Quick Guide: Detox Your Art Studio

Artwork Archive | May 14, 2015 (Updated April 12, 2021)

Photo by See-ming Lee, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

How much time do you spend in your studio every week?

Most professional artists spend the majority of their working hours in their studio, surrounded by the supplies they need to create, well, a work of art.

Unfortunately, some of these supplies can be toxic and damaging to your health. In fact, in the mid-1980s, the US National Cancer Institute conducted two studies that found higher risks of certain types of cancer and heart disease among painters.

Because these chemicals are masked as paint, powder and dye, artists are often unaware that the materials they use contain toxic ingredients, some that have even been banned from other consumer products (such as lead paint).

Don’t worry! By understanding the possible hazards you’re faced with as an artist, you can take a number of steps to ensure you’re working in a safe, toxin-free environment:


1. Do a Studio Inventory

First, make an inventory of everything in your studio. That way, you’ll know what possible hazards are in your space. Once you’ve identified the potential dangers in your studio, consider substituting them with safer alternatives.

Here are common toxic substances found in artist studios and possible substitutions:

  • If you use oil, acrylic and watercolor paints, markers, pens, varnishes, inks and thinners, consider using mineral spirits for thinning oil-based paints, water-based markers or water-based and acrylic paints.

  • If you use dusts and powders as dyes, consider using paints and clays that are pre-mixed or dyes in liquid form.

  • If you use ceramic glazes, consider using lead-free glazes, especially for items that could possibly contain food or beverages.

  • If you use solvent-based glues such as rubber cement, model cement glue, contact cement, consider using water-based glues and adhesives like library paste.

  • If you use aerosol sprays, spray guns, consider using water-based materials.

2. Enclose all Harmful Substances

Once you know what’s in your studio and have identified possible toxic items, make sure everything is properly labeled. If something isn’t labeled, it should be tossed in the garbage. Then, enclose all harmful substances. Keep everything in its original containers, and keep all jars tightly lidded when they’re not in use.


3. Properly Ventilate Your Studio

If you’re a professional artist, you spend a lot of time in your studio around these potentially harmful substances. Because of this, artists are more susceptible to the dangers of chemicals. While you do need to keep your studio temperate to protect your art, you also need to ensure that it’s properly ventilated and clean air is moving freely into the studio. And, if your art studio shares a space with where you live, it may be time to consider getting a separate studio.


4. Have Safety Protection on Hand

If you’re using items you know to be toxic, take a page out of a scientist’s book: wear goggles, gloves, fume hoods and other safety equipment. You’ll probably feel a little bit out of your element at first, but it’s important to protect yourself, especially when dealing with lead-based paint!


5. Buy Only What You Need

When you buy supplies moving forward, buy only what you need for one project at a time. That way, you’ll have an easier time monitoring what’s in your studio. As soon as you buy a new can of paint or other supply, mark the containers with the purchase date. When you need red paint, reach for the older inventory first and work your way towards the newly purchased paint.


Now that you've detoxed your studio, take the next step. Check out How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Studio.

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