Awful Experience with Lacquer Thinner, Possible Exposure

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Forum topic by NeophyteGrant posted 11-12-2020 01:51 AM 1230 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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147 posts in 1670 days

11-12-2020 01:51 AM

Topic tags/keywords: lacquer lacquer thinner finishing toxic

I was doing a small lacquer thinner wash in my garage to see if I could remove any remaining finish off a vintage table. MAN, WAS IT AWFUL. After I used some mineral spirits to get a sense of what the veneer would look like finished. I’m not sure if this compounded it.

I prepped by wearing a 3m full-face respirator with organic vapor cartridges (the 200 buck one, no joke protection I thought), and for ventilation had opened the garage door (closed it due to very high winds) and the window by the project. I also wore nitrile gloves (supposed to be rubber but I had limited contact for a brief period with the rag). I put a bit on a shop towel and spread it on the surface after some sandng.

I only took the mask off briefly at the door before leaving the shop as far as I remember.

I felt funky and a bit intoxicated, some burning sensation on my skin when showering down immediately afterwards. I stripped down upon coming in the house, three it in the basement laundry and my clothes (the vapor went through my outer layer) stunk up the basement. Before taking a shower I instinctively took a whiff of my boxers wondering where the heck the smell had come from and now I’m worried I was inadvertantly more exposed to it.

Has anyone had an experience like this? I went in the garage today after 24 hours without a mask for a minute —quick in and out—or so to get a dolly out and have had some light burning feeling in my lungs from it for an hour afterwards. I’m trying to figure out if its psychological (I have badddd anxiety) or what. And wondering if I should steer clear of my garage for several days to air it out.

Never want to touch this stuff again.

7 replies so far

View bc4393's profile


105 posts in 2304 days

#1 posted 11-12-2020 04:22 AM

air it out. It’ll take some time to dissipate where you don’t smell it anymore but you’ll be fine. I’ve been around it as long as I can remember in the basement shop (maybe 6?) with dad cleaning tools and had my hands drenched in it hundreds of times since then (I’m 40 now). Can’t say much for future lung cancer for myself but I wouldn’t worry. Everyone’s body reacts differently to different irritants. Unless you drank it I wouldn’t worry about the burning. Keep wearing your mask if it bothers you but no you’re not going to die tomorrow. I don’t let my little ones around when I’m using it. Be a better dad and all that but I still use it when cleaning finishing tools from oil based stuff or my spray gun. And no it doesn’t wash totally off where you can’t smell it after a shower or washing your hands.

View SMP's profile


4435 posts in 1067 days

#2 posted 11-12-2020 04:37 AM

Is it newer lacquer thinner or is it a really old can?

As i have gotten older, i have become way more sensitive to certain chemicals. I used to use Briwax a lot but now if I even crack a can open I will get a headache for hours, my eyes burn and itch, feel like I have a cold and low grade fever, if it gets on my skin my skin will get dry and cracked and stay like alligator skin for several days. Due to this I have been trying to switch to less chemicals and more natural products.

View NeophyteGrant's profile


147 posts in 1670 days

#3 posted 11-12-2020 05:31 AM

It is an old can—about 4 years. That’s a good point on age; not sure if that exacerbates it. Thanks for the reassurance guys. Honestly, it was a bit of a shock how caustic it was (say, compared to the low-odor but not odorless mineral spirits). Put me on edge.

View Racheed's profile


7 posts in 547 days

#4 posted 11-12-2020 05:57 AM

My times have changed. I started in a refinishing shop when I was 17 in 1973. We didn’t have any mask or gloves except when stripping with methelyne cloride. I was constantly washing my hands with lacquer thinner just to get the stain off my hands. I had my hands in all sorts of nasty things. No one was really aware of how bad this stuff was and how it built up in our body. I did this for about 25 years and my wife finally convinced me to give it up. I am going into my second year of immune therapy for bladder cancer. First thing my doctor asked me was I ever in the trades. So I had to learn the hard way. So yes use the mask and gloves no matter how inconvenient it is.My diagnosis is good for now and I am still in my shop. Just a gentle warning for some of you folks

View CaptainKlutz's profile (online now)


4678 posts in 2655 days

#5 posted 11-12-2020 10:05 AM

Not uncommon for folks can have allergy reactions to certain solvents, especially if they have asthma or seasonal allergies.

Four year old solvent is not old. Get the MSDS or SDS of the product you used. Use it to learn what caused the issue.

Most lacquer thinners are blend of acetone, alcohol, toluene, xylene, naphtha, Benzene, Ethyl acetate, 2-Butoxyethanol or glycol ether, and/or glycol ester; solvents. Different brands use different recipes.

Can buy many of these separately in quarts from Ace hardware if you want to experiment? (MEK substitute is Ethyl Acetate)

The petroleum solvents: naphtha, toluene, xylene, benzene; all have distinct almost gasoline type odor. They are hard to miss. Toluene/benzene tends to give folks headaches almost instantly.

2-Butoxyethanol and Ethyl Acetate are sweet smelling (super sweet). High concentrations of Ethyl Acetate will cause burning sensation in mucous membranes. Folks with sensitivity to it, have likely had previous over exposure that triggers a stronger reaction. Ethyl Acetate is commonly used with acetone in nail polish remover.

The newer low VOC lacquer thinners tend to be mostly acetone/alcohol lately. But they have just enough toluene/xylene/benzene to make you sick when you smell it. If you are buying commercial grade lacquer thinner from paint supplier, then you should wear proper protective equipment (PPE) they recommend.

Several of these solvents can be absorbed through skin. If you are wearing absorbent cotton clothes when using these solvents without strong ventilation, the vapors will collect in clothing. Current health and safety for handling these skin absorption solvents is wearing Tyvek overalls, or classic painter’s white polyester bunny suit when using them out in open. Might want to get one for your next lacquer thinner adventure? Have to wear my bunny suit when spraying lacquer, or SWMBO will not allow my paint clothes in house.

Be safe, not sorry.

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, Doom, despair, agony on me… - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1792 posts in 2891 days

#6 posted 11-12-2020 12:45 PM

I’ve been heavily exposed to lacquer and thinners since 1963. I’ve even had the same symptoms as you the first time of exposure. Now, I love the smell of lacquer and it’s thinners.
My only concern when reading your post is when you mentioned closing the garage door and window. I certainly hope if your water heater is gas, it’s located elsewhere. The fumes and vapors if contained in a closed room is a bomb waiting for an ignition source. ................ Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View NeophyteGrant's profile


147 posts in 1670 days

#7 posted 11-13-2020 05:45 AM

Thanks for the reassurance everyone; appreciate it.

Nubsnstubs: I had the window open but closed the garage door due to wind. Luckily, the water heater is in the basement (this was in the garage), but that is a good point. To anyone: I put my oil rags in a bag with water; what is the risk of spontaneous combustion for the lacquer thinner. I put the paper towel with the bit of lacquer thinner on the cement with nothing around it flammable.

CaptainKlutz: That’s all great info and I’m going to keep that in mind if I ever tango with this stuff again.

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