However, while it’s tempting to pull your new, shiny power painter straight outta the box and go immediately on a mass shooting spree like a home-improvement-focused John Wick — first, you need to take some crucial precautions.
Here’s your complete guide to spray gun safety — not just keeping you protected from harm, but also making your power-painting projects more enjoyable to complete and ensuring the most satisfying of finishes.
Paint Sprayer Safety — The Basics
Buddy, don’t be alarmed.
Using a paint sprayer doesn’t rank among the most dangerous of undertakings — such as TIG welding, using a chainsaw, or having an affair with your wife’s best friend.
Yet, it’s imperative to remember that you’re wielding a gun — although it shoots out paint instead of nine-millimeter rounds. And, this home-improvement Glock, its power unit, and the coating medium it propels can be a somewhat hazardous weapon if used incorrectly.
The features that make these power tools a little more dangerous than a handheld brush are:
- High power output.
- Risk of eye and skin injury.
- Airborne atomization of coating mediums.
- Combination of liquids and electricity.
- Risk of damaged parts impairing function.
You could err on the side of caution and stick with traditional manual methods — it’s unlikely you’re going to take your eye out with a roller, well, unless you’re ridiculously clumsy. But then, using this handheld method or utilizing a brush takes much longer than a power-painter, provides a less satisfactory finish, and isn’t as much fun as using a spray gun.
Generally speaking, there are two formats of portable paint sprayers — turbines and airless:
The ultimate beast among power painters. Pushing out an eye-watering 3000 PSI or greater, these nuclear DIY tools possess sufficient grunt to damage brickwork and dent car body panels if used incorrectly — never mind what they can do to your skin. Check out my airless spraying guide for detailed guidance on using this type of machine.
12 Tips to Safely Use a Paint Sprayer
One more thing — this guide shouldn’t be considered a replacement for the manufacturer’s instructions included with your machine.
1. Protect Your Property
The safe use of a paint sprayer isn’t just about your wellbeing — but that of your property too.
While it’s fun to blast away carefreely at your living room door like a scene from Reservoir Dogs (1992) — it can be an expensive shooting spree when you inadvertently also drench your plush carpets, antique furniture, and Ultra-HD TV.
Hence, always ensure that anything in the immediate vicinity of your target material is protected. Key items to use are:
- Teflon tape.
- Old newspaper.
- Drop cloths.
- Polythene sheeting.
- Masking tape.
While separately housed power units have benefits, including faster delivery, better durability, and are more suited to thicker mediums, one issue is they can be the size of a small car (well, almost).
As they’re relatively small, the best handheld paint sprayers can be stored in the boot of your car, under the sink, or in a kitchen cupboard, making them the ideal unit for casual or intermittent DIYers. Furthermore, being bijou, you can easily transport them from site to site — try moving a pneumatic compressor just to help your Auntie Mable redecorate her living room.
2. Wear Protective Clothing
Donning the correct protective wear not only shields you and your clothes from pressurized paint — but also makes you feel like a CSI operative investigating a murder scene. Cosplay and shooting rolled into one — the ultimate weekend experience.
At the very least, you should safeguard yourself with:
It’s crucial when choosing your protective material that it’s lightweight and comfortable. This will reduce any risks of overheating during your project and enable you to work more safely and efficiently.
I recommend light disposable clothing as it can be thrown away at the end of the day and also eliminates the cost and time of cleaning paint-covered attire. For the more environmentally aware, consider utilizing reusable coveralls — although ensure at the end of your project you don’t throw them into the laundry bin with the rest of the family clothes — unless you want to explain to your wife why her Sunday church blouse is now covered in a pearlescent motor topcoat.
Have you ever shot paint at 3000 PSI into your eyes? No? Well, neither have I. But according to clinical reports — it’s not very pleasant and can result in blindness.
And, even if you’re not as clumsy (or foolish) to point the shooter at your face and squeeze the trigger — paint bounceback from your target material can easily spray into your eyes — at the very least causing irritation, or at worst, infection and corrosion.
Hence always wear protective goggles. For comfortable and practical use, select those that are:
- Anti-fog — keeping downtime to a minimum.
- Enclosed — preventing sneaky paint from entering from the sides.
- Lightweight with a soft band for comfort.
- All-around vision.
- Solvent resistant — to prevent degradation if using solvent-based mediums.
