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How To Get Rid of Paint Smell + Why Experts Say To Do It ASAP

Plus, how an onion works wonders!

While a new coat of color can be a welcome change in any room of your house, and even when you’ve left all of the windows open, that tell-tale new paint smell tends to linger. So we asked experts how to get rid of paint smell in order to avoid inhaling the chemical-based fumes —fast!

Why you want to quickly get rid of paint smells

With some exceptions, typically if something smells unpleasant, that’s a sign from your nose that you don’t want to be breathing it in — and this is certainly the truth when it comes to the scent of paint.

“Paint contains chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” explains Andre Kazimierski of Improovy Painters of North Shore. “VOCs are human-made solvents — they help hold all the ingredients together, help the paint go on your wall more smoothly and some even help it dry more quickly. Unfortunately, VOCs are also considered pollutants, and breathing them in can cause headaches and dizziness, amongst other symptoms.”

To learn more about VOCs, check out this YouTube video:

Related: How To Get Rid of Stubborn Washing Machine Smells + The One Odor That Spells Danger

Why paint smell tends to linger

It can sometimes seem like bad smells stick around longer than the ones you like — why is that? More or less, this is because the larger the odor-causing molecule, the more time it takes for that scent to disperse — and bad-smelling chemicals like VOCs tend to be on the bigger side. Larger molecules also have a “lower scent threshold,” which basically means you smell them more strongly even at low levels.

“VOCs are designed to evaporate as paint dries,” says chemist and paint expert Ethan Swope, of PPG Architectural Coatings. “That means they wind up airborne, which results in you breathing them in, thus the odor. And even once your walls are dry, those heavy VOC molecules can sit in the air of that room — especially if it’s not well-ventilated.” 

How to get rid of paint smell before you paint

The first step in eliminating paint odors is to try to mitigate them in the first place.

Choose an odor-free paint

Believe it or not, there are “odorless” paint options if you want to avoid the smell altogether. “These paints have low levels of VOC and some are even VOC-free, so there’s nothing in them to create that chemical smell,” says Kazimierski, who cautions that these paints do have some downsides. “Low- and non-VOC paints are not as durable — they still perform well, but they may need more coats and more frequent touchups. They are also typically more expensive than other paint, but they are definitely worth it if you’re looking to avoid that smell and the effects it brings.”

Some brands our experts recommended: Benjamin Moore’s Natura line, Glidden Diamond Interior Paint and Primer and Behr Premium Plus Paint & Primer In One. You can search for Benjamin Moore paint retailers near you here. Glidden is available at both Lowe’s and Home Depot and Behr is exclusively sold through Home Depot.

How to get rid of paint smell before you paint: Go for acrylic versus oil

“One choice that can make paint dry more quickly is using one that is acrylic-based,” says Kazimierski. “They use water rather than oil, which helps them dry much faster — usually within 15-30 minutes. Oil paints, on the other hand, can take several days or even weeks to dry completely.”

Luckily, acrylic paints are already the more common choice for painting indoors, so you’ll find plenty of options in that medium. The advantages of oil-based paint are that it lasts much longer, has deeper pigments and blends more easily with other paint. But between the longer drying time and increased cost, it’s mostly only recommended for outdoor jobs. 

Ventilate

How to get rid of paint smell: Opening a bathroom window
Kinga Krzeminska/Getty

It goes without saying — the more fresh air you can get flowing into a room where you’re painting, the fewer VOCs will stick around to stink up the place. “In addition to opening windows when you paint, this is the time to employ fans,” says Swope. “If you’re working in a room with windows in more than one wall and you have multiple fans, you can even face one fan inward, to draw in fresh air from outside, and place a second fan outward at the other window to create an air current.”

Running air conditioners or air purifiers with HEPA filters while painting can also be used to improve air quality and limit lingering odors.

Related: 5 House Painting Hacks That Make Home Improvement Easy

How to get rid of paint smell before you paint: Reduce humidity

“Because VOCs are released when paint dries, the faster you can make that process happen, the faster the VOCs will go away,” Swope explains. “And anyone who has ever painted a room on a hot summer day knows it can take twice as long for paint to dry if it’s humid out.” He suggests turning on your air conditioning to help with this, and if that’s not enough, temporarily running a dehumidifier in the room to keep moisture levels down. Some retailers allow you to rent dehumidifiers if you don’t already own one. Visit Home Depot or United Rentals

Go thin

Avoid slathering on thick layers of paint when applying — not only can this lead to drip marks and uneven coloring, it also makes paint take much longer to dry and puts extra VOCs into the air.

Related: Dermatologist: Why You Should Never Scrub Paint Off Your Skin and What To Do Instead

How to get rid of paint smell after you paint

Even in a properly ventilated room, paints that contain VOCs can still leave a lingering smell behind. What to do in that case? 

Grab some baking soda

How to get rid of paint smell: Closeup view of baking powder in a bowl.
jayk7/Getty

After painting, sprinkle a light layer of baking soda over the floor and leave overnight, suggests Smriti Mehra, a chemical analyst for Straits Research who founded a study on paint odors. “Baking soda has natural deodorizing properties — it will grab those VOCs and hold onto them. Vacuum it up the next morning and enjoy the fresh air!”

Related: 16 Brilliant Uses for Baking Soda That Will Save You Time and Money

How to get rid of paint smell after you paint: Leave out activated charcoal

A recent study found that using activated charcoal to deodorize was even more effective than baking soda because it’s more efficient at absorbing and holding onto odor-causing particles. Even better? Activated charcoal also helps reduce moisture and humidity, so it can help the paint in the room dry faster, as well. Look for it in pharmacies, or you can try these: OdoBan Charcoal Odor Eliminator, or Vergali Activated Charcoal Odor Absorber.

Employ onions

Yes, believe it or not, this is a proven method for reducing paint odors — simply slice some onions up and leave them around the room overnight. The strong smell you associate with the vegetable is produced by a chemical called Syn-propanediol-S-oxide. This chemical actually reacts with VOCs and neutralizes them. The downside? Your room will smell like onions, but typically that odor goes away much more quickly than paint fumes. See more here:

Related: How to Cut Onions Without Crying — Pro Tricks to No More Tears!

How to get rid of paint smell after you paint: Place bowls of white vinegar around the room

Like the methods above, vinegar is a natural deodorizer and will absorb smelly VOCs, suggests Mehra. Like onions, however, it can leave its own odor, although both evaporate more quickly than paint fumes. 


For more painting-related hacks, click through the links below!

Professional Painters Reveal the Best Ways to Clean Paint Rollers

How to Get Paint Out of Carpet — The Genius Shop-Vac Hack That Makes It So Easy

5 House Painting Hacks That Make Home Improvement Easy

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