15th February 2024 by Ronan McGeough

 In today’s day and age, we are much more aware of harmful substances we are exposed to. And especially artists who still work with toxic materials and are rarely exposed to the inspections and procedures that keep other businesses mindful of the hazards involved. Here is a few of our top tips: protect yourself, the people around you and of course, the environment.


Artist Emma Leone Palmer in Studio 


The first thing and possibly the most important is to ensure your area of creativity whether it be a studio or bedroom is to have good ventilation. Especially if you cannot avoid using solvents, it’s always a good idea to paint in a well-ventilated space when being exposed to any potential harmful odours. These areas of ventilation allow for air and any fumes to circulate and escape. The use of low odour solvents can help with reducing the potential for headaches but remember this does not reduce their toxicity levels, and they are certainly not healthy to breathe in!



1. Flamable - Avoid any medium with this symbol contact with any open flame. They should always be used in a well-ventilated space to lower the risk of ignition.


2. Exclamation mark -This symbol is used for less serious health hazards, like skin irritation. It indicates that a material can cause irritation to the skin or eyes, or sensitisation. It also includes acute toxic effect that might arise through ingestion, dermal contact or inhalation. 


3. Health Hazard - This symbol relates to longer term health hazards, such as respiratory sensitisers, When using such products, avoid inhalation it is best practice to wear face protection, such as a mask.


4. Environmental Hazard - This COSHH symbol represents the risk of substances that may cause serious damage, either immediate or long term to multiple components of an environment. 




There are a number of citrus-scented solvents available, such as Cass Art Solvent & Brush Cleaner and Zest-It.  They reduce residue and are a great solvent to use both in cleaning up and for thinning oil paints and mediums. It is worth remembering that when something is labelled as ‘non-toxic’ that only covers it’s expected normal use, so it is not non-toxic to ingest for example.


Winsor & Newton Sansodor performs like turpentine but its low odour makes it the least hazardous solvent, great for diluting paint, cleaning brushes and creating your own mediums. Well suited to artists who prefer to avoid exposure to turpentine.


Tip - The least hazardous and aggressive solvent. Nevertheless, use with caution and dispose of responsibly.



Most artists use solvents to clean their brushes. So what do you use if you want to avoid solvents? Believe it or not water and soap works well. Dishwashing liquid and water, also works well. Or else use painting oil (linseed, walnut) to clean out the paint, after which you wash the brush with water and soap to remove the oil. There are also safe brush cleaning soaps on the market, such as Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver afterwards. This is a brilliant product that has the ability to remove oil, acrylics, watercolours, stains and varnishes.


Another way to avoid using traditional solvents after painting with oils is to use oil.


- If there is excess paint from your brushes, dab them onto a rag or some old newspaper.

- Dip them into a little vegetable oil and work the oil into the bristles. This will help remove any further paint from your brush. Then repeat until there is no more paint coming out.

- Then clean-up by washing with soap and water.

- Once your brushes are clean, if at all possible the best thing to do is hang them up by their handles so that any excess water can come out. 

- Your painting palette can be cleaned in a similar fashion, also, by cleaning it with oil you'll get more longevity out of it too!



Another way to go is to choose Water mixable oil paint. This is a medium that is possible to enjoy the aesthetics of traditional oil paint without requiring solvents to reduce the consistency of the paint. Now water can be mixed to reduce the consistency of your paint, and with a little soap brushes can be washed under a running tap. Water-mixable oil colour brands can be mixed with one another. Winsor & Newton offer a vast range called Artisan Watermixable Oils which also have a range of watermixable mediums too.


There are also fast drying mediums available too. You're able to use the same brushes and canvas as you would for regular oil painting, the only difference in the process is using water instead of solvent. No more heady fumes to give you a headache, no harsh solvents that dry your skin out, and no more respiratory issues either! 


Explore our range of Watermixable Oils here.