I recommend keeping your eye protective gear on until the sprayer is cleaned and packed away. The rinsing process can be a high-risk time due to it usually being at the end of a long day when you’re eager to finish and crack open a cold one. Even dirty paint water splashed into your eye could be enough to cause an injury — so it’s crucial to always keep them shielded.
Paint-drenched hands aren’t just a sticky annoyance. They impair your grip — requiring more effort to hold the gun steadily, decrease your accuracy, and increase the risk of slippage (and shooting yourself in the eye — see above).
For turbine and HVLP/LVLP guns with low PSI, disposable nitrile gloves are sufficient. They prevent your coating medium from covering your hands and can be swiftly replaced when soaked excessively.
However, for high-pressure airless machines — you need to bring out the big boys.
Want to be scared?
Paint hitting bare skin at 3000 PSI can cause injection injury — which is not only painful, but carries the additional risks of:
So, if you’re using one of these paint spraying behemoths, ensure that your hands are protected by industry-grade safety gloves.
For a sprayer to function correctly, it needs to atomize the paint into a fine mist. While the majority of this coating medium hits your target material — up to 25 percent can remain airborne.
Inhaling paint isn’t great for your lungs — increasing the risk of developing occupational asthma. Furthermore, solvent-based paints can knock out some serious fumes — at the very least likely to give you a headache, and at worst, make you pass out.
Therefore, always use a mask to protect yourself from any paint-related unpleasantness. For waterborne mediums, and if working outside, a basic disposable facemask is usually sufficient. And, for solvent-heavy paints and in areas where ventilation is less than ideal, consider utilizing a respirator with removable filters.
3. Take Your Time
Using a paint sprayer is like making love to a beautiful woman.
You need to pace yourself, ensure you don’t shoot your load too quickly, and maintain a smooth rhythm (and watch out for drips, check you’re hitting the target, and move in an up-and-down motion — there’s more, but you get the idea).
Anyways, my recommendation is always to plan ahead and make a timetable (for paint spraying, not for sexy time with your wife) — thus ensuring you have sufficient time to complete your project without rushing. Speed and haste mean mistakes, accidents, and an unsatisfying finish — in both scenarios.
4. Spray in a Well-Ventilated Area
As already explained, paint fumes can be both unpleasant and dangerous. In addition to wearing a face mask, always ensure adequate ventilation from windows, doors, and louvers — plus utilize fans if necessary to shift fumes out while bringing fresh air in.
If spraying a portable object — such as a table — where possible, move it outside to ensure plenty of clean air. That said, if completing fine-finishing work, outside spraying runs the risk of debris and dust contaminating your final coat.
5. Reduce the Risk of Fire
Some paints — particularly solvents — can be flammable, raising the risk of an accidental fire.
Always check the paint can or manufacturer’s specifications to check whether your medium can become alight. If so, ensure you use a sprayer, such as the Graco 17M367, that’s compatible with flammable liquids. Such machines have preventative features like sealed hydraulic systems, plus, spark and static shielding to reduce the chance of an inadvertent fire.
Furthermore, ensure that you’re not spraying anywhere near a source of ignition — such as cigarettes, heaters, blowtorches, and your partner’s scented candles. As belt-and-braces, personally, I’d keep a fire extinguisher and blanket handy should the worst-case scenario arise.
6. Never Point the Gun at Yourself — Or Others
It might seem hilarious to pretend you’re paintballing and give your wife/buddy/neighbor a quick blast from your paint gun — but when you’ve blinded them you will be subject to some hefty and expensive litigation.
Hence, always treat your paint gun as if it’s a genuine loaded revolver — ensuring that the barrel never points at anyone, yourself included.
7. Use a Tip Guard When Spraying
The majority of airless sprayers, such as the Graco X5, include a spray tip guard — not just shielding the nozzle from damage, but also ensuring that your wandering fingers don’t come close to over 3000 PSI of paint pressure.
Always ensure that your guard is in good condition, and fitted to the end of your gun — it’s of very little use sitting in your toolbox.
8. Don’t Try to Stop Leaks
It’s a natural human reaction. You’re happily spraying your living room walls with an airless machine — when a leaking gasket causes a cascade of paint to shoot sideways from the hose connector. So, in a knee-jerk reaction, you quickly try to stem the flow with your bare hand to prevent the medium from drenching the carpet.
