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amberscove 01-24-2010 12:25 PM

Paint smell in bathroom after showering
I live in NYC on the 9th floor of a building built in the 60s. Since I moved in a month ago, the bathroom smells up like paint every time I shower. It seems to be from the moisture in the bathroom and steam hitting the ceiling and causing the ceiling paint to get wet/soft and exude the smell or release the chemicals.

There is no exhaust fan or window in the room so that doesn't help. I have to put a stand alone fan in there after showering to air it out. I've read online that vinegar, onions, and things like that can help get rid of the paint smell but I think that's just for when a room is initially painted? I'm not sure those things will help my situation since the catalyst is the hot water from the shower. Also, the room was painted a month before I moved in and no one lived here, so it had plenty of time to dry.

I've contacted the building management but they can't seem to fix it. They are EXTREMELY difficult to work with and get in touch with (I've been trying for a month to get them to acknowledge and fix this to no avail). They came in and did a repair to the ceiling and repainted this week, but I guess they just used the same exact paint as before because it didn't help.

From looking online so far I can't find an answer to exactly how to fix this. So it seems it's not an easy issue to resolve. It seems the wrong paint was used or cheap paint was used, as mentioned. But I'm not sure what the right paint primer or moister protector is and what's the exact process to fix it (i.e. do I need to scrape the ceiling entirely if I decide to just repaint myself with the right paint?). I need to know exactly how to fix this or else I need to move out because I can't deal with the smell.

Has anyone else experienced this issue? If so, any advice on how exactly to resolve the smell once and for all? Can you recommend the steps needed to fix and what products to use, specifically please?

Is the smell from the paint fumes (or whatever it is) harmful? I feel it must be and that's another reason I'm so desperate.

I can ask the building for another unit, or should I just move out? At this point that's what I feel is my only option.

SJNServices 01-25-2010 09:26 AM

Sounds like the smell may be coming from the plumbing. Are any other units getting paint right now? A lot of painters just dump or clean everything in the sink.

Nestor_Kelebay 01-25-2010 08:49 PM


I can't think of anything that would cause that problem either.

Can you let us know:

1. What kind of paint is on the walls now; is it oil based or latex.

2. You say that the bathroom smells like "paint" after you shower. The thinner in oil based paints is mineral spirits, and it smells completely different than the smell of Texanol, which is the most common coalescing solvent found in latex paints. Does your bathroom smell like paint thinner after a shower or like the "freshly painted smell" you get after painting with some latex paints.

If it's that freshly painted smell, it's very difficult to explain how that smell could be turning up years (presumably) after the bathroom was painted. Coalescing solvents are volatile, and will evaporate of their own accord from the paint. The latex paint couldn't form a film properly without the evaporation of those coalescing solvents, and so they must have evaporated from your bathroom paint years ago. Exposing that paint to moisture should not cause the paint to create any smell.

I can't help feeling that the best solution would be to eliminate each possibility one by one. To eliminate the possibility that there's anything funny going on with the paint, if it were me, I would paint over your existing paint with one coat of an interior alkyd primer and two coats of a paint intended for bathrooms like Zinsser's PermaWhite Bathroom Paint (available at Home Depot). This paint is a tintable white and comes in two (?) different gloss levels, satin and semi-gloss I think.

It IS possible that whomever painted your bathroom may have used a powdered mildewcide like Mildex or Sherwin Williams M-1 in the paint, and it's possible that the mildewcide could be what's causing the smell. Painting over your existing paint with the alkyd primer and two coats of PermaWhite should correct the problem if that's what's causing it.

frozenstar 01-26-2010 11:45 PM

That's a bit hard to determine. :( But it seems like the smell comes from the plumbing. Can you tell us more details as to what Nestor asked?

amberscove 01-31-2010 07:46 PM

Paint smell in bathroom after showering
Hi All:

First off, thanks so much for the responses. I would have gotten back sooner but I didn't realize that I had responses.

To answer your questions.

1) What kind of paint - oil or latex?
Unfortunately, I do not know. I would try to ask the supers but they hired contractors to do this work so it will make it that much more difficult to get this information. The supers/management here are unbelievably difficult so I don't think I'll have any luck but I'll ask tomorrow. One guy who came in to look at it just kept mumbling "cheapie paint, cheapie paint". So I think whatever it is it's cheap.

2) Paint thinner vs. paint?
This is hard to say but I'm going to stick with paint. I have only smelled paint thinner a couple of times in my life but I'm pretty sure it's not the smell of paint thinner. But I'm not positive. Paint was my initial gut feeling - meaning - "fresh paint" was the first thing I thought when I first smelled it.

Regarding plumbing:
I should mention that during/after showering, if I rub my finger over the ceiling the paint comes off - like chalking. I don't know if this tid bit of info helps or not, but the fact that the ceiling gets wet and beady paint forms and it comes off in a chalking fashion leads me to think that's the source of the smell. I don't think it's the plumbing because when I run the bath it doesn't happen. When I run the bath it still can smell slightly but it's .00001 of what it smells like when I run the shower. I've attributed this to the steam/moisture hitting the ceiling. But I could be wrong?

Regarding painting over existing ceiling paint: This concerns me because I don't want to just cover up the issue and have the toxins still there. I guess it would help with the process of elimination. However, my biggest concern here are the fumes, chemicals being released, and the health affects, so I'm not sure how I feel about just covering up the smell. Also, would it not be necessary to scrape the existing paint off first? I don't want to expose myself to harmful fumes even more but it seems to me that might be necessary to actually fix the issue. Let me know your thoughts.

Maybe I'm being paranoid but I honestly cannot live with this smell. My eyes and nose are itchy and runny from it, I feel I'm also suffering from fatigue and headaches and woozy from it. At this point I just want to move out.

Thanks again for your help and support.

bobtheblindguy 02-01-2010 04:51 PM

Caulking is associated with an exterior grade paint. Not sure if that would cause the smell. Is this drywall or plaster. Might be hard to remove the paint. But that might be your best bet. When you get all the paint off. Clean the surface real good use sometine like tsp. Then let it dry for days maybe even a week or 2. During that time see if you the smell it still there. If not then proceed to prime and paint. I would make a new post at that time for recommendend primer and paint. Let us know how it's going.

amberscove 02-01-2010 08:05 PM

Paint smell in bathroom after showering
Hi All:

The walls are plaster. I have someone painting tomorrow morning. If it doesn't work then at least I can start considering other possibilities like the plumbing or pipes. Someone at my office today told me that it sounds like there is paint on the pipes and that's the source. Or maybe it's the insulation or something else.

I guess this paint job tomorrow will help with the process of elimination.

Thanks for the responses / help. I really appreciate it.

Nestor_Kelebay 02-01-2010 09:53 PM


If someone is going to be painting in your bathroom tomorrow, make sure that they use a paint that's intended to be used in bathrooms. Not all latex paints are equally resistant to moisture, and inexpensive paints will crack and peel if they're used in areas where it's moist or even humid.

If your painter doesn't have a favourite brand of paint that's intended for use in bathrooms, then I'd suggest Zinsser's PermaWhite latex bathroom paint. It comes in both satin and semi-gloss, and it's tintable to any off-white or pastel colour.

amberscove 02-03-2010 02:02 PM

Hi Nestor:

An interior bathroom paint was used and it looks good. However, I'm not sure how long I should wait to let it dry before I "test" by turning the shower on. What do you think?


bobtheblindguy 02-03-2010 03:45 PM

You want to let it fully cure. I would wait as long as you can. Play it safe and wait several days to a week.

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