What Happens If You Eat Paint?

It’s unlikely you’d choose to eat paint. Unless you’re a toddler who thinks the bright colors look delicious. Whether by accident or out of curiosity, you or someone you know might have swallowed paint, and now you’re panicked, wondering what will happen next. What happens if you eat paint?

The effects of eating paint range from minor to serious depending on the amount and type of paint eaten. Art paint sold for home use shouldn’t cause symptoms if only a small amount is swallowed, whereas oil-based paint is poisonous and can have life-threatening effects.

You shouldn’t eat any paints. But some types of paints are more harmful than others. Swallowing certain paints requires no treatment; however, others need emergency medical assistance. Get clued up on basic facts about eating paint so you’ll know if prompt treatment is needed.

Is It Harmful To Eat Paint?

Paints aren’t made to be edible. You should avoid eating even paints labeled nontoxic.

The harm paints cause if swallowed depends on their specific ingredients.

Paints consist of two main ingredients:

  1. Pigment. Material that gives paints their color.
  2. Solvent. A liquid into which the pigment is dissolved.

Other ingredients are often added to the pigment and solvent.

We can separate paints into groups according to their solvent type:

  1. Water-based. Their solvent is all or mostly water.
  2. Oil-based. Their solvent is a liquid other than water.

Here’s an idea of what happens if you eat three common household paints.

What Happens If You Eat Water-Based Art Paint?

Paints used for art activities, like watercolor, tempera, and poster paints, generally don’t cause serious health trouble when swallowed.

However, ingredients in some art paints (for example, cadmium and cobalt pigments) can be harmful.

The paints least likely to have negative effects are certified by the Arts And Creative Materials Institute (ACMI).

You’ll know the ACMI has tested your paint if it has one of these seals on its packaging:

  • An AP (Approved Product) seal shows that paint contains no ingredients in high enough quantities to be toxic.
  • A CL (Cautionary Label) seal shows that paint has all health risks and safety guidelines recorded on its packaging.

If someone accidentally swallows a little art paint, they might have no symptoms. Suppose they swallow quite a bit. The paint might then irritate their mouth and make them vomit.

What To Do If Someone Eats Water-Based Art Paint

Call poison control or a health care provider if the person who swallowed the paint experiences symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Share the following details: the product’s name, its ingredients, how much was swallowed, and when.

Ask the person to drink a glass of water or milk unless the experts warn that they shouldn’t. Plus, don’t give anything to drink if the person is vomiting, convulsing, or isn’t fully conscious. Don’t force the person to vomit unless advised to do so.

The poison control consultant or health care provider will advise whether the person needs emergency medical help, though this is unlikely.

People who swallow water-based art paint have a high chance of recovery, especially if they get swift medical assistance if needed.

What Happens If You Eat Oil-Based Paint?

Swallowing oil-based paint can damage the body in potentially life-threatening ways.

Poisonous ingredients in oil-based paint can include chemicals called hydrocarbons and heavy metals.

If someone swallows oil-based paint, they can experience wide-ranging symptoms, such as:

  • Blurred or decreased vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Eye and nose irritation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Breathing abnormalities such as shallow, rapid or slow, or painful breathing
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Unconsciousness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What To Do If Someone Eats Oil-Based Paint

Get immediate medical help. The sooner the person is treated, the better their chance of recovery.

The following details will help with treatment (but don’t postpone calling for help to look for the information): the product’s name, its ingredients and their strengths, the amount swallowed, and when.

The guidelines for what you can do to help the person are the same as for water-based paint: give the person water or milk to drink unless you’ve been advised against doing this or if the person is vomiting, convulsing, or isn’t fully alert. And don’t make the person vomit unless you’ve been instructed to do so. 

Once at the emergency room, the person will be treated according to their symptoms and vital signs. Treatment commonly includes breathing support, stomach pumping, laxatives, and medicines.

At worst, the person could die or experience permanent damage to their organs like lungs or kidneys. Better prognoses are possible. With time, organs can heal, and the person can regain full health. If the person survives the first two days, there’s a good chance they’ll recover.

What Happens If You Eat Face Paint?

Eating face paint might not trigger an immediate bad reaction, but it could have negative health effects down the line.

Some face paints contain heavy metals that trigger health problems if they accumulate in the body. Symptoms tend to be felt only when blood levels of heavy metals rise above a certain degree. Eating a once-off small amount of face paint won’t push blood levels into the danger zone.

Use only FDA-approved face paint to cut down the risk of nasty ingredients and avoid getting face paint in your mouth. Don’t apply face paint to children younger than 3 years old (as they’re more likely to scratch it off to eat it), and explain the dangers of eating face paint to older children.

Emergency Contact Information To Know When Someone Eats Paint

You can contact the Poison Control Center Hotline anytime, day or night, any day of the year, to get advice from experts in poisoning. Call 1-800-222-1222 from anywhere in the US, and you’ll be directed to your local poison control center.

Alternatively, you could use Poison Control Centers’ Web Poison Control tool for guidance.


Eating paint can have serious consequences. If you or someone you know swallows water-based art paint or face paint, drink some milk or water and watch out for symptoms like vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea. If symptoms develop, get medical assistance.

If someone swallows oil-based paint, get immediate medical assistance. Quick treatment increases the chance of a full recovery.

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