Is encaustic toxic?
With adequate ventilation and a working temperature that is under 200°F, encaustic is a safe medium to work with. It is important to use a thermometer to keep a check on your temperature. Encaustic fumes, when released at a safe temperature, are not considered dangerous. Yet, all wax mediums, when heated, do release fumes.
All waxes, when they are melted– whether as candles, batik, or encaustic—release a mixture of invisible fume (in the form of tiny particles) and gases, such as acrolien and aldehydes. [source]
Solvents should not be used in encaustic painting. All solvents are toxic and should never be heated. Cold wax medium is not encaustic and should never be heated.
Encaustic artists will use other materials in the studio including oil paints, pastels, inks, glues and pigments. It is wise to read the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for all of your materials to ensure safe handling.
Why ventilate your encaustic studio? Is wearing a respirator recommended?
R&F Handmade Paints stresses the importance of ventilation even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms.
It is important to work in a well-ventilated area at all times, regardless of how long you spend in the studio or how sensitive you are to the emissions initially. Respirators are not a good substitute for ventilation because they are not approved for acrolein and there is no single cartridge that would filter out all the contaminants.
In addition to good ventilation, a NIOSH-approved particulate respirator is a good thing to have on hand in your studio when working with particles that you don’t want to inhale.
Physical reactions to unvented encaustic emissions
Some individuals may develop headaches or other physical symptoms from unvented encaustic emissions.
I am sensitive to scents from perfumes, cleaning supplies and solvents, but I don’t react to beeswax-based encaustic. I’ve always been very careful to keep my griddle temperature below 180°F. I love the smell of beeswax so I was surprised when members of my family complained about my unventilated encaustic. I now have proper ventilation.
On two occasions I have experienced reactions during encaustic workshops. The first time was when I worked with a dry pigment and carelessly allow the pigment to become airborne. The second time was when I was exposed to microcrystalline wax, the studio had ventilation but I still experienced a headache and catch in my throat. I walked away from the studio and felt much better in a short time.
Encaustic Studio Ventilation Solutions
This PDF from R&F is a must-read resource when analyzing your encaustic ventilation needs.
When considering ventilation for your studio it is important to not only vent the fumes out but to also bring fresh air in. When I am working in my studio I open a window behind me to replace the air that is being vented out.
For my home studio, the venting solution I chose was the Vent-A-Fume. The Vent-A-Fume Fume Extractor is a complete ventilation system designed for encaustic painting. It is a tabletop model that sits beside the encaustic palette. I am very happy with my choice. The Vent-A-Fume is so powerful that I have to use a travel mug for my tea or it goes cold too quickly!
Now I can make my own encaustic medium and paint in my studio without health concerns.
Please add your comments below about your encaustic studio ventilation solutions.
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26 thoughts on “Venting your Encaustic Studio”
Do you need specific containers for heating your wax? I’ve been using tins from the dollar store
Any flat-bottomed metal tin should be fine.
Any people in the UK got ant ventilation tips? There is no way I can afford let alone get a vent a fume all the way here.
My husband has a hobby spray booth for painting models.It was under 200 from Amazon. I was venting out just with a fan but it didn’t seem to be enough.I’m in Muskoka so also the room was freezing so I borrowed the spray booth and it worked very well .I was able to place my griddle in the booth and it vents out the window.The window only needs to be open a couple of inches so now the room isn’t too cold.
Hi there I am new to encaustic, and have a private art space with no windows. It’s in a large industrial building and there is a few foot gap between the tall ceiling and the wall to help air flow. I just purchased the vent-a-fume that I will attach to an air duct, and have another fan I can use to keep air moving. Any other tips for not having a window with fresh air? Am I doomed?
Great article! I’m concerned about the fumes released when I heat my painting with my torch as I’m sure it gets much hotter than 200 degrees a lot of the time. I currently have an exhaust fan (8″ inline fan, 710 CFM) that vents my wax pans really well, but it’s not strong enough to vent my work area when I’m painting on larger panels. I’ve considered purchasing another of the same fan to vent my work surface or a larger CFM fan to do the entire space – my concern is a second fan would double the noise output. Any thoughts?
