Getting rid of paint smell

Today’s question comes from Aaren. Aaren asks:

Hi hope you can help! My daughter’s room will not stop smelling. In fact, I challenged Olympic Paint and Lowe’s – going back and forth until we settled. KILZ and another coat of paint reproduced the original smell! Olympic even paid a professional to do all that work for us. The second coat of Premium One water based latex interior paint still smells. We have 2 air purifiers and had our windows opens for a week while painting and for 12 days afterward. …. As of today however we are dealing with a smell from Friday. It’s awful and I’m afraid to let my daughter sleep in there (although she has for two nights). WHAT can I do to make it go away. The room seems like it’s cursed. No other room in our house ever smelled like this… Please help with ideas of what to do. How long is this supposed to last. The smell is like a sweet, clay smell. It doesn’t really smell like paint at all. We even crawled into the attic to check for smell and it wasn’t present. We tried sprays, onions, vinegar, steam cleaning. Everything. Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks. Aaren

To be honest I personally have never experienced prolonged smelling after painting a room. Usually something like that might happen if there is excessive moisture which makes the paint dry slower and may contribute to the paint smelling. To try to get rid of the smell I would put a container with some coffee in it. If it doesn’t remove the smell at least will enhance the air a bit.

Comments (932)

  • I’ve unfortunately had the same problem with Sherwin Williams paint and Pittsburg Paint and cannot get rid of the stink. I’m disgusted and will only use AFM Safecoat in the future.

  • Folks — We originally posted with our problem on July 5th 2016 under the name “Pam”. You can go back and see those posts for background. We are postig today to tell you that we did absolutely nothing with this bedroom and allowed it to smell for months without using it.
    After 6 months it was apparent that the intensity of the small was getting smaller. It lingered with varying intensity based on humidity and strangely the amount of direct sunlight the room received. After 9 months the room smelled bad less than 50 percent of the time. After 12 months the smell was so slight that we finally moved into the bedroom ( although with great trepidation) Now about 13 months later we cannot even detect thne smell anymore. It is GONE. The reason for this posting is to provide at least ONE datapoint that wharever generates this wall odor after painting — it is unable to sustain itself indefinately. Ours finally gave out but it took an entire YEAR. At this point we are happy we did not tear out our plaster walls in month 6.
    I have to believe that for at least some of you — the same results can be expected.

    • I too have had success at paint smell FINALLY going away after, I think its been 18 months now. I too have noticed heat and humidity being a trigger for it to get worse. Anyway, it seems quite suddenly to have vanished, even though its getting hotter now that its summer. BTW, I dont believe its VOCs in the paint thats the cause, I think its the chemical makeup of the paint going bad due to a lack of sufficient preservatives in the paint brought on by over government regulations. This is why low VOC paints are actually more of a problem and not less. Bottom line seems to be NEVER paint with paint that has gone bad, and paint goes bad more easily these days due to a governmental enforcement of restrictions in paint manufacturing. How to tell if its gone bad seems to be to simply smell it when you first open the can. Good paint will have more of a chemical smell and bad paint will smell a little putrid, even when still wet and will also have less of a magic marker smell. Bad paint will never cure all the way, even when/if it stops smelling. I know my painted room that has smelled for so long and finally stopped, it still scratches off much more easily than normal paint. In fact, if I take a wet washrag and rub the walls down, the washrag will start to become the color of the walls. And it can easily be scratched down to the drywall just by the smallest force against it. Its really more like a rubber coating on my walls rather than paint. For the record, it was bought on sale at Sherwin Williams and stored for a year before using. When paint goes on sale, its usually because batches starting to get old. So I painted with old paint. And yes, it didnt smell as “magic marker like” either. And I painted before with the same brand and type of paint a year earlier, except it was a fresh batch and the smell was completely gone in just 3 days and the paint cured to a very hard finish.

      Never paint with feet-smell paint!

  • A reply to recent comments:

    Doubtless, the problems listed on this page are not all the same exact kind of problems.

    h82paint: it’t not the low VOC vapors you smell. Low VOC means: low in volatile organic chemicals. A low VOC paint should have very little or no smell. That’s the whole point. If your low VOC paint smells (unless it smells like ammonia and there’s ammonia in the paint) – there’s something wrong with it. If your smell goes away by heating and then airing out the room (or, in your case, using dehumidifier and carbon, which does the same thing) – then your problem wasn’t the same as other people’s, who did the same thing and failed to get rid of the smell.

    Eleanor, according to the EPA: neither acetone nor ammonia are considered a VOC because they do not react with sunlight or other pollutants and promote smog. “However, everyone knows from experience that their emissions indoors are not good to breathe”

    New paints do use ammonia in place of components that were once considered VOCs. Also, the ammonia may be associated with a “cat pee” smell. however, paint shouldn’t continue to smell like cat pee indefinitely.

    Also, in my case, after a year the paint was still not “hard”. it would have been impossible to sand off. Also, IF the paint dries, sanding an entire room presents health hazards of its own (as does replacing drywall)
    If you were unfortunate enough to purchase a paint that never completely dried and continued to emit smells after a year, you may be in for an expense no matter how you choose to deal with it.

