Solvent-based paint and varnish removers: a focused toxicologic review of existing and alternative constituents

J Appl Toxicol. 2020 Oct;40(10):1325-1341. doi: 10.1002/jat.3979. Epub 2020 Apr 27.


Paint and varnish removers constitute a major potential source of organic solvent exposure to contractors and home improvement enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the leading paint remover formulations have traditionally contained, as major ingredients, chemicals classified as probable human carcinogens (eg, methylene chloride) or reproductive toxicants (eg, N-methylpyrrolidone). In addition, because of its unique toxicology (ie, hepatic conversion to carbon monoxide compounding generic solvent narcosis and arrythmogenesis), high volatility, and rigorous requirements for personal protective equipment, methylene chloride exposures from paint removers have been linked to numerous deaths involving both occupational and consumer usage. The aim of this review is to summarize the known toxicology of solvent-based paint remover constituents (including those found in substitute formulations) in order to provide health risk information to regulators, chemical formulators, and end-users of this class of products, and to highlight any data gaps that may exist.

Keywords: N-methyl pyrrolidone; carboxyhemoglobin; carcinogen; methylene chloride; narcosis; organic solvents; paint remover; paint stripper; reproductive toxicants; varnish remover.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Paint / toxicity*
  • Solvents / toxicity*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / toxicity*


  • Carcinogens
  • Solvents
  • Volatile Organic Compounds