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Plasterboard in New Build Houses: Can Paint Cause Smell?

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 14 Mar 2020 | comments*Discuss
Paint Primer Walls Emulsion Smell


Five months ago we had my daughter's room decorated with ordinary emulsion paint. Initially it smelt of paint, as you would expect. But after two or three weeks a bad smell developed in the room. It is a gaseous smell, not like paint at all. It seems to come from three of the walls that were painted white. The other wall that was paintd a different colour does not smell. Leaving the window open doesn't help. I have also tried leaving a bowl of vinegar in the room which seems to help temporarily.

I have contacted the decorator and he agrees with me that there is a smell but does not believe it is the paint itself. He says it is more likely to be something in the walls being drawn out by the paint. We live in a new build house where most of the walls are plasterboard. Is this common? Is it likely to be harmful to my 6-year old daughter and will it go away eventually?

(B.R, 19 July 2009)


I would have to disagree with your decorator and say it is much more likely the white emulsion paint is to blame for the bad gas-like smell experienced in your daughter’s room.

What’s more it’s not a smell that will simply go away in time or be relieved by any of the familiar remedies, such as using vinegar or onions. I’m afraid that for the room to be made habitable again, the walls will need to be completely redecorated.

The problem could be either due to poor quality out-of-date paint – buying new doesn’t guarantee new paint - or, more likely, a bad batch of paint that reacts with underlying coat.

Re-Coat with Alkali Resisting Primer

To solve the problem effectively the walls will need to be coated with an international alkali-resisting primer before a completely new coat is then applied.

One of the well known paint manufacturer has recently been bombarded with a number of consumer complaints that recount dilemmas very similar to yours. Common symptoms include the smell becoming worse when doors and windows are left open or when the room warms up in warmer weather. The smell has variously been described as sulphur and ammonia-like. If this matches your own experiences then you likely share the same trouble.

Ask Decorator to Rectify the Problem

As is it clearly nothing you have done wrong, you shouldn’t be expected to shell out for any more paint and for any more of your decorator’s time. By rights the decorator should rectify the problem free of charge, as they are responsible for choosing the paint and performing an unsatisfactory job. However, this is a complex problem and it will be difficult to prove that the fault lies with them.

If they are unwilling to concede the responsibility then you could try contacting the trade organisation Painters and Decorator Association to ask them for advice on how to proceed.

Complain to Paint Manufacturer

Alternatively you could complain to the brand responsible for the paint – or advise your decorator to do likewise – and explain that their paint is responsible for the release of gas-like fumes and will require a costly redecoration. If the paint manufacturer wishes to investigate then you will need the tin to hand so that the batch number can be quoted.

The company has reportedly not officially acknowledged the problem as being due to their paint, but have nevertheless offered unhappy customers vouchers for alkali-resisting primer and more emulsion paint. If the paint manufacturer is at least willing to offer this kind of compensation then you may be able to come to an arrangement with your decorator that won’t leave you out of pocket.

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We moved into our new build in December 2018 and noticed a chemical smell coming from the wall in the living room. House builder doesn't want to do anything and because I was pregnant at the time, we moved out a year ago to my mum's as the smell made me sick. Now a year on we don't know how to resolve it, but someone last week mentioned it could be something to do with the plasterboard.
MrsBeau - 14-Mar-20 @ 7:56 PM
Hi Charlotte how long did you leave the wall before painting?
Bee - 20-Apr-18 @ 7:57 AM
Hi I have exactly the same problem. We put internal plasterboard insulation in my sons room on the 2 external walls. Initially it was fantastic, the room was snug and warm but 10-12 months down the line it started to give off a gas smell. The smell was so strong it gave you a headache and I had to sleep my son else where. It now smells of wet plaster/ chemicals. I talked to the builder and he didn't know what would cause it. I have also talked with plasterers, builders, painters, different plasterboard companies,building surveyers, the council, environmental health and paint companies, all of whom couldn't advise me. The only people who did have an idea was B&Q. They said it wasn't the paint because it would have given off a smell immediately. They suggested the plaster on the boards wasn't given long enough to dry before paint was applied and as a result the moisture in the boards attracts and draws in the moisture in the room. I have been advised to paint a primer / sealant over the walls. In the mean time I have bought a dehumidifier to reduce the moisture levels in the room. It's a nightmare and I feel it for you if the majority of your house is covered with plasterboards. I hope manufacturers look into this issue and notify the workplace with a solution. It is a real worry.
charlo - 28-Oct-17 @ 10:21 PM
I have the same issue with my newly built house that we just moved into September of this year. The smell is exactly as described. Even smelling worse when the windows are open. My contractor now has an inspector involved in with situation, but no results yet. My concern is, is breathing the fumes hazardous to our health?
BW - 18-Oct-11 @ 9:34 PM
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