Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

June, 2008

Bad Smelling Paint

Q: Last August I painted my bedroom first with an exterior primer then a color paint on top. Now that's it's getting hotter, the smell from the walls is horrible. It smells like engine oil. Have you ever heard of that before. My other walls don't smell, I took out the carpet and it still smells and underneath the house is negative for that odor. I'm worried it's lead or some other chemical and the exposure could be hazardous. Hope you can help me with this problem.

A: You are not the only person to complain about paint that smells weeks after painting has been completed, but I do not know what is causing the problem. Sometimes it is caused by slow evaporating solvents that are still being emitted from the paint. I can all but assure you that it is not lead, because house paints do not contain any significant or dangerous levels of this heavy metal. In fact lead regulations for paint went into effect already in 1979. Previously, I have suggested that readers try to wash down the walls with a mild bleach solution, but I have never received feedback as to the efficacy of the recommendation. If you should decide to try this approach please experiment on a small area of the painted wall. I cannot guarantee that bleach will not affect the color of the paint. Also, please take all necessary precautions and follow the safety instructions on the bleach bottle.

If all fails you might consider retaining an industrial hygienist who can take an air sample to determine what is causing the smell.

Good luck,

Ron Joseph

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