The Ultimate Guide to Paint Sprayer Safety

  • 15 min read
Paint spraying safety

There’s a long weekend coming up, and you want to refurbish your house or car. Time to choose the best paint for the job! What next? A paint sprayer. You have to choose which one will give you the neatest and smoothest result. You’ve got everything ready. 

But have you? 

An important part of spray painting is the safety precautions that you must follow throughout each stage. It’s easy to overlook this, especially if you’re in a rush. Doing so can result in terrible consequences (and a bad paint job).

We’ve made a comprehensive guide that describes each stage of the painting process. Keep all these in mind before you start. We describe some general hazards and health issues related to different painting materials. We also share a few pointers on how you can safeguard yourself during each spray painting stage.

1) Hazardous chemicals

Different materials can contain hazardous chemicals. We’ll go into this in more detail in the rest of the article. Briefly put, some of these chemicals are toxic and can be a serious issue if one is careless.

Extended exposure to many solvents, paints, powders, enamels, acrylic lacquers, adhesives, enamels, and resins can be dangerous. It’s also unhealthy to breath in fumes from paint thinners and removers, rust removers, and converters, and surface preparation products.

They’re harmful if inhaled or come in contact with our bodies. These can even be swallowed, or absorbed through the thin membranes on our eyes and skin. Breathing in these vapors can cause severe nausea, fainting, and poisoning. These are some hazardous chemicals you should avoid:

  • arsenic
  • arsenic compounds
  • benzene (benzol), if the substance contains more than 1 percent by volume
  • carbon disulfide (carbon bisulphide)
  • free silica (crystalline silicon dioxide)
  • lead carbonate
  • methanol (methyl alcohol), if the substance contains more than 1 percent by volume
  • tetrachloroethane
  • tetrachloromethane (carbon tetrachloride)
  • tributyltin

If you’re exposed to these materials for long periods of time, you can experience headaches and nausea, and skin irritations and rashes. It can even cause serious conditions such as lung cancer. In some people, it can lead to organ damage – specifically to the reproductive system, kidney or liver. It’s possible to contract brain syndromes, as well.

harmful chemicals

But don’t worry. We’re not telling you to put away the paints and bury the paint sprayer in your backyard. It’s easy to avoid these complications by taking a few precautions. The best way to minimize the effect of these chemicals is by wearing the relevant protective gear. There are some other measures as well:

How to minimize the effects of hazardous chemicals

  • Use a spray booth whenever applicable. This is especially apt for professional painters who work in shops or have their shops.
  • Use local exhaust ventilation to air out overspray and solvent vapor.
  • You can also use fans and naturally fresh air to clear out contaminated air.
  • Keep a list of hazardous chemicals with you so that you know if the paint or material you’re working with has potentially dangerous chemicals in it.

2) Dust

Dust is generated mostly during the prepping phase when you sand the older paint off. Dust may contain crystalline silica, which can lead to lung disease. To avoid a build-up of dust:

  • Use the wet-sanding process wherever applicable.
  • Try using tools that have a built-in extraction system, or connect to such systems.
  • Have enough ventilation in the room.
  • In case there is dust generated from your prepping, try to manage it in the most efficient way possible by:
  • Using a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom to clean dust.
  • Not using compressed air to blow away dust.

This is mostly generated during sanding and may not be a serious concern otherwise.

3) Excessive Noise

Some paint sprayers can be very noisy, especially some of the traditional or conventional ones. As powerful as they are, they can generate excessive noise. This can cause noise pollution and may cause headaches, migraines, damage to your eardrums, and general unease.

The best thing to do is to equip yourself with noise-canceling headphones. Some sprayers come with technology that reduces the sound.