    Angela, i am not aware of wallpaper ever solving this problem.

    Pam, thank you so much for coming back to let us know that in some cases the smell WILL go away on its own.
    For me, the smell never got better, and we did wait a year before trying our first coat of primer. The smell only got better in the cold weather, and came on strong when warm weather reappeared.

    James, i agree that this “wall odor phenomenon” grew exponentially with the advent of low VOC paints. However, although for some it may be a problem with “spoiled” paint, that can typically be solved by priming over it. With this “phenomenon” it’s likely there’s a reaction between paint components and the immediate environment. That’s why the problem goes on and on and on…
    You’re right, it’s NOT the VOCs. If you look through the comments on this page, you’ll see that in every case, it was LOW VOC paint that caused the problem. So yes, there may be a lack of preservative, and maybe those were the HIGH VOCs that were removed to meet regulations. However, plenty of people have painted rooms with low VOC paint and NOT had a lingering odor problem.

    My paint didn’t smell at all when i applied it. It began to smell a few days AFTER it was applied. And like others, i didn’t know what was causing it because i had never experienced anything like it.


    Please – if you’re still early in the game:
    CAll the manufacturer and insist that a rep visit. In fact, have them send two reps so they can agree that the smell is coming from the painted wall and not from anything else. Have them write and sign off on their conclusions. MAKE SURE you know their first and last names. Hopefully you still have the cans (the paint i used became so viscous by the time i finished putting a coating on the whole room, the can was empty and i threw it away THANK GOD I still had my receipt.

    BUT: don’t give them the paint can. Let them take a sample. And by the way – it’s almost 100% a sure thing that if they test it they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong with it. Paint companies aren’t required to test for everything that might be a problem. And they’re not required to list components below a certain concentration AND THOSE ARE THE COMPONENTS MOST LIKELY TO CAUSE THE PROBLEM. You would have to pay lots and lots of dollars to have that kind of analysis. I really really wish I’d kept my empty paint cans, because the paint was literally stringy by the time i finished, and there’s no way they could have found nothing wrong with it. But as for smell, as i said, it didn’t start until a few days later, by which time the cans were gone.

    Follow up with customer service and ask them what to do. They’ll tell you to paint with BIN. They’ll offer you your money back for the paint, and they’ll pay for the BIN (or whatever primer they recommend) – then they’ll dismiss you out of hand. If you prime over the bad paint, you’re out of luck if the smell comes back. At that point you can’t prove it was their paint that caused it (unless you got that signed statement from the rep)

    My advice: get an agreement that if the smell comes back after you prime – they’ll help you with the next step. Do whatever they advise if you can get such an agreement. Tell them that you know that the paint company is aware that some customers have this problem, and you don’t want to end up having to spend X amount of dollars to remedy a problem caused by their paint.

    The paint company will play every dirty trick they can play to not take responsibility. But if you’re reading this, then you’re armed.

    The PRA (Paint research association) is a global organization to which all major paint manufacturers belong. About one year ago they still had a page entitled “Wall Odour Phenomenon”. That page was taken down last year – as you can see in this article, the link is dead.

    The word is getting out, and the companies are seeking deniability. Benjamin-Moore suffered a class action suit as the result of a case wherein the description of the problem matched my own problem exactly. They settled, and claimed it was a batch problem. but the batches numbered in the hundreds. BM nows adds a lot of ammonia to their products.

    This phenomenon is still a mystery _ BUT_ it is NOT UNKNOWN to the paint companies and to scientists who work in this field. It’s also known to laboratories and insurance companies, but as of now MY OPINION is that the paint companies are actively working to squelch the customer complaints by saying things like “we’ve never had any reports of this kind of thing” and “if you don’t have the paint we can’t test it” and “we have no reports on any batch problems” and “BIN always works” etc etc etc

    I won’t repeat earlier comments I’ve made on filing complaints with various governmental agencies – BUT please take the time to make those complaints. That’s the only way to get national awareness, which will eventually come back to the manufacturers. If it’s a problem that really can’t be fixed (and i’m sure they’re working on it) – then they should help those customers who are unlucky enough to find themselves with bad product.

    Also, very sadly, they may have fixed the problem, but may still be selling vulnerable product. One thing I’ve seen happen is: the paint companies change the name of a certain paint line without changing the product. Unless you’re really researching these things, you may buy a product that showed up with problems without even knowing that you’re doing so. (I used Olympic ICON paint. The name has now been changed to ASSURE, but it has the same formulation).

    James – i had the “rubber coating” on the walls too. Maybe if I’d waited 6 more months, i would have saved thousands of dollars. It’s just another illustration of how WRONG it is that the paint companies aren’t even acknowledging this problem. At one point, a British company did, and was trying to help customers. Now, it seems like these companies are making a concerted effort to “rub out” any evidence that the problem was even acknowledged. They seem to be banking on the fact that customers still are mostly operating in the dark and unaware of the phenomenon and that it’s happened to many others.

