Paint stripping product with methylene chloride on sale in a retail store in Caloocan City in the Philippines.

Repainting your house? Mind the content of that paint remover you’re using. It might have toxic methylene chloride (also known as dichloromethane), the most commonly used chemical in paint strippers.

Dozens of people have died in the US due to acute exposure to methylene chloride in paint removers, which can cause dizziness, headache, unconsciousness and death due to central nervous system depression.

Exposure to this chemical can irritate the lungs, damage the liver and the kidneys, and affect the nervous system causing memory loss, poor coordination, and decreased thinking ability.

Methylene chloride may also cause cancer in humans.

In the Philippines, consumers have been advised against using paint removers that have this chemical. According to the toxics watchdog group Ecowaste Coalition, methylene chloride-containing paint removers, or paint strippers, are easily available in retail stores and online shopping sites there.

The group is calling for restricted consumer access to and use of such paint removers, and a phase-out target for methylene chloride use in the manufacture of paint removers. “In the meantime, paint removers with methylene chloride should be clearly identified along with a noticeable hazard warning,” it proposes.

Beware! Paint removers used to loosen paint from surfaces may contain hazardous chemicals.

To keep paint removers containing methylene chloride out of consumers’ hands, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in November 2019 banned the retail sale or distribution of such products, including in e-commerce sites. The EPA is now proposing to ban methylene chloride for all consumer uses and in most commercial and industrial uses, and create strict workplace controls for the remaining uses to ensure that workers are not harmed by methylene chloride.

The European Union banned the sale in 2011 of paint removers containing methylene chloride in a concentration equal to or greater than 0.1% by weight to the general public or to professionals, and eventually stopped its use by professionals after June 2012.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), methylene chloride products come in 2 varieties: non-flammable and flammable. The flammable paint strippers have less methylene chloride then the non-flammable paint strippers, but they have other flammable chemicals, including acetone, toluene, or methanol.

The CPSC advises the following when using paint strippers:
1. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety precautions on the label.
2. Wear chemical-resistant gloves appropriate to the type of stripper being used.
3. Avoid getting the paint stripper on your skin or in your eyes.
4. Use paint strippers outdoors, if possible.
5. Do not use flammable paint strippers near any source of sparks, flame, or high heat.
6. Only strip paint with chemicals that are marketed as paint strippers.
7. Dispose of paint strippers according to the instructions on the label.