Choosing toxic-free art and hobby materials
- Which dry erase markers are the safest? How toxic are the fumes?
- What are the safest adhesives for children to use?
- Do crayons contain lead? Are crayons non-toxic?
- What art products are acceptable for children to use?
- Is “Super Glue” toxic? It makes my eyes hurt.
- What are the hazards of art paints?
- I’m an artist who works at home. How do I dispose of my chemicals?
- Does solder contain lead?
- Do pencils contain lead?
- What are the hazards of refinishing furniture?
- Are odorless mineral spirits any safer than turpentine?
- My child’s school uses rubber cement. Is it safe?
Which dry erase markers are the safest? How toxic are the fumes?
There are two kinds of dry erase markers available. The standard ones (e.g. Expo brand) contain methyl isobutyl ketone and butyl acetate. “Low odor” markers (e.g. Expo 2) are also available. These are alcohol based and may contain a blend of ethanol, isopropanol, and butanol. Based on allowed workplace levels of these solvents, the alcohols in the low-odor markers are generally less toxic than those in standard markers. If dry erase markers are necessary, the low odor markers would be the better choice.
What are the safest adhesives for children to use?
Children can use non-toxic glues such as white paste, white glue, and glue sticks. Avoid rubber cement and any adhesives with a strong solvent smell.
Do crayons contain lead? Are crayons non-toxic?
In general, crayons are non-toxic and are a good choice for children to use. Some imported crayons have been found to contain dangerous levels of lead. The Consumer Products Safety Commission issued a recall for some brands of crayons in 1994.
In 2000, a Seattle newspaper discovered asbestos in crayons, apparently a contaminant in the talc that is an ingredient.
The CPSC followed up and concluded that the risk was small but that in the long term crayons should not contain any asbestos (click here for the press release).
Asbestos is thought to be more toxic by inhalation than by ingestion, and the CPSC did not find asbestos particles in the air when crayons containing it were used. All of the major manufacturers have now reformulated their crayons.
What art products are acceptable for children to use?
Opinions on this question may differ, but the State of California has compiled a list of products that are NOT allowed in grades K through 6. Download the list here.
The list is based on designations by the Arts and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI), an industry funded organization that evaluates the risks of art products. The ACMI grades products in three levels:
1. AP designation: “certified in a program of toxicological evaluation by a medical expert to contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans or to cause acute or chronic health problems. These products are certified by ACMI to be labeled in accordance with the chronic hazard labeling standard, ASTM D 4236 and Federal law, P.L. 100-695 and there is no physical hazard as defined with 29 CFR Part 1910.1200(c).”
2. CL designation: found on art materials for adults that are certified to be properly labeled for any known health risks and is accompanied by information on the safe and proper use of such materials.
3. HL/CR: found on art materials for adults that are certified to be properly labeled for any known health risks and is accompanied by information on the safe and proper use of such materials.
The only products that can be used in grades K-6 in California are those with an AP designation. While Toxic-Free Future cannot endorse the list of AP-designated products, we think that the list of disallowed products can be useful for parents or teachers not only in California.
Is “Super Glue” toxic? It makes my eyes hurt.
Instant-bond glues such as Krazy Glue, Super Glue, or other brands contain an ingredient called cyanoacrylate, which rapidly polymerizes upon contact with water (even water in the air) to form a tight bond between many materials. Cyanoacrylates give off vapors that are highly irritating to the eyes and respiratory system. Perhaps of greater concern, however, is what happens if you get these glues on your skin. Because the glue bonds extremely well to skin, you could easily glue your fingers together, your fingers to your project, or your finger to your eyelid. The bond is not permanent on skin but can take hours to release and can be frightening. Before using any instant glue, read the label carefully and make sure you understand how to remove the glue from skin.
What are the hazards of art paints?
Paints used by artists can contain hazardous solvents and pigments. This is a complex subject.
One good resource includes:
I’m an artist who works at home. How do I dispose of my chemicals?
If you are a professional artist, any hazardous waste you generate is considered business waste rather than household hazardous waste. Local regulations vary, but generally business waste is not accepted at household hazardous waste facilities. Contact your local hazardous waste or solid waste agency for referrals to appropriate services. You can also receive financial assistance with waste disposal by working to reduce hazardous waste.
Does solder contain lead?
Most general-purpose solder that you may have at home contains lead, usually about 40%. Lead-based solders are common in electronic equipment and plumbing. Although lead solder is no longer used in plumbing (since 1988), systems installed before the 1980s probably have lead solder. The electronics industry is also moving away from lead-based solders.
Do pencils contain lead?
Pencils do not contain lead, despite general use of the term “lead” in reference to the writing material, which is actually made of graphite.
What are the hazards of refinishing furniture?
Paint and varnish removers are among the most hazardous products available to the do-it-yourself hobbyist. The solvents used in these products are quite toxic. Some, such as toluene and methanol, are hazardous to breathe and extremely flammable. Many companies now make water-based strippers that are less toxic and much less prone to evaporate into the air you breathe. These products do remove oil-based paints and stains as well as water-based ones, but they work much more slowly than traditional paint strippers. To identify these less-toxic products, look for product labels without the signal word DANGER. When using any paint stripper, wear chemical-resistant gloves and work with lots of ventilation, preferable outside or in a well ventilated garage.
Read our guide on safer paint and varnish strippers and removers.
Are odorless mineral spirits any safer than turpentine?
Yes, but not much. Turpentine is a solvent distilled from pine tree resins. It contains many different volatile terpene compounds and is toxic and flammable. Mineral spirits are similar to turpentine in solvent properties but are distilled from petroleum and contain quite different compounds. Ordinary mineral spirits contain so-called aromatic compounds that, as their name suggests, have strong odors and are also quite toxic. Further distillation to remove these compounds produces “odorless” mineral spirits, which contain only straight-chain compounds of higher molecular weight that are somewhat less toxic. If you must use a distilled spirit for art projects, odorless mineral sprints is the best choice. However, for most people, and especially for children, use water-based paints and avoid the need for any type of solvents.
My child’s school uses rubber cement. Is it safe?
We do not suggest that children use the adhesive commonly called “rubber cement.” Although most modern rubber cement products now use heptane in place of the more toxic hexane, both are toxic solvents that have no place around children. Heptane and hexane are toxic to the nervous system. There are many safer alternatives for children’s projects, including paste, white glue, tacky glues, and glue sticks. For more information on safer art supplies for children, read our fact sheet here.