    Best of luck to all.

    In the states, the statute of limitations to sue for a bad product is two years in most cases. So, don’t wait too long if you feel you’ll go that route. First and foremost – get on the company. They need to take responsibility for these very expensive problems they’re causing. Even if you’re willing to wait a year or more to see if the problem goes away on it’s own, get that in writing beforehand in case you’ve still got a stink 18 months later. Some of these companies are making billions. They shouldn’t be leaving working folks to ensure their profits by fixing these problems out of their own pockets.

  • We just received a letter from the small claims court today: we lost our case against PPG. We weren’t able to meet the “burden of proof” – and this is of course because PPG made sure that we wouldn’t be able to.

    I’m angry that as a working class person who tried to DIY (as I had done for many years with no problem) would have to eat the cost of replacing drywall just so I can live in a place that doesn’t stink.

    PPG did what it had to do to make sure we were screwed. They’re a global company with billions of dollars in profits and yet they must make sure they don’t lose a few thousand dollars to someone whose house they stunk up.

    The rep that came to our house suddenly found another position with a “strategic marketing partner” of PPG – and didn’t show up in court, although he was subpoenaed. The corporate attorney I had to deal with before I sued tossed me here and there and lied to me, trying to tag me along until the statute of limitations ran out.

    I’m beyond disgusted by the way I was treated and cheated by this company. I’ll never buy another product from PPG and I hope no one else will either.

    Disgusting what they put us through. No regard for any common human decency. And these were individuals making decisions, all along the way. I hope that I never treat anyone that way just for the sake of a buck.

    I want to again thank the owners of this site for providing this forum. I hope that anyone in their area will give them their business. When you hire a professional to do your painting, at least if you end up with some problem, you will have someone on your side to testify and provide evidence.

    Hire them for no other reason than they gave us this forum. I think their work looks amazing and I wish they were in indiana.

  • Mold….in plumbing or walls…seal exterior with brick/wood sealer or mold resistant paint…then seal air infiltration…seal off inside of walls from drafts and humidity….replace drywall with mold resistant drywall…prime and paint mold resistant paint on interior…fix any pipe or drain leaks first…then sue again….appeal…sue..sue…sue!!!! The ones making ur family live in a WW2 gas chamber…Sue them!!!!

  • We are having the same issues as many contributors above.
    We painted with Sherwin W Low VOC paint Harmony, the smell of paint gave way to a sickly sweet smell that got stronger a week later. We opened all doors and windows on a very cool and low humidity day for 24 hours on multiple days. The smell doesn’t effect me but my wife cannot tolerate it for even a few minutes now. She is sensitized.
    We had a huge blowout fight over this as mentioned by one of the posts above.
    This is REAL> The paint companies are susbstituting a fragrance in the paint and calling it low VOC.
    Also it may be susceptible( as noted in another post) to bacteria due to a lack of preservative.
    We have been advised NOT to paint over it or use KILZ.
    The environmental hygienist we hired has explained that the paint didn’t cure properly and the only solution short of taking out the sheetrock ( impossible for us) is HIGH HEAT 115 degrees for 3 days. This will bake and force the paint to cure.
    I actually got this answer from 2 unrelated hygienists.
    You can call a SERV PRO or a bedbug company as they use high heat as well.
    We are embarking on this path tomorrow morning so I will add to this post in a few days.
    We are in a terrible situation with the wall odor phenomenon .
    The paint company Sherwin W of course says this “Harmony” low VOC is a best seller and they never heard of this. Lies…’s well documented here.
    I hope this helps one other person in this regard.

    • Have you had any success finding a solution to your problem? We have similar problem. I can smell it, it burns my eyes and we had to abandon the room. Husband can’t detect it. I complained to Sherwin Williams, they suggested BIN. I first did two coats of an anti-bacterial/mildew primer from Rustoleum, waited ten days then did a coat of BIN yesterday. I can swear the exact smell is back.
      I’m a bit lost at this point. Many of these forums are old. I’m hoping somebody found a solid solution.

    • RJ, I have been dealing with the exact same issue that your are describing. I purchased Sherwyn Williams Emerald paint on sale in February 2020 and the paint still has a sickly clay smell eve after we primed and painted over it with Ecos.

      Did you try baking the paint or anything else? What were your results? Please let us know.

  • Have the same problem. My apartment was painted in October 2020 by professionals with some matte white paint (Brand?).
    The hallway and living room smell a bit when the temperature is below 16c. Fluren 37 took some of the smell.
    But what should be my office is the smell so awful.
    The office has been aired for over a month now and the last 4 days there have been freezing temperatures of -20c / -4°F outside. But the cold obviously makes the smell worse!.

    Have also tried vinegar, coffee, candles, wash with chlorine, Fluren 37, bake the room with fan heater but nothing really works.

    The smell in the office: moist clay and sour milk.
    The smell in the hallway and the living room: Bone marrow. example, a beef bone to your dog.

    Regards Tommy, Denmark

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