PRA regularly receive queries relating to wall odour phenomenon, mainly during spring time each year, when more people choose to decorate, therefore we have decided to re-issue our statement, originally issued in September 2014.

The information posted below was correct at the time of writing. Further studies may have been conducted elsewhere in the industry and other reasons for wall odour may have been identified. Still, in the main the solution is usually the same.

Any tests or work carried out on this subject were commissioned by the paint manufacturers and as such is wholly owned by them. Should you wish to get a copy of the test results you must gain written permission from the paint manufacturer.

‘Wall odour’ from decorative paints

Wall odour has been around for quite some time, involving paints, wallpaper and plasterboard in several different countries. It relates to occasional instances when an unpleasant smell is noticed after painting. Whilst this does not occur very often (less than 1 in 100,000 walls are affected), it is may be becoming more noticeable as paints are being developed to contain less solvents, which previously would have masked other smells. Indeed, repainting a room is often carried out not just for cosmetic reasons but also to reduce background odour and refresh the room.

Users of paints should not be alarmed about ‘wall odour’ as there have not been any health and safety side effects reported as a result of it. The materials responsible for the odour are extremely smelly even at very low levels, well below those which are likely to pose health issues, even with small children.

What causes ‘wall odour’?

The cause of ‘wall odour’ is not completely understood. However, it is thought to be related to an interaction between materials present in or on the walls before painting, the paint itself and ozone present in the air, which in the presence of sunlight, then releases very low levels of easily detectable odours. Independent tests following recent incidents show that this is not related to the quality of the paint products, i.e. it is not caused by the paint having ‘gone off’ in some way.
In those rare instances when it has occurred, it has only involved conventional matt emulsion paints; so users of silks, satins, eggshells or ultra-durable premium matt finishes are even less likely to be affected by it.

How do I know if I’m experiencing ‘wall odour phenomenon’?

‘Wall odour’ typically presents itself as an unpleasant smell, which is particularly noticeable after walls have been painted, and especially when there is direct sunlight on the wall in question and a draught in the room.

How do I deal with ‘wall odour’?

There are two ways of addressing the issue of ‘wall odour’:

1. If you are happy to rectify the problem yourself, you should seal the wall in question by applying an alkali resistant sealer, before repainting. Alkali resistant sealers are not usually needed and so are not usually stocked in retail DIY stores, but can be purchased from trade decorating centres.

2. If you need further assistance then we recommend that you contact the Customer Service department of the paint brand you have purchased. You should be able to identify the manufacturer of your paint from the pack.

Current research

Research continues into understanding the specific causes of wall odour and some manufacturers, notably in continental Europe and the USA, have recently launched new products aimed at being odour free or odour suppressing.
In the UK, paint manufacturers have been working on the matter and, as developments become available, we will share them with you here.