Oil- or alkyd-based paints aren't often used indoors anymore because of their noxious odor, but sometimes these traditional interior coatings remain the preferred option for use on cabinetry or baseboards. Alkyd primers also have advantages when covering smoke stains and sealing dirty or greasy walls. Unfortunately, oil-based paints are formulated with petrochemical solvents that, as the paint dries, are released into the air as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). You easily can neutralize or mask paint odors, but the best and healthiest recourse is to eliminate the VOCs as quickly as possible.
Vanilla and Lemon
After you pop open the lid, add a teaspoon of either imitation or real vanilla extract to the oil paint and blend it evenly throughout the entire bucket using a stirring paddle. The vanilla helps neutralize the odor without altering the color. After the painting is complete, slice up one or more lemons and drop them into a large container of water to sit out overnight. In many cases, this one-two punch eliminates paint aromas.
To make sure the vanilla does not discolor your paint, test it with a few drops of paint and extract before committing the entire gallon of paint.
Paint Fragrance Additives
While homemade recipes often are effective, commercially produced paint fragrance additives may add a pleasant scent to your newly painted surface that lasts for months. Mix a small amount of the additive into the paint, then apply the paint normally. These additives -- in aromas such as vanilla, citrus and sea breeze -- not only get rid of oil-paint odors but eliminate the stench of old kitty litter and smelly tobacco smoke from a room.
The Risk of VOCs
Hiding paint odor doesn't eliminate its source. As the paint dries, it releases volatile organic compounds into the air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concentrated exposure to VOCs from indoor paint poses a variety of health concerns. Airborne VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat while producing dizziness and headaches in particularly sensitive individuals. Young children and the elderly are at greater risk, and pregnant women should keep exposure to VOCs from oil-based paints and sealants to a minimum.
Plenty of Fresh Air
The best way to get rid of the VOCs and the accompanying paint odor is to keep the painting area well ventilated. Open doors and windows, and use one or more electric fans to drive the paint aroma outdoors while you're brushing or rolling an oil-based coating into place. Keep the fans on for at least one hour after the paint has dried. The paint may continue to emit a low level of VOCs into the air for as much as a week, but fragrance additives or sliced lemons can provide a pleasant alternative to lingering paint odors.
Before purchasing an oil-based paint, ask your retailer for a copy of the manufacturer's technical data sheet (TDS) to see if a respirator is recommended while applying that coating.
Mike Matthews is editor of Green Building Product News, a national publication that covers sustainable innovations in building and remodeling, and he has spoken at national conferences on green building. He has also served as founding editor of "Paint Dealer" magazine.