made of petroleum distillates. These paint thinners are typically more attractive because they have a weaker odor than traditional paint thinners. But are they safer?

Studies show that though they are noticeably less smelly and may be less toxic than the stronger-smelling traditional paint thinners, they are still harmful. OSHA advises no more than 4-8 hours of exposure to 2.9 mlg of mineral spirits. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers mineral spirits and other paint thinners hazardous waste.

So though they might be less toxic than other paint thinners, you are still advised to treat them the same way as you would other paint thinners and not expose yourself to the fumes for an extended time and dispose of them the same way. 

Chronic exposure to mineral spirits or other "odorless" paint thinners may cause: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Headaches
  • Loss of Coordination 
  • Numbness

Can paint thinner be absorbed through the skin?

Stain hands showing thumbs up with black oil on cement background.

Yes! Paint thinner can be absorbed through the skin. It would also depend on what type of paint thinner you come in contact with. 

Turpentine-based paint thinners can be absorbed through unbroken skin (e.g., spilling it on your body), while mineral spirit paints thinners aren't as absorbable through the skin but, as mentioned before, must still be held with care.

Because of their absorbability through the skin, it is recommended that you wear protective gear such as protective gloves and clothing when handling any kind of paint thinner. 

Skin absorption of paint thinners may cause the following effects:

  • Irritation 
  • Numbness in the exposed body part
  • Drying of the exposed skin
  • Dermatitis 
  • More severe symptoms listed in inhalation

Now that we've established how dangerous long-term exposure to paint thinner can be, we can talk about how to store your paint thinners properly.

Can you store paint thinner in the garage?

The thinner bucket and paint bucket wait for operate in the spray booth.

Firstly, store the paint thinner in an airtight container, preferably tin or metal. You can safely store your paint thinner in your garage so long as your garage can pass all these necessary safety requirements.

  • You don't often stay there: As we discussed, prolonged exposure to paint thinner fumes may cause mild to severe damage to you. So it's advised not to stay in a room with paint thinner for so long. 
  • It's well-ventilated: Constant airflow is vital to avoid accumulating any VOC you might have the misfortune of running into when you do get a chance to enter your garage. So make sure that if any VOC fumes come out of the container, they can find their way out of your garage. 
  • Cool and dry: Be sure that the paint thinner is protected from the elements. Exposing your container to heat can be a fire hazard. While exposing it to water can cause the container to degrade or rust out, causing leaks and allowing the VOC fumes to permeate the room. 
  • Away from chemicals: The compounds used in paint thinners are highly flammable and can cause a reaction when they come in contact with other chemicals. Be sure you can store your paint thinner in an isolated area.

In Summary

The old paint brush has been used and then soaked in a clean container with a thinner can

Paint thinner is an essential part of painting but it can be dangerous. We’ve answered that in well-ventilated areas, expect at least 36 hours of the paint thinner smell to linger in the room or furniture you painted and more than a week in unventilated areas.

Do not stay in newly painted rooms with strong paint thinner smells.

Paint thinners can cause significant damage to you in and the people around you with prolonged exposure, so be sure to keep them in a safe place. Happy painting!

Check out our other informational posts before getting your project started: 

Does Paint Thinner Leave A Residue?

X Best Paint Thinners For Oil Paint