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Safety while painting, staining, coating

From the Resene Paint Experts Q&A

Do you have a question about how to paint safely? Browse through this painting Q&A for help with your own projects.

Always make sure you read the product label and data sheet prior to application. If in doubt about any aspect of your project, please ask our Paint Expert for help or come in and see our staff at your local Resene ColorShop or Reseller.



Q. Are your paints suitable for children's toys i.e., non-toxic? On your TV ad you show bare wood being painted with no primer/undercoat. Does this need a special paint?

A. Most of our range is waterborne and has Eco Choice approval. A waterborne enamel such as Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss is perfect and robust for kids’ toys and furniture.

The ad relates our Resene Lumbersider Low Sheen acrylic on new timber, which acts as a self-primer but still requires three coats for film thickness. For toys, the use an undercoat/primer then two topcoats of waterborne enamel like Resene Lustacryl is our main recommendation.

August 2023

Q. We have had a concern raised over the preservatives of Kathon and Methylisothiazolinone as an allergan for a single staff member on site.

A. We have received this type of enquiry many times, we use the minimum amount of a preservative as we need to provide both in can and dry film preservation.

As I am sure you are aware there are many consumer products that contain the same or similar biocides, we are actively looking for an alternative to MI but many of the resins we purchase come with MI as the preservative. It is our position that given the MI levels present any suggested allergic reaction can only occur with skin contact with wet paint, once fully cured the MI is bound up within the paint film matrix. While there are reports that MI is volatile, yes but the actual volatility is very low.

April 2022

Q. My neighbour has offered me old painted Kwila decking for my woodburner. The paint used was an outdoor fence paint, perhaps Lustacryl, but definitely a paint by Resene. Is it ok to burn?

A. We do not study the release compound from burning a coated timber. However Resene waterborne paints do not contain formaldehyde or heavy metals so burning would not release any byproducts of the combustion of a Resene waterborne paint.

June 2020

Q. What are VOCs and why are they harmful, particularly to people with allergies? How do we reduce exposure to them?

A. VOCs, short for Volatile Organic Compounds, are chemicals that are used to produce a range of products. In the case of paint, they are released as the paint cures. Once the paint is fully cured then it stops releasing any VOCs. Most waterborne paints are very low in VOCs and some are VOC Free. Traditional solventborne enamels are high in VOC.

Low VOC waterborne paints generally have 80-90% less VOCs than traditional solventborne products. As the market moves more and more towards using waterborne paints, the VOCs we are exposed to through paint decreases. Changing from a solventborne product to a waterborne product can immediately reduce the VOC level by 80-90% for many products.

Indoor air quality is important. Not only do you want to minimise the fumes while painting, but you also want the paint odour to disappear quickly so the area can be put into service faster without putting the occupants at risk. Improving indoor air quality can also help prevent headaches, asthma, nausea, dizziness, respiratory complaints, allergic reactions and improve general well-being and provide a better working environment for the professional or amateur painter.

For most people, using waterborne paints that are low VOC with good ventilation is easy to do. Most issues are caused by traditional solventborne paints with high VOCs being used in enclosed areas, with insufficient ventilation.

Some of the key ingredients in paint are also used in other common household items, such as cleaning products. Without realising it some people can become sensitised to specific ingredients in products they use regularly, and this may flare up when exposed to more of the same substance.

Many common household products contain VOCs, such as hairsprays, deodorants and normal household cleaning products. Most people will have only minimal exposure to VOCs from paint, but much greater exposure to VOCs through the other products they use. Take care when shopping to choose low VOC products.

When decorating…

  • Use Environmental Choice approved waterborne paints, which are low in VOC (or no VOC), and tinters, like the Resene range, that have VOC free tinters.
  • Avoid using solventborne paints or spray paints (spray paints also tend to be high in solvents).
  • When painting ensure there is good ventilation during and after the painting. This will help clear the air and also help the paint to cure better. If it’s a still day, having a fan and in cooler weather a heater can help to circulate the air and cure the paint.
  • If you are particularly sensitive to odours or solvents, consider hiring someone to do the decorating for you.
  • Wear the appropriate protective equipment for the product you are using.
  • Choose a long lasting product so you can minimise the amount of maintenance and repainting required.

December 2019

Q. Are ‘natural paints’ a safe choice?

A. Any hydrocarbon solvent, whether from natural vegetable sources or from fossil fuel sources, has a degree of toxicity. Solvents, such as turpentine, are produced by plants to kill attacking insects – they are not benign materials. The only (virtually) non-toxic solvents are synthetically designed and produced.

On their own, natural oils are very poor binders for paints without being significantly and synthetically modified. The most useful (and popular) of them, linseed oil, is very slow to dry, produces a ‘weak’ initial film, provides an ideal nutrient for moulds and fungi, yellows and, as it ages, oxidises to produce a very, very brittle film.

Of course many natural things are good for you but severe allergic reactions to such natural things as gluten, lactose and peanuts can be very dangerous. Add to that list deadly nightshade, curare, snake venom, etc and one can see that many ‘natural materials’ need to be treated with caution.

There exists within New Zealand an eco-labelling programme run by Environmental Choice. Via this programme, independent third parties make the judgement on the relative safety of paints. They also test for the ‘fitness for purpose’ of the product measured against international standards. This is a good way to check your paint meets the standards.

December 2019

Q. What does VOC stand for and what does it mean?

A, VOC = Volatile Organic Compound, which are released during the paint application and drying phase. They are in many products – such as hair spray, cleaning products and paints. Solventborne paints have traditionally had VOC levels of 500 gms/L or more. Waterborne paints tend to have VOC levels of 100 gms/L or less and some have much lower levels, like Resene Zylone Sheen VOC Free and Resene Non VOC tinters.

Usually the higher the solvent level in the paint the higher the VOCs.

To minimise VOCs choose a waterborne paint or option where possible. For some projects, you may need to use a solventborne product for the best result, so make sure you have the area well ventilated and well any protective clothing recommended on the pack.

High VOCs means more material is being released. VOCs can cause headaches and allergic reactions. So the lower the VOC the better. You can mitigate the effects of VOC with good ventilation and protective gear. Once the paint is fully cured (normally three weeks) then no further VOCs are emitted. So it is a very temporary issue.

Compared to other things we come into contact with – hairsprays, petrol etc – the VOCs in paint are a very tiny part of the VOCs we would be exposed to.

December 2019

The Resene Paint Experts Q&A

Need help with your paint system or how to apply it? Ask a Paint Expert and get free advice - simply send in your paint, coating or decorating question. Alternatively, you can contact us or browse through the Q&A categories.

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