Painting is a relatively user-friendly home project if you take the proper precautions to ensure safety. This expert guide will help you get the job done safely.

Generally speaking, painting is one of the easiest do-it-yourself projects.

But it is not without its potential hazards. When painting, you’re typically working with toxic chemicals, old paint that may contain lead, power tools, and ladders—all of which increase the possibility of injury.

To ensure that your painting project comes off without mishap, you’ll need to mix a few safety guidelines with proper respect for the task and common sense.

Let’s start with one of the most serious hazards: lead in paint.

Don’t sand or scrape old lead-based paint. Any house painted before 1978 is likely to have coats of lead-based paint. Lead is highly toxic and especially dangerous for children and pregnant women.

According to the EPA, “Common renovation, repair, and painting activities that disturb lead-based paint (like sanding, cutting, replacing windows, and more) can create hazardous lead dust and chips which can be harmful to adults and children. Home repairs that create even a small amount of lead dust are enough to poison your child and put your family at risk.”

You can buy a lead testing kit at home improvement centers. The video below shows how to use it.  For lead removal, the EPA recommends that you contact local lead-safe certified renovation contractors, found through the EPA’s website.

Use ladders properly.This is critically important because many accidents and injuries are caused by falls from ladders. In fact, this is so important that we have produced an entire article on the subject. Please see Ladders: The Ultimate Guide to Ladder Choice and Safety. Make sure your ladder is in good shape. Set the legs on an even surface and lock the cross braces.

painting wood siding with brush
Follow all of the rules when using ladders both outdoors and inside. Ladders are a leading cause of injury. HannaMariah /

Take advantage of protective gear.  When sanding or scraping, wear work gloves, a dust mask, and safety goggles. If you are using any solutions containing chemicals, such as strippers or cleaners, wear safety goggles, rubber gloves, and an approved respirator. Also, wear a respirator if the area being painted cannot be adequately ventilated and work for only short periods.

Protective glasses, respirator, and work gloves
Protective glasses, dust mask, and work gloves are standard gear for safely working on home projects.

Don’t breathe chemicals. Some paints and painting products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and some do not. Whenever possible, opt for those that don’t because their fumes are much safer to breathe.  When painting indoors, ventilate the area to be painted, opening all doors and windows and using fans. Do not let a freshly painted room be occupied, particularly by older people, children, and pets.

Beware of chemicals and poisons. Clean up carefully and thoroughly when you are done for the day. Don’t leave materials, tools, ladders, or rags in work areas that are accessible to children or pets.

Avoid fire hazards. Do not paint or store solvent-based paint, thinners, or strippers near any heat source such as a water heater or fireplace. Never smoke while painting. Don’t use a heat gun indoors. If you use one outdoors, be sure you have a fire extinguisher handy.

If rags have alkyd paint or thinner on them, leave them to dry outside on a non-combustible surface to avoid any chance of spontaneous combustion. Choose an area inaccessible to children and pets, and when they are thoroughly dry, take them to a toxic-waste dump site.

Avoid falls. Again, use ladders properly. We can’t state this enough!

Protect floors with plastic sheathing, but cover the plastic with cloth dropcloths so the floors don’t become slippery.

drop cloths protect carpet from paint
Use both plastic drop cloths and canvas drop cloths to protect carpeted areas, stairs, and floors during painting. ©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Use tools safely. Preparation and painting calls for sharp tools and power tools. Be sure to follow all manufacturer’s recommendations—and your own common sense—when using these. Don’t put tools on top of a ladder. And keep them out of the reach of children.

Some of the above may seem pretty obvious to you, but it pays to review these points before you launch into a project. This will help ensure that you have a successful result without upsets or injuries.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort