Acrylic paint is a popular choice for artists and crafters because it is versatile, easy to use, and non-toxic. However, there needs to be some clarification about is acrylic paint flammable.
The answer is that acrylic paint is not flammable in its liquid form. However, it can become flammable when it dries. This is because the water in the color evaporates, leaving behind a plastic polymer. This polymer can burn at high temperatures.
Understanding Acrylic Paint Composition
To understand if acrylic paint is flammable, we first need to look at what it’s made of.
Acrylic paint contains pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. The pigments give acrylic paint its vibrant colors, while the acrylic polymer binder allows the paint to stick to canvas, wood, or other surfaces.
The main ingredient that makes acrylics unique is the acrylic polymer. Some common acrylic polymers used are:
- Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA)
- Poly(ethyl methacrylate) (PEMA)
- Poly(butyl methacrylate) (PBMA)
These acrylic polymer molecules are suspended in water to form an emulsion. The water acts as a solvent, allowing the acrylic polymers and pigments to flow smoothly.
Acrylic paint also contains additives like surfactants, defoamers, and preservatives. Surfactants allow the acrylic polymers to dissolve in water. Defoamers reduce foaming when the paint is brushed onto a surface. And preservatives prevent mold or bacteria from growing in the paint.
Now that we understand what acrylic paint is made of let’s look at how its composition affects flammability.
Flammability of Acrylic Paint: Fact vs. Fiction
There are some common misconceptions about how flammable acrylic paints are:
Myth: Acrylics are highly volatile paints.
Fact: When wet, acrylic paint is comprised mainly of water. Since water does not burn, wet acrylic paint is not flammable.
Myth: Acrylic paint is safe to use around open flames.
Fact: While wet acrylic paint won’t ignite, heat can degrade the binder chemistry. It’s best to use acrylics away from sources of extreme heat like stoves, cigarettes, or campfires.
Myth: Once dry, acrylic paint is fireproof.
Fact: Dry acrylic paint is made up of acrylic polymer which will burn under high enough heat. So, while it’s not highly flammable, dry acrylic paint can catch fire if exposed to flames.
To summarize, wet acrylic paint is non-flammable due to its water content. But once dry, the plastic-like acrylic polymer is combustible when exposed to high heat or direct flames.
Now, let’s look at what specific factors affect acrylic paint flammability.
Factors Affecting Acrylic Paint Flammability
There are a few key factors that determine how easily acrylic paint will ignite:
Acrylic paint won’t combust spontaneously at room temperature. But at high temperatures above 290°C (554°F), the dried acrylic polymer can catch fire and burn.
This is well above average environmental temperatures. But direct contact with flames or glowing embers can quickly heat acrylic paint to its combustion point.
Exposure to Flames
A small candle flame around 1000°C is hot enough to ignite paper. But acrylic paint won’t ignite at lower flame temperatures. It requires exposure to more searing flames above the 290°C combustion threshold.
Some specialty acrylic paints contain flammable solvents instead of water. Painting mediums like lacquers and thinners can also increase flammability.
Paint on flammable surfaces like paper or wood will burn more readily than paint on fire-resistant surfaces like metal or stone.
Safety Precautions When Using Acrylic Paint
One of the most crucial precautions when using acrylics relates to fire safety. Here are some top tips:
Work in Well-Ventilated Spaces
- Avoid using acrylics in confined, cramped areas of your home studio with poor airflow and ventilation
- Open windows and doors to create cross-breezes
- Use fans to improve air circulation
- Take paintings outside to dry in fresh air when possible
- Don’t work near ignition sources like furnaces or heaters
Proper ventilation is critical to prevent buildup of fumes and minimize fire risks. Stale air can lead to unsafe conditions very quickly.
Store Away From Heat, Sparks, and Flames
- Never store acrylic paints, solvents, or rags near stoves, water heaters, space heaters, or other heat sources
- Avoid storing acrylics in garages if you do automobile work with sparks or flames
- Do not smoke cigarettes, light candles or incense anywhere near acrylics
- Keep acrylics far away from fireplaces, radiators, or other ignition risks
Heat and sparks can quickly ignite dried acrylic paint or flammable solvents. Be very cautious where you store acrylic painting supplies.
Handle Solvents Carefully
- Read warning labels on acrylic mediums like lacquers that contain flammable solvents
- Always keep solvent containers sealed tightly when not in use
- Never leave open containers unattended where vapors could buildup
- Use the minimal amount of solvents needed and avoid skin contact
Some acrylic painting mediums contain risky, flammable solvents. Treat these with extreme care and properly dispose of any excess.
Allow Paint to Dry Fully Before Storing
- Do not bundle or box up paintings before acrylic layers are dehydrated
- Avoid using heat to speed up drying time which can degrade chemistry
- Follow all manufacturer drying guidelines before storing acrylic artwork
I was rushing the drying process and risked combustion. Let acrylics dry thoroughly before storage according to paint guidelines.
Scientific Explanation of Acrylic Paint Combustion
To understand acrylic fire risks, we need to break down the science of how this plastic polymer burns.
When dry acrylic paint is heated above 290°C, the polymer chains start to break down through a process called pyrolysis. The acrylic binder decomposes, releasing flammable gases.
With sufficient heat and oxygen, these acrylic gases reach their auto-ignition temperature of 427°C. At this point, the acrylic gases ignite in an exothermic reaction.
This combustion reaction sustains itself, rapidly consuming the solid acrylic binder as fuel. Burning acrylic polymer also releases toxic fumes and smoke.
While wet acrylic contains water that must be evaporated before combustion can occur, the dry polymer readily burns once ignited.
Understanding this science shows the importance of acrylic fire prevention. In the next section, we’ll compare acrylic paint fire risks to other paint types.
Comparing Acrylic Paint to Other Paint Types
Not all paints share the same flammability hazards. Here is how common paint types compare to acrylics:
Oil-based paints contain flammable solvents so that they can ignite at room temperature. Rags soaked in oil paint are highly hazardous due to the risk of spontaneous combustion.
Acrylics are safer with a higher ignition temperature. But dried acrylic paint still burns, producing toxic fumes.
Water-based latex paint is comprised of water that evaporates as it dries. The latex resin binder left behind is difficult to ignite, so latex paint has a low fire risk.
Paints containing metal pigments like cadmium or manganese can release hazardous substances when burned. Organic pigmented paints are safer burning alternatives.
|Paint Type||Flammable When Wet||Flammable When Dry||Notes|
|Acrylic||No||Yes||Dried acrylic polymer combusts at > 290°C. Not flammable when wet.|
|Oil-based||Yes||No||Flammable due to solvent content. Higher fire risk than acrylics.|
|Latex||No||No||Low flammability hazard. Latex binder is difficult to ignite.|
|Acrylic Spray Paint||Yes||No||Flammable propellants make spray paint dangerous when wet.|
|Acrylic Painting Mediums||Some are flammable||Varies||Solvent-based mediums like lacquers have higher flammability.|
|Watercolor||No||Yes||Like dried acrylics, dried watercolor pigments can combust when heated.|
|Oil Pastel||No||Yes||Dried oil pastels have a flammability risk similar to dried oil paint.|
|Gouache||No||Yes||Dried gouache can combust at high temperatures like other dried paint films.|
Industry Standards and Regulations
There are several agencies and organizations that provide codes and guidelines around flammable art materials:
- ASTM D4236 – Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Acute and Chronic Health Hazards
- Consumer Product Safety Commission – Implements mandatory flammability standards
- Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) – Provides certification for art materials meeting safety standards.
Key regulations include:
- 16 CFR 1500.3(c)(6) – Flammable solid regulation
- ASTM D4236 – Requires chronic hazard labeling for art materials
By adhering to these codes, reputable acrylic paint makers produce safer products. Artists should always check for certification seals from bodies like ACMI when selecting paints.
Properly using and storing acrylic paint according to manufacturer guidelines ensures compliance with flammability standards.
Practical Examples and Experiments
Here are some illuminating case studies and experiments showing acrylic combustion in action:
Studio Fire From Improper Drying
An art student left thick acrylic paintings drying in a poorly ventilated utility closet. The added heat from the cabinet caused the acrylics to combust, igniting the canvas and wood shelving.
Key takeaway: Always allow acrylics to dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area away from heat sources. Rushing the drying process can spark fires.
Blow Torch on Acrylic Paint
In an experiment, a blow torch with a blue flame cone of 1,300°C was applied directly to both wet and dry acrylic paint. The damp paint bubbled but did not ignite. The dried paint quickly caught fire, demonstrating how heat can combust acrylic polymer.
Key takeaway: While wet acrylics are non-flammable, dried acrylic burns rapidly when exposed to flames.
Spontaneous Combustion of Oil-Soaked Rags
An artist left a pile of rags soaked in linseed oil paint in a closet. The oxidation of the oils in the rags caused heat buildup, eventually igniting the pile. This demonstrated why oil-soaked rags are far more prone to spontaneous combustion compared to water-based acrylics.
Key takeaway: Acrylic-soaked rags have a lower risk of spontaneous combustion compared to oil paints. But, acrylic rags should still be appropriately dried and stored.
These examples reinforce the best practices around acrylic studio safety. Next, let’s review answers to frequently asked questions.
Here are answers to some of the most common queries about acrylic paint flammability:
How does acrylic react to fire?
Wet acrylic paint contains water, so it will not ignite when exposed to fire. Dry acrylic polymer will combust when flames reach temperatures exceeding 290°C, and burning acrylic releases toxic gases and smoke.
What paint is flammable?
Oil-based paints are flammable due to their solvent content. Certain acrylic painting mediums and spray paints also contain flammable propellants and solvents, making them dangerous. Latex and standard acrylics are non-flammable when wet.
Is acrylic polymer flammable?
Yes, the solid acrylic polymer binder in dried acrylic paint is flammable and combustible at high temperatures over 290°F (98.9°C). But, acrylic paint is non-flammable when wet due to its water content.