Non toxic, Solvent-Free Oil Painting





One of the glaring misconceptions about painting in oils is that you need to use highly toxic, highly flammable solvents (turpentine, mineral spirits)—this is NOT the case. These solvents damage your health and pollute the environment. I started oil painting without the use of solvents in 2003 and haven’t looked back. I use paint straight out of the tube and add tiny amounts of linseed oil for more fluidity. Here are a few tips for solvent free oil painting:

  1. If you are painting in layers (indirect painting) follow the “fat over lean” rule: each layer should contain more oil than the previous layer. So, your first layer should be paint right out of the tube—your next layer should be paint with a little linseed oil added—and so on.
  2. If you want to start your painting with thin “washes” of paint you can use water-soluble oil paint—Fortunately there are a number of major paint manufacturers that produce water-soluble oil paint—Grumbacher’s Max paint is my personal favorite.
  3. Clean your brushes with ordinary dish soap and water.
  4. Never leave oil soaked rags lying around—they can burst into flames (due to the strong oxidizing agent in the linseed oil). Immediately after use place rags in a sealed water-filled metal container.
  5. Always look for the AP label on artist’s oil paints—this label means the paint is considered non-toxic after extensive scrutiny by a team of independent toxicologists.

6 thoughts on “Non toxic, Solvent-Free Oil Painting

  1. This is all news to me. I stopped painting forty years ago because of the toxicity. When you put the rags in the metal closed container, how do you deal with them after that, and get them dried? Could you just use paper towels instead of rags? I never heard of the Grumbacher’s line of oil paints that are water soluble! How exciting! Thanks. Irene

  2. Here is another question, do the water based oil paints work as well? Are you saying in this comment, that you should start with the water based paints, and then switch over to oil, or can you use the linseed oil with the water based oil paints? So many changes!Thanks Irene

    • Hi!
      The water-soluble oil paint is great! It’s as archival as traditional oil paint. I would not recommend using linseed oil as a medium for the h20 oils—there are several mediums available that are manufactured especially for h20 oils—–check out for some examples.
      I usually use the h20 oils in the first layer (under-painting) and then switch to traditional oils with just linseed oil as a medium.
      Nowadays I make all my own oil paint from scratch—it’s much more fluid than oil from a tube. Hope this helps!!
      As far as linseed oil and rags—I use an old t-shirt to wipe my brushes on, and then I air dry it on my metal easel—I also have a metal trash can that I fill with water to submerge any linseed oil soaked rags.

  3. Thank you- for taking the time to share your knowledge.
    It is very much appreciated.

  4. I have been trying to figure out a way to paint without solvents. Unfortunately I am really allergic to alkyd resins. What I am really having trouble with is when the paint sinks. How do you oil out when that happens? I like to work in layers but often find the darks sinking and getting dull looking. I repaint and again they look dull when dry. Adding a little linseed or walnut oil to the paint doesn’t seem to help much. I’ve used acrylic primed Utrecht, Raphael, Vincent, or similar canvases. Would the sinking be helped it I added another layer of gesso in the very beginning even though they are already primed?

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