Eco-Friendly Acrylic Painting

Submitted by hollygrimm on Sun, 04/02/2017 - 14:30

Acrylic painting can be more eco-friendly than oil painting, but the chemical composition of pigments and binders should be investigated by all artists before purchasing paints. Some pigments can be toxic and others may contain heavy metals that should not be washed down the drain.

Start by reading the labels on each paint tube. In addition, the material safety data sheet (MSDS) [1] for your acrylic paint line can be helpful.

Here are the guidelines I use for Golden's acrylic line:

  • Use gloves or barrier cream when painting
  • Use adequate ventilation when painting and drying works
  • Dispose of paints properly, not down the drain
  • Choose only non-toxic paints
  • Don't apply varnish

Gloves or barrier cream

All Golden heavy body and liquid acrylic paints contain ammonia and propylene glycol. Both can irritate your skin.

Adequate ventilation

Ammonia and propylene glycol can irritate your lungs when drying so you should have plenty of ventilation in your work area.

Paint and water disposal

I use only non-toxic paints, but many non-toxics contain heavy metals that should not be in our wastewater.[2] 

To wash your brushes, use three large buckets filled halfway with water. The first bucket should contain some soap.  Wash your brushes in the first bucket and then rinse in the remaining two buckets. Continue to reuse the buckets until the rinse water is too dirty. When you need to start a clean bucket of water, create a press cake of paint for disposal either by allowing the water to evaporate or by mixing with aluminum sulfate and hydrated lime.[3]

The bucket method will also help you avoid plugging up your drains if you don't happen to have a paint trap under your sink.

Collect all dirty rags and dried paint, including discarded paintings, in a bag for hazardous waste disposal.

Choose only non-toxic paints

I do not use Golden acrylic paints that use hazardous amounts of cadmium or cobalt:

  • C.P. Cadmium Orange
  • C.P. Cadmium Red Dark
  • C.P. Cadmium Red Light
  • C.P. Cadmium Red Medium
  • C.P. Cadmium Yellow Dark
  • C.P. Cadmium Yellow Light
  • C.P. Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • C.P. Cadmium Yellow Primrose
  • Cobalt Turquois

Nor do I use Golden paints that contain trace amounts of cadmium, cobalt, manganese, antimony, soluble barium, or melamine:

  • Azurite Hue (copper, trace cobalt from zinc white)
  • Burnt Umber (manganese)
  • Burnt Umber Light (manganese)
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue (antimony, nickel)
  • Cerulean Blue, Chromium (chromium, cobalt)
  • Cerulean Blue Deep (chromium, cobalt)
  • Cobalt Blue (cobalt)
  • Cobalt Green (chromium, cobalt)
  • Cobalt Teal (cobalt)
  • Cobalt Titanate Green (antimony, cobalt, nickel)
  • Cobalt Violet Hue (trace cobalt from zinc white)
  • Green Gold (soluble barium, nickel)
  • Jenkins Green (soluble barium, copper, nickel)
  • Manganese Blue Hue (trace cobalt from zinc white)
  • Nickel Azo Yellow (melamine, nickel)
  • Neutral Grays (iron oxide, manganese, titanium dioxide)
  • Phosphorescent (trace cobalt from zinc white)
  • Quinacridone Red (manganese)
  • Raw Umber (manganese)
  • Titanate Yellow (antimony, nickel)
  • Viridian Green Hue (trace cobalt from zinc white, nickel)
  • Zinc White (trace cobalt)
These paints I continue to use, but I am careful not to wash down the drain, as they contain heavy metals (aluminum, chromium, copper, titanium dioxide):
  • Chromium Oxide Green (chromium)
  • Chromium Oxide Green Dark (chromium)
  • Cobalt Blue Hue (copper, titanium dioxide)
  • Hookers Green Hue (nickel)
  • Indian Yellow Hue (nickel)
  • Interference Colors (mica, titanium dioxide)
  • Iridescent Bright Gold (mica, titanium dioxide)
  • Iridescent Bronze (copper, iron oxide, mica)
  • Iridescent Copper (iron oxide, mica, titanium dioxide)
  • Iridescent Gold (iron oxide, mica, titanium dioxide)
  • Iridescent Pearl (mica, titanium dioxide)
  • Iridescent Silver (graphite, mica, titanium dioxide)
  • Iridescent Stainless Steel (chromium, nickel)
  • Light Green (Blue Shade) (titanium dioxide)
  • Light Green (Yellow Shade) (titanium dioxide)
  • Light Magenta (titanium dioxide)
  • Light Turquoise (Phthalo) (copper, titanium dioxide)
  • Light Ultramarine Blue (titanium dioxide)
  • Light Violet (titanium dioxide)
  • Medium Magenta (titanium dioxide)
  • Medium Violet (titanium dioxide)
  • Naples Yellow Hue (titanium dioxide)
  • Permanent Green Light (barium sulfate, copper)
  • Permanent Green Dark (copper)
  • Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) (barium sulfate, copper)
  • Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) (copper)
  • Phthalo Green (Blue Shade) (barium sulfate, copper)
  • Phthalo Green (Yellow Shade) (copper)
  • Primary Cyan (barium sulfate, copper, crystalline silica)
  • Prussian Blue Hue (copper)
  • Quinacridone Gold
  • Sap Green Hue (copper, iron oxide, nickel)
  • Terre Verte Hue (chromium)
  • Titan Buff (titanium dioxide)
  • Titanium White (aluminum hydroxide, titanium dioxide)
  • Turquois (Phthalo) (barium sulfate, copper)
  • Ultramarine Blue Hue (aluminum hydroxide, copper, titanium dioxide)

Additionally, if you do any sanding, be sure to follow the MSDS to avoid inhalation of dust (certain pigments can be harmful to your lungs).


A work of art made from good quality acrylic products does not need to be varnished.

- Rheni Tachid in 'New acrylics essential sourcebook'[4]

If you need to adjust the sheen, apply clear coats of matte or gloss mediums to your painting.


Material Safety Data Sheet []

Schools Sing the Blues over Heavy Metals []

Removing Water-Based Paint Solids from Rinse Water []

4 Tachid, Rheni (2009), New acrylics essential sourcebook p. 154 [Google Books]