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Chemical hazards

Not much is known about art product hazards. As a precaution, do not inhale or swallow them, and limit their contact with your skin. This is most important for dusts, mists and concentrated vapors.


Many glazes contain toxic metals. The most toxic glaze pigments are antimony, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. Other toxic metals that may be present in glazes include barium, chromium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and vanadium. Health effects from repeated exposures range from asthma to cancer.

You can be exposed to toxic chemicals in glazes while you do the following:

  • Mixing dry glazes — this releases dusts that can be inhaled
  • Spraying glazes — this releases droplets that can be inhaled
  • Firing glazed pottery — this releases toxic gases, vapors and fumes

Toxic fumes and dusts

When ceramic pottery is fired in a kiln, metals in glazes can release toxic fumes that escape the kiln.

Both clay and glazes contain silica. Inhaling free silica dust can scar the lungs and cause a disabling lung disease such as cancer or silicosis.

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Use safer choices

  • Use glazes that are less toxic. The safest metals are iron, calcium, sodium and potassium
  • Buy glazes in a slurry form rather than as a dry powder to reduce the risk of inhaling toxic metal dusts
  • Buy pre-wetted clay to reduce the risk of inhaling free silica dust

Protect your health

Ceramics artists can take steps to protect their health from toxic exposures. Purchase and use equipment to remove toxic dusts and fumes from your studio. Clean your studio frequently and carefully to eliminate toxic dusts. Wear protective clothing and gear to keep toxic chemicals away from your body. Contact us. We can help offset the costs of making these changes.

Keep containers closed when not in use

  • Toxic dusts can spill from poorly sealed containers of glazes and dry clay

Install ventilation equipment to remove dusts and fumes

Fans can help move contaminated air away from you and out of your studio.

  • Place your kiln in a location that allows a fan to exhaust fumes and heat directly outside
  • Connect a fan and ductwork directly to your electric kiln — to pull contaminated air outside

If you work with dry clay or glazes, position your working space close to where air exits your studio to efficiently carry contaminants away. Residential-use fans help move fresh air past you, then your art processes, then out of your studio.

Clean your studio regularly to control toxic dusts

Toxic metal dusts from glazes and colorants can collect in the studio. Moving through the studio can stir up these dusts, which you may then breathe in. Here are some ways you can reduce your exposure to toxic dusts:

  • Design your studio for easy mopping and washing; seal the floor and counters
  • Mop floors and wet wipe tables after working before toxic dusts can be inhaled
  • Don't sweep the floor; instead use a vacuum equipped with a high efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter to remove dusts before mopping
  • Always wash your hands after handling toxic materials

Wear protective clothing

It's easy to get toxic art products on your skin, clothes, and shoes while you work. It's also easy to bring these contaminants into your home if you're not careful!

  • Wear protective clothing when working with materials that are harmful to skin or eyes
  • Wear the proper gloves when working with solvents or corrosive liquids
  • Don't track toxic materials from your shoes out of the studio; use a door mat and clean it regularly
  • Wear a dust mask when handling toxic powders, preferably near a local exhaust fan
  • Wear one set of clothes in the studio and another when you leave

Wash your studio clothes separately from your other clothes.

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Waste disposal

When cleaning surfaces at the end of the day, use a HEPA filter vacuum to pick up toxic dusts before mopping.

Protect your drains from ceramic wastes

Materials used in ceramics studios can cause water pollution. Colored glazes can contain toxic metals that can harm sewage treatment plants and septic tanks. Clays, while not associated with aquatic toxicity, can clog sewer lines if discharged in large amounts.

Seal floor drains to contain spills. Install small settling buckets in each utility sink and put sediment traps in drain pipes. Minimize water use at each stage of the pottery process.

Try to use a separate working area for glazes and for clays. Store glazes in covered containers away from sinks. Clean up glazing materials with two rinsing buckets rather than rinsing in the sink. When the initial rinse bucket contains too many solids, set it aside and let the water evaporate. Mix glaze wastes and rinse water with clay, fire and dispose as trash.

Collect water containing clay in a bucket and allow the clay to settle out. Rinse clay-contaminated equipment into this bucket before rinsing in the sink. Mop floors and pour mop water into the collection bucket. Once the clay has settled out, water from the collection bucket may be poured in the sink. The clay may be reused or mixed with waste glazes, fired and disposed as trash.

Disposal of used product containers

  • Dispose of empty containers in the trash
  • Dispose of partially full chemical containers as hazardous waste
  • Empty aerosol cans before throwing them in the trash

Safely dispose of waste clay and glazes

  • Place waste clay in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash
  • Glazes must be disposed of as hazardous waste
  • Artists working in home-based studios in King County can deliver toxic products to one of our no-charge Household Hazardous Waste Collection Sites. Call 206-296-4692 for assistance
  • Commercial studios in King County may be able to deliver their waste to one of our no-charge Business Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites. Complete the online form or call 206-263-8899 for assistance

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