4) General Safety

Here are some measures that you can take to ensure your general safety while using a paint sprayer:

i) Fire and explosion

  1. Be careful of short circuits. Make sure you aren’t using faulty plug points.
  2. Many paints contain flammable or combustible materials. Don’t spray those near any sources of ignition.
  3. Ignition sources include an open flame, pilot lights, hot objects, cigarettes, electrical equipment, and electrical appliances.
  4. Hot surfaces include motors, engines, and light bulbs.
  5. Avoid creating sparks from connecting and disconnecting power cords.
  6. Certain sprayers can only be used with water-based or mineral spirit-type materials.
  7. Don’t use the wrong sprayer for the material that you’re going to use. Check on your instruction manual what the minimum flash point of your sprayer is. Different materials have different flashpoints.
  8. The flashpoint is the temperature at which a fluid can produce enough vapor to ignite.
  9. Ensure that the containers and collection systems are grounded to prevent static discharge.
  10. You should connect to a grounded outlet and use grounded extension cords.
  11. Keep your spray area well ventilated. It’s important to have a good supply of fresh air moving through the area to keep the air within the spray area free from the accumulation of flammable vapors.
  12. Don’t smoke in the spray area.
  13. Don’t operate spark-producing products in the spray area.
  14. Keep the area clean and free of flammable materials, such as paints, solvent containers, and rags.
  15. You should read all the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and container labels that come with the paints and solvents. Follow the paint and solvent manufacturer’s safety instructions. Knowing their contents and what is being sprayed would greatly help you.
  16. Do you have fire extinguisher equipment around? It should be present and working.

ii) Electrical Shock

  1. An important tip is to remember to remove the turbine before cleaning.
  2. Remove solvent or paint from the spraying area.
  3. Take care to connect your power cord to a grounded circuit. 
  4. Never submerge electrical parts. 
  5. Always store your electrical equipment indoors. Never expose them to rain. 
  6. Keep the trigger of your spray gun and the electrical cord plug free from paint and other liquids. 
  7. Don’t hold the cord at plug connections to support the cord. If you do so, you may get an electrical shock!

When using an extension cord-

  1. Ensure your extension cord is in good condition. 
  2. Use an extension cord that is heavy enough to carry the current your product will draw. An undersized cord will cause a drop in line voltage. This can result in overheating and loss of power. 
  3. If you want to use an extension cord outdoors, it must be marked with W-A after the cord type markings. For example, a designation of SJTW-A indicates that the cord would be appropriate for outdoor use.

iii) Grounding instructions

Your paint sprayer must be grounded. 

Why is this important? In an electrical short circuit, grounding reduces the risk of electric shock by providing an escape wire for the electric current. 

Make sure you pick up a sprayer that comes with a cord that has a grounding wire with an appropriate grounding plug. The plug must be plugged into an outlet that is properly installed and grounded in accordance with all local codes and ordinances. Improper installation of the grounding plug can result in a risk of electric shock. 

You have to connect the grounding wire to the grounding pin. If you are confused about the parts or feel that repair or replacement of the cord or plug is necessary, don’t do anything. Instead, check with a qualified electrician or serviceman. 

Do not modify the plug provided. If the plug does not fit the outlet, have the proper outlet installed by a qualified electrician. Make sure that the product is connected to an outlet having the same configuration as the plug.

Read the instructions and product details to find out whether you can use an adapter with your machine. Most sprayers cannot be used with adapters.

iv) Injury to people

  1. Always wear appropriate gloves, eye and face protection, clothing, and a respirator or face mask when painting. 
  2. Don’t operate or spray near children. Keep children away from equipment at all times. 
  3. Don’t overreach or stand on unstable support. Keep effective footing and balance at all times. 
  4. Be alert and watch what you are doing. Don’t operate the unit when fatigued or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 
  5. Never aim the spray gun at any part of the body – yours or otherwise. 
  6. Follow all appropriate local, state, and national codes governing ventilation, fire prevention, and operation.
  7. Use the only manufacturer authorized parts. Most companies state that the user assumes all risks and liabilities when using parts that do not meet the turbine manufacturer’s minimum specifications and safety devices. If you use cheap parts and get hurt – you won’t be able to seek help from the spray gun manufacturer. 
  8. The power cord must be connected to a grounded circuit.
  9. Don’t spray outdoors on windy days.
  10. If you’re a professional painter or own a shop- The United States Government Safety Standards have been adopted under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). These standards, particularly part 1910 of the General Standards and part 1926 of the Construction Standards, should be consulted. 

