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Creating art together is a lovely way to spend time with children.  And since art materials are everywhere in our homes and schools, we tend to think of them as safe.  Yet many contain dangerous chemicals like solvents, heavy metals, formaldehyde preservatives, and phthalates.

When using art materials:

  • Do not allow children to eat or drink.
  • Do not use kitchen surfaces and utensils.
  • Closely supervise younger children who may chew on crayons, colored pencils or brushes.
  • Stay clear of vapors from solvents, mists from sprays, and dusts from mixing dry paints and clays which are easily inhaled.
  • Clean-up includes washing hands too!

Paints:  Choose water-based watercolors, tempera paints, and “non-gel” acrylics; avoid oils and enamels. Gel acrylics can contain toxic ammonia stabilizers and formaldehyde preservatives.

Adhesives: Glue sticks, library paste, Elmer’s Glues, and adhesive tape are safer products to use. Glue sticks are available in both permanent and temporary types that allow for glued surfaces to be moved. Rubber cement, model glues, and epoxy are solvent-based and should be avoided.

Crayons and Coloring pencils:  Most crayons are made of paraffin, a petroleum product. For beeswax and soy based crayons take a look here. Some crayons have been found to contain asbestos, so steer clear of these brands.

Markers:  Choose coloring pencils instead as even water-based markers commonly contain various alcohols, which release vapors that can be inhaled. If markers are a must, then choose water-based markers and look for the AP symbol. Permanent markers typically contain toxic solvents like xylene.

Modeling Clays: The safest and most fun is to make your own. For a great recipe, look here. Avoid Sculpey or Fimo clays, both of which are PVC-based.

Paper Mache:  Make your own using plain recycled paper and white glue. Steer clear of newspapers to avoid heavy metals and pigments from the inks. Pre-made kits use talc, which could contain asbestos impurities.

  • The word “non-toxic “ and the AP or CP symbols on products are clues that these are less toxic options to very hazardous products, though still not always completely safe for kids.
  • Keep children away from art materials with cautionary statements that begin with Caution, Danger, Warning, or May Cause . . .
  • Products with a Proposition 65 warning are not suitable for children.
  • Materials meant for professional artists are not suitable for children.
  • Read labels to check for certifications, ingredients, and cautionary statements, but remember that companies are not required to list all ingredients. Patronize those companies that do!
  • Remember that children rarely “use products as directed!”


King County’s Art Chemical Hazards Project, provides artists with information on safer alternatives to hazardous art products and proper management of wastes.