But there are hidden dangers in apparently simple procedures such as removing old paint and giving your room a lick of fresh colour. "People leap into decorating without giving a second thought to the risks involved," says Dr Richard Deacon, a Lancashire-based GP. "Decorating products need to be handled with care. You need to read the labels carefully. It's actually a bit like handling medicine."
- Painting risks
Paints used in the home contain potentially harmful chemicals such as solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). "When the paint dries these chemicals evaporate into the air where the hapless decorator can inhale their toxic fumes." explains Dr Deacon.
Inhaling paint fumes from solvent-based oil paint can exacerbate asthma and sinusitis and because the solvents are absorbed into the lungs and then the blood stream they can lead to dizziness and headaches, particularly if you paint for too long in a room with no ventilation. Inhaled VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation and have been linked to birth defects, cancers and damage to the central nervous system.
According to the World Health Organisation, professional painters are most at risk, having a 20 per cent increased risk of a range of cancers, particularly lung cancer. The WHO has also raised concerns about the effects on health of off-gassing - the release over time of vapours from paint.
Meanwhile, in Denmark,specialists have identified 'painter's dementia' - a neurological condition brought on by long-term exposure to paint solvents.
A study from Manchester and Sheffield University suggests men regularly exposed to the chemicals in paint may be more prone to fertility problems, while consultant Dr Andrew Wright has warned of the allergic rash on the skin that can be the result of contact with paint. White spirit, used to remove paint from the skin can lead to a similar reaction.
Non-toxic, natural eco-paints, which are low odour and free of solvent and VOCs are now widely available. Since they are water-based there's no need for white spirit or turpentine to clean your brushes and skin is less at risk of a reaction.
Crown Paint's Breatheasy formulation is 99% solvent free and carries the asthma and allergy friendly ® certification.
The Ultra Zero VOC by Dulux line is a professional quality, interior latex paint that is virtually odourless during and after application.
Upmarket brand Neptune contains a maximum of 2g of VOCs per litre. The EU limit is 30g per litre. All Farrow & Ball are similarly classed as Minimal or Low VOC.
Always open windows in the room you're decorating to ensure good ventilation, take frequent breaks and don't use the room until the paint is completely dry.
A comfortable mask offers useful protection. Look for one specifically made with a chemical filter.
- Our Recommendations
The Air Supply® Minimate Ionic Personal Air Purifier is another interesting option. This is worn round the neck and uses uses corona discharge technology to substantially reduce the risk of inhaling toxic particles.
AirSupply® is highly recommended for sensitivity to perfumes, cleaning chemicals and VOC's, It has been tested by scientist at the University of Cincinnati's Department of Environmental Health and is available VAT-free for those with chemical sensitivity.