Paint fumes are annoying at best and can be downright dangerous at worst. While some paint fumes and lingering odors are unavoidable when waiting out paint or primer dry times, there are tips and tricks to mitigate the smell.
In this guide, learn why paint and primer odors last so long, how to ventilate a freshly painted space properly, and how to get rid of paint smell from your renovated room or new house as fast as possible.
If you’ve just moved into a space that was recently painted—or if you ventilated properly and still can’t get the odors out—these tips and tricks to clear out paint smells will come in handy.
Onions are a powerhouse when it comes to neutralizing odors, despite their own pungent aroma—actually, completely because of that! A chemical known as Syn-propanediol-S-oxide, which makes onions smell so strong, also neutralizes many of the VOCs that paint emits.
To use onions as a paint deodorizer, simply peel two medium onions, cut in half, and place each half in a bowl of water (with the rings facing up). Place each bowl in one corner of the painted room and let them sit for a few hours, or even overnight.
Be sure not to consume or compost the onions after use, however: they’ve absorbed the VOCs and are not safe for eating or recycling.
Baking soda acts as a base to neutralize alkaline compounds, such as the VOC molecules that are present in the air after painting.
To use, place several containers or trays of baking soda around the area overnight. Another option is to fill bowls with roughly 50-50 ratios of water and baking soda and position them the same way you would trays of straight baking soda.
After about 12 hours, throw the baking soda away; do not reuse it for anything.
The flame of a typical candle does burn up some VOC molecules, but not all of them. As a result, most candles just mask paint fumes.
Instead, light an odor-eliminating candle specifically meant for smoke or paint: the wax contains enzymes that break down or neutralize VOC particles. As with any candle, don’t leave it unattended while it burns.
Bucket Of Water
Considered a universal solvent, water can dissolve most chemicals (including gas molecules) and absorb them.
This isn’t the most effective way to get rid of paint smells, but it is one of the cheapest: simply fill up a bucket with water and let it sit in the middle of the painted space overnight.
Water And Lemon, Or Water And Vinegar
Lemon slices in a few dishes with water can quickly absorb and neutralize paint fumes for mere pennies. Bowls with equal ratios of white vinegar to water will also work, or even undiluted white vinegar.
Just be careful not to spill it since it can harm paint, flooring, and other surfaces. If a spill does occur, be sure to wipe it up quickly. Discard all solutions after use.
Often used in hospitals to get rid of unsavory smells (or to “cleanse” your nose when smelling candles and perfumes), coffee grounds are surprisingly powerful odor-eliminators.
The caffeine present in coffee contains nitrogen, which reacts with the air to absorb foul odors and unsafe molecules.
You can use fresh or used grounds placed around the room in shallow dishes or filters. Leave them overnight, then discard them.
Activated charcoal acts like a filter to trap odorous or volatile molecules and let clean air pass through. While ordinary charcoal will also do this, activated charcoal is more porous and will get the job done faster.
Use trays or bowls with active charcoal and place them around the painted area overnight. You can also crush the charcoal first, if you prefer.
Natural Oil Extract
There are two ways to use natural oils to eliminate paint smells. One is to diffuse it into the room (placed directly on cotton balls or in an oil diffuser) during or after painting. The other is to mix it directly into your paint before you begin, about 4 drops per quart of paint.
However, adding oils to paint won't neutralize the fumes because it's such a small amount—it really just acts as a scent additive to make the smell more palatable. You might also void your paint's warranty by mixing in additions, so it's better to leave the oils out of the paint itself.
Eliminating Paint Odors From An Entire House: Which Is Best?
While most of these methods can work very well to get rid of paint smells in a single room, some are better for entire homes than others.
Anecdotally, charcoal, coffee, baking soda, onions, or vinegar mixtures seem to work best and are inexpensive enough to use throughout the whole house.
How To Get Paint Smell Out Of Furniture
Most of the time, paint smells will leave furniture on their own if you ventilate the space well. There are some methods you can try if you want the odors gone faster, however.
What Causes Paint Odor To Linger In Your Home?
"Paint smell" is caused by volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, that emit fumes and odor as they evaporate—which is what occurs when paint dries.
VOCs are harmful when inhaled and have been linked to headaches, asthma, pulmonary disease, and more. The stronger the smell, the more VOCs are present in your paint formula.
You should still use caution when painting with low-VOC formulations, however. While studies have shown that these paints emit fewer fumes and pollutants than conventional paint overall, some still emit harmful amounts of specific VOCs, such as formaldehyde.
Put simply, VOCs are pretty much unavoidable when painting—but some formulas do emit less fumes than others. Correct ventilation will clear up odors more quickly, and keep you safer.
Tips For Avoiding Fumes Before You Begin To Paint
When it comes to eliminating paint fumes, prevention is the best cure of all.
Before you paint your next room, try these tips to keep the odors as low as possible.
Ventilate The Space Properly
Open your windows, turn on a few fans, and keep the air moving while you work.
This will keep the space fresh (and help paint dry more quickly). It also helps to paint on a day with low humidity since humidity slows down drying times.
Choose A Low-Odor Paint
A formula specifically made to emit few or no VOCs will emit fewer fumes and smells when drying. They're often pricier, but many find the extra money to be worth it.
Try An Aromatic Paint Additive
To help combat paint smell, consider paint additives in scents like vanilla, lavender, citrus, and more. Simply mix into your paint according to the package instructions.
One benefit of these additives is that they don't just mask the paint fumes; they help eliminate them altogether, along with set-in smells in the walls from cigarettes, cooking, or pets. A downside is that, like mixing in natural oils, you might void your paint’s warranty.
Removing Paint Smell FAQs
Is smelling paint bad for you?
While inhaling VOCs can be harmful, smelling paint in a general sense isn’t automatically bad for you, especially if it’s already dried or mostly dry. Most of the fumes are gone by that point.
Why does my house smell like paint even though it is not newly painted?
If you painted within the last few weeks, it’s possible the paint is still curing and emitting very small amounts of fumes as it does so.
If you smell paint when none has been recently used, however, the odor might be coming from somewhere else. Check heating and cooling systems for chemical leaks, cleaning products for ruptures, and anything else that could emit VOCs.
Is paint smell harmful to babies?
Paint fumes stay in the body for awhile and are considered harmful to everyone, but especially infants, children, and pregnant women. The light, lingering smell of dried paint itself will not be dangerous, however, unless your child is exposed to it for long stretches of time.
How long does paint smell last on furniture?
It can take up to four months for paint smells to completely leave couches, mattresses, curtains, and other items, although most will stop smelling in about two weeks or less. Ventilation and odor absorbers can cut down the time dramatically.
How long does a paint smell last in a room?
Up to six months is normal to still notice paint smells in a room, as long as it’s not too strong or irritating. Most rooms will stop smelling like paint in 3 months or less if ventilated properly.
Lingering paint smells can be a headache, both literally and figuratively—but there are many ways to get rid of these odors. Ventilation, low-VOC paint formulas, and household items like coffee or baking soda can eliminate fumes quickly and help you enjoy your freshly painted space sooner.