The above should help you avoid any large-scale issue related to the paint sprayer you would use. It may seem like a long list but once you start practicing these, it will become a second-nature to implement these as you spray.

Now, let’s move on to the other facets of paint sprayer safety that are worth being mindful of.

5) Personal Protective Gear

Protective gear is a must-have, especially if you’re a regular spray painter. Here’s a list of protective equipment that you should invest in:

  • Earmuffs, earplugs, and other hearing protective devices.
  • Goggles – If you’re rehabbing an old home built before 1978, there are chances that the tiles will contain asbestos.
  • Masks, respirators, and other equipment to protect your lungs and breathing system – wear a tight-fitted dust resistant mask to avoid breathing in any tiny particles from solids and solvents. There are two types of respirators to choose from – a particulate and cartridge. 
  • Gloves and sunscreen
  • Protective clothing, such as coveralls
  • Good footwear, such as safety boots or rubber boots.

Make sure none of the equipment you’re wearing are torn, broken, contaminated, or past their expiration date. Replace any expired equipment. Always clean your equipment and gear after you’re done using them. Try not to share these with anyone but if you end up doing so, disinfect them after use. Store in a dry, clean, and safe area. 

paint spraying protective gear

6) Safety Precautions for different spraying materials

Paints contain many chemicals. Interior paint can contain clay, and exterior paints consist of silica and other chemicals. You’ll find paints with calcium carbonate (chalk) and talc. Zinc Oxide is what is used in primers to keep mildew at bay. It also works against corrosion and helps in stain blocking. Water-based paints contain latex binders, such as acrylic, styrene, or vinyl acrylic. 

Similarly, different paints and stains can contain harmful chemicals. Most paints have volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are released into the air as gases. Some examples of these are toluene, acetone, xylene, benzene, and formaldehyde. Exposure to these can lead to short and long-term health effects. You have to take precautions so as not to breathe in or in any way ingest these.

Read product labels to find out what your paint, stain, or material includes.

i) Two-pack paint and varnish systems

These paints and varnishes give a nice and resilient finish. But they come with a health hazard in the form of isocyanates. These chemicals have been found to create asthma in people who have had excessive exposure to them. They can be breathed in during mixing and spraying or through skin contact. 

In case you’re painting with a material that contains isocyanates, you can take these measures:

  • Wear full-length overalls with a hood, chemical-resistant gloves, and a full-face air-supplied respirator during spraying and cleaning up. 
  • Make sure that you keep the mixing area well ventilated.

ii) Latex paints

Latex or water-based paints contain water as the primary liquid. These are safer to use. Some paints include other solvents, too.

iii) Oil-based paints

These are also called alkyds, and they use solvents other than water, such as organic solvents. They can include VOCs, which have been linked to health issues, including congenital abnormalities in babies from breathing in the fumes.

iv) Solvent-based paints

Solvent-based paints usually utilize organic solvents and include VOCs. These chemicals are thought to be responsible for a variety of health disorders, including cancer and asthma. If you are using a solvent-based paint, it is recommended that you wear a respirator and ensure that you fan the area out immediately before and after use. Do not let children, pregnant women, or animals in the area until it is completely cleared out.

v) Warnings for alcohol-based materials

Paint thinners and cleaning products that contain Isopropyl alcohol can be unhealthy over a long period of time. It can cause stomach pain, confusion, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Be careful by washing your hands as soon as you’re done using this material.

vi) Lead paint

If you suspect the paint that you’re using contains lead, you can test it with a health test kit or call in a professional. If it is lead-based paint, wear a mask.

