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Eco-Friendly Acrylic Painting

Posted on:April 2, 2017 at 08:00 AM

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:

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:

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

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):

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.

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


  1. Material Safety Data Sheet []
  2. Schools Sing the Blues over Heavy Metals []
  3. Removing Water-Based Paint Solids from Rinse Water []
  4. Tachid, Rheni (2009), New acrylics essential sourcebook p. 154 [Google Books]