This article discusses the health problems that might occur when someone accidentally or intentionally swallows watercolor paints.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Paint - watercolors
Man-made or natural pigments (especially cadmium and cobalt)
Note: Watercolor paints sold for home use are generally considered nonpoisonous.
Several tubes of the artist's watercolors need to be eaten before symptoms occur.
Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk if the patient is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
Use soap and water to wash any paint off skin and clothes.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
Patient's age, weight, and condition
Name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
Time it was swallowed
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A trip to the emergency room is normally not necessary.
However, if the poisoning requires medical help, the health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:
Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth and into the lungs, connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
Fluids through the veins (by IV)
Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
How well you do depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Recovery is likely because watercolor paints are generally considered nonpoisonous.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.