If you have ingested any harmful chemicals, you may experience a constantly runny nose, sore or watery eyes, constant tightness in the chest, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a persistent cough.

7) Phases of a painting project and safety precautions for each

Each stage of your painting process will have a few things you need to handle with care. From prepping to the cleanup, we’ve got you covered.

i) Prepping the area

If you’re going to sand the old paint off of the object first, wear a tight-fitted dust resistant mask to avoid breathing in any tiny particles from solids and solvents. Sometimes, it’s recommended to wear a respirator. There are two types of respirators to choose from – particulate and cartridge.

  • Respirators work by forming an airtight seal around your nose and mouth. (But they don’t work well with beards, so you may have to shave it off!)
  • A particulate respirator resists dust by filtering out dry particles and most non-oil-based liquid droplets. This is for when you’re sanding bare or painted wood. Do not sand lead-based paint, drywall, and rusted surfaces.
  • You get special-purpose particulate respirators for spraying latex paint and sanding.
  • Cartridge respirators can take both particulate filters and chemically active canisters for absorbing solvent vapors. You’ll want a cartridge respirator for spraying solvent-based paints. And working with solvents and strippers. 
  • It’s recommended that you use a pneumatic sander rather than an electrical one.
  • Warning: no respirator can protect against lead fumes, asbestos fibers, or sandblasting. 

ii) Ventilation

Proper ventilation is one of the most important steps that you must take. It’s essential to take precautions against breathing in any toxic fumes of the paints and solvents you’re working with. Even if the paint is non-toxic, you won’t want it to get in your lungs. Ensure that your workspace is adequately ventilated, especially if you tend to do most of your work indoors. Use your fan and keep at least two windows on the opposite sides of the room, open for cross ventilation. 

iii) Assembling the equipment

  • NEVER point the spray gun at any part of the body.
  • Make sure to double-check hoses and fittings.
  • When adjusting the spray pattern, never trigger the gun while adjusting the ears on the air cap. 

iv) Spraying

Safety tips for spray painting small furniture:

  • Always wear protective eye gear and a mask. These parts of your face are exposed to droplets of paint, dust, and other small objects at such a close range.
  • Ensure there aren’t any pieces of furniture or objects that can obstruct your way or cause accidents.

Safety tips for spraying exterior walls:

  • When using a step ladder or scaffolding, be careful not to fall. Ensure your equipment is in good condition and tie any scaffolding with extra care. 
  • Always take sufficient breaks. Fatigue can lead to accidents and body pain.
  • Be mindful of painting with the correct posture. Incorrect posture can cause body pain and may have long-lasting effects on your spinal cord, back, etc.

Safety tips for spray painting cars and other vehicles:

  • Remove the LPG cylinders and fuel tanks from vehicles before doing any heavy-duty painting. 
  • Jacks, frame straighteners, and vehicle hoists can cause injury if they’re not used or maintained properly.

v) Clean up

  • Don’t clean the air cap or air holes in the nozzle with sharp metal objects. 
  • Some sprayers recommend not to use solvents or lubricants containing silicone.
  • There are special cleanup instructions for use with flammable solvents. Find out what the recommendations are on the manual or on the body of the solvent. Some require a flashpoint above 100ºF.
  • Always flush a spray gun outside your home.
  • Your painting area must be free of flammable vapors. 
  • The cleanup area must be well-ventilated. You do not want any harmful vapors to be lingering. Take special care to air out space.
  • Don’t submerge the turbine!
  • You’ll need to either store or dispose of your paints, stains, and solvents. Make sure paint containers are sealed with childproof lids.

Follow these precautions, and you’ll be fine. Don’t take too much tension, though. These are just a few reminders that will keep you and your family safe. Following paint sprayer safety precautions will help you enjoy the spraying process for a long and happy period of time. These tips will ensure your safety, keep your equipment in tip-top shape, and help you get the best spraying outcome possible. Happy spraying!