Harmful Effects of Lacquer Thinner

Fact Checked

Lacquer thinner is a solution used to break down the essential properties of lacquer by diluting and dissolving the lacquer product. Lacquer thinner is also used for cleanup, to remove adhesives from a variety of surfaces and to remove ink on metal. Because it is caustic, the thinner will rapidly deteriorate fabrics and many surfaces. Before using, it should always be tested in an inconspicuous area. Protective gear should be used on exposed body parts, particularly the eyes and hands.


Lacquer thinner contains benzene, which is known to cause cancer. It also contains toluene, which causes birth defects and other reproductive damage, according to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services' website. The vapors are harmful and may affect the nervous system or brain.

Eye and Skin Irritant

One or more components of lacquer thinner is an eye irritant. Exposure to vapors and mists, or direct contact with the thinner, may result in stinging, redness, swelling and tearing. One or more components of lacquer thinner is a skin irritant. Exposure to vapors or mists or direct contact may damage the skin. This includes drying and cracking, redness and burning.

Birth Defects

Studies have shown that workplace exposure to solvents put pregnant women at an increased risk of having a baby born with birth defects. According to the March of Dimes, a 1999 Canadian study showed that women exposed to solvents during the first trimester were 13 times more likely -- compared to non-exposed women -- to have a baby born with heart defects, deafness, club foot and spina bifida. Toluene, an aromatic hydrocarbon commonly found in lacquer thinner, is an ingredient that may affect the development of unborn babies.


Breathing high concentrations of the mists or vapors of lacquer thinner may cause nose and throat irritation. Additional health effects include nausea, vomiting and signs of nervous system depression that include lack of coordination, drowsiness, fatigue, headache and dizziness.


If swallowed, one or more ingredients of lacquer thinner is toxic and may be harmful. Harmful effects of overexposure may include digestive tract irritation and signs of nervous system depression, such as lack of coordination, drowsiness, fatigue, headache and dizziness. More serious health effects are visual disturbances, including blindness, convulsions, coma and death, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Medical Condition Aggravations

Previous medical conditions may be aggravated by exposure to lacquer thinner. Respiratory symptoms may occur with preexisting lung disorders. Preexisting skin disorders may make a user more susceptible. Preexisting liver and blood disorders may also be aggravated. Exposure to high concentrations may make a person with a preexisting heart disorder more susceptible to irregular heartbeats.