Eco-Healthy Child Care® Fact Sheets:

Art Supplies

Although an important tool for creative early learning, many art supplies can contain toxic ingredients that, when used or stored in a play area, can cause immediate and/or long-term health effects. Safe and conscious use of certified products is a must for a healthy child care environment.

Health Concerns and Exposure Information

The ingredients used in some are and crafts supplies can cause a range of toxic effects. Lead, cadmium, asbestos and organic solvents are sometimes used to enhance pigmentation, preserve art products, and to improve application. These toxic ingredients can trigger a variety of health effects, especially if used in a poorly ventilated area:

  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Some forms of cancer

Paint brushes with paint






Children are uniquely vulnerable; it is important to purchase and use supplies that are certified as non-toxic.

In addition, young children are more likely to have contact with products on their skin, hair, and in their mouths and eyes. As such, children in grade six and lower should only use non-toxic art and craft materials.

Adult supervision is always recommended when young children are using any type of art supplies. 

Types of Exposure

A child's hand covered in blue paint.

Inhalation: The dusts and vapors from art and craft materials can be inhaled, and can damage developing lungs.

Ingestion: Children are especially vulnerable to ingesting chemicals from art supplies as they regularly put their hands into their mouths.

Skin Contact: Children tend to get art and craft materials on their skin during their creative play. Chemicals in art supplies can be irritating to the skin. Children’s skin is also more permeable than that of adults.

Tips and Strategies for Reducing Exposure Risk

Tips for Safer Arts and Crafts

  • Use only non-toxic art supplies approved by the Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI). Look for the ACMI non-toxic seal "AP"

ACMI Non-toxic seal

  • Read labels and identify precautions.
  • Keep workspaces ventilated with open screened windows and/or doors, or work outside.
  • Do not allow children to eat or drink while using art and craft materials.
  • Ensure children wear protective smocks and wash their hands thoroughly after using art and craft supplies.
  • Be sure children are closely supervised when using household supplies as art materials to avoid ingestion/improper use (e.g., liquid starch, shaving cream).
  • Wet mop, or vacuum with a high-efficiency HEPA filter to clean floors.
  • Use a wet cloth to clean surfaces.

Products To Avoid & Safer Alternatives

Products to Avoid

Paints and paint brushes.

1. Solvent Based Products (markers, oil-based paints and cements) may be extremely flammable and release toxic vapors.

2. Products that contain lead and other heavy metals (some paints, glazes and enamels).

3. Products that can be inhaled, or get into children’s eyes, such as: clay in dry form, powdered paints, wheat paste, and aerosols (spray paint, hair spray).

4. Commercial Dyes

5. Products that are not in original containers or products without proper labeling (including donated items).

6. Instant Papier-mâché (may contain asbestos fibers, lead or other metals from colored printing ink).

7. Permanent felt tip markers or scented markers (hazardous if inhaled or ingested).

8. Avoid products with the ACMI “CL” or cautionary label and/or that have a California Proposition 65 warning.

If a product contains a harmful substance, the label must include a signal word to call attention to the hazard, such as DANGER, CAUTION, WARNING, HAZARD, or POISON. The label may also include the statement “Keep out of reach of children."

Safer Alternatives

  • Plant-based dyes (such as: canned beets, cranberries, frozen blueberries, turmeric).
  • Papier-mâché made from newspaper and library paste or white paste (flour/starch and water).
  • Liquid non-aerosol products.
  • Water-based glues, markers and paints.

Water color paint and brushes and a blank notebook.