In my opinion, a Vent-A-Fume is the best option. It doesn’t pull the fumes up toward the artist’s face. It vents out the side of the work area.
Thank for this info. I just had the vent a fume installed in my very small “studio” but am not sure where to place it. Should it be facing the palate with the melted wax or pointed more at the area I’m working in with the heat gun or torch? Also I didn’t realize I needed fresh air with that so thanks for that info but brrrr in the winter!
Yes, Lynne, it should be facing the palate. Just open the window a crack in the winter.
I have one of Paula’s hot box and have been using it for years, not all the time…. I would work with it for a while, then do some other work. This has gone on for about 7 years… I recently found out that I have toxic levels of aluminum in my body and for a while I couldn’t figure out how I got it…. until my mechanical engineer niece saw my set up and told me when you heat aluminum it ‘off gasses’ and without an adequate ventilation system, I was just sucking it in. I am looking now for another surface, stainless, tempered dark glass or I will have to give it up all together. The kind of ventilation I would need is not possible in the set up I have. I am disappointed.
Judy, I suggest reaching out to Vent-a-fume (call Jay (716) 243-5569). He may be able to help you sort out your ventilation issues. I didn’t think it was possible but a little rearranging and I now have great ventilation!
The aluminum plates used with the Roland HOTbox are heavy etched and clear anodized…..in other words, the aluminum is “sealed” by the anodizing process; that’s why we do it. Perhaps there is something else leading to your diagnosis?
Any recommendations for a vent a fume for the uk?
We have 220v/50hz blowers available for use in the UK (your power source) with the Encaustic Fume Extractor. Give me a call or shoot me an email!
it has been explained to me that downdraft with external exhaust, and always window open is safe and best set up for encaustic. kitchen is not safe for using encaustic materials whatsoever. it is very sad to learn of many people seriously ill due to not paying attention to safety precautions while engaging with toxic materials. take care.
What health concerns are there other than headaches & a scratchy throat?
I am concerned about the level of noise a ‘vent-a-fume’ puts out. Any comments on this?
Give Jay a call (716) 243-5569 he will be able to tell you how loud it is. I don’t find it too loud. I can listen to music and talk to others comfortably.
This is so expensive! Are there any alternatives?
Options will depend on your setup. If you have a window you may be able to fit it with at reverse fan these aren’t expensive but they aren’t as effective https://amzn.to/2CUDNj1
Some artists have a kitchen range hood installed directly over their griddle. You may be able to pick up a used one at your local ReStore.
I am just embarking on encaustic painting. I have bought about $200 worth of materials, tools and books. I planned to do my painting under the stove exhaust fan, but am now questioning if this will be enough to remain safe. I live in an apartment, so the large Vent-A-Fume is not an option. Is this too risky to do in my limited living space?
You could look into purchasing a reverse fan if it will fit in your window. Here are a couple from Amazon – I hope one of these will fit your window. https://amzn.to/2wjFHqC https://amzn.to/2KDYpfX
It isn’t ideal to prepare food in the same space as where you create art, but I’m sure a lot of people do this. If you work in your kitchen, cover the stove well. Wax gets everywhere!
Reference the “large Vent-A-Fume” ….the Encaustic Fume Extractor by Vent A Fume weighs 19 lbs complete. I think you would be surprised how little space the entire system actually needs to perform properly. Give me a call for your solution. (716) 243-5569
Thank you for this post, Ruth. In our passion to create, we often overlook safety concerns. While I have a powerful vent (husband-made) over my encaustic palette, I’ve forgotten to bring in fresh air. That’s not feasible in the cold winter months so I must remember to take breaks. Thanks again for your thoughtful posting.
The first day I used my new Vent-A-Fume I forgot to open the window. I started to feel a weight on my chest and it became hard to breathe. I realized my mistake and opened the window. It was a very cold wintery day but I needed the influx of fresh air.
nice to know about ventilation. we must take care about fumes while working with wax and oil.