The issue is, this paint is coming out at seriously high pressure. Attempting to stop it with your fingers will not only be an exercise in futility, but it could also lead to a skin injection injury.
If a leak occurs, switch the machine off and do not use the sprayer until the malfunctioning part is replaced. Trust me, it’s better to have a ruined carpet than discovering you’ve just lost a finger.
9. Maintain Your Sprayer
As the age-old DIY adage states — look after your tools and your tools will look after you.
Ok, it sounds like some kind of trite saying that your dad would come out with — but it makes a lot of sense. Prevention is much better than a cure, and maintaining your portable paint sprayer is a great way to help reduce malfunction-based injuries.
Your instruction manual will detail specific procedures for your particular model, but as a general guide, ensure you do the following.
Clean & Store Portable Paint Sprayer Properly
Not only does a thorough cleaning of your machine post-project ensure that future jobs aren’t tarnished by dried debris and detritus — but it also shields the internal components from damage which could otherwise lead to machine failure and safety risks.
Some machines, such as the Graco X19, feature a power flush feature — enabling you effortlessly rinse the entire unit. At the very least, you should break down the gun, paint container, and hose into their constituent components and clean at the end of every job — using fresh water for waterborne mediums and spirits for oil-based paints.
When washed, store safely. Lengthy hoses and mains cords left aimlessly trailing around your garage floor create tripping hazards — and the risk of tipping over your precious machine.
For more info, check out my article on How to Clean a Paint Sprayer.
Sprayer Tip Maintenance
Not only should you thoroughly rinse your tip at the end of every job — you should also check it before commencing a spraying project.
Over time, especially when exposed to abrasive mediums such as textured paints, the nozzle end will degrade. Damaged or cracked tips will lead to leakage and wayward spraying — which can be hazardous. Always ensure that your tip is free from blockages and is in good condition.
It’s worthwhile having a couple of backup nozzles, tips, and needles in your toolbox. Check out my guide on Picking the Right Tips.
Not just a tripping hazard, damaged hoses can deliver stray paint shooting out at high pressure from unexpected places — which could lead to a paint injection injury.
Before use, check that your hose is free from holes, kinks, and squeezes — and thoroughly rinse at the end of every job. For added shielding, treat yourself to a hose liner — which can protect against UV damage and paint corrosion.
Airless sprayers need lubrication to ensure that the piston operates freely. Failure to do so can cause overheating, internal damage, and possibly fire. After every job, lubricate your hydraulic system with a manufacturer-approved lube.
Fix Any Electrical Issues Immediately
Electrical issues are not something to be played around with when it comes to your portable paint sprayer. They are a huge safety liability and should be treated with the utmost caution and priority — always consult a qualified practitioner, don’t undertake these repairs yourself.
If using an extension cord — check that it has a suitable ampere rating for your particular machine. Furthermore, ensure that these long mains leads don’t pose a tripping threat in your working area.
10. Put the Safety on When Not In Use
Many portable paint sprayers — both turbines and airless — feature a safety latch or a trigger lock to prevent accidental spray. Using this when you’re not painting will reduce the risk of letting out an unintentional high-pressure plume while moving your equipment around.
11. Maintain a Clear Workspace
By keeping the work area free from any debris and unnecessary clutter you can reduce the chances of you or a member of your team/family tripping and falling on the job.
It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the area you will be working in. That way, you’ll know where to go in case of an emergency and can identify any potential risks.
Always be on the lookout for any electrical appliances or exposed wiring (especially in a new build or a property undergoing maintenance).
12. Finally — Be Aware of the Warning Signs
Here are some indicators that something isn’t quite right with your portable paint sprayer. Should you encounter any of these, be sure to stop right away until you can address the problem:
- Electric shock while spraying.
- Sprayer not switching on.
- Gun spitting issues.
- Abnormal spray pattern.
- Constant dripping.
- High-pressure leaks.
- Sprayer not drawing up paint.
- Strange noises.
To help you fix these issues, I have compiled a few troubleshooting articles for the main sprayer brands:
Safety Precautions Conclusion
Follow the above tips, and your paint spraying projects will be both enjoyable, rewarding, and safe.
Always wear protective clothing, ensure you follow maintenance procedures as recommended by the manufacturer, and never point the gun at yourself or someone else!
What’s more, just take your time — using a paint sprayer is fun, not a chore! The more care and attention you take over your work, the safer you will be and the more impressive results you’ll achieve.