toddler girl making paint handprints
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Everything You Need To Know About Using Paint With Babies

Because yeah, they’re probably gonna put it in their mouth.

Originally Published: 

A baby’s hand, dipped in paint and pressed onto a piece of plain paper, can make the cutest (and most cost-effective) art for your home. It's a super easy craft to make when have the right kind of paint on hand, but knowing the best paint for baby handprints or footprints is essential. You don't want to irritate your little one's skin or expose them to dangerous chemicals, but you also can’t wait to look back at those tiny hands and feet once they've grown bigger than your own.

Safety Concerns When Using Paint With Babies

As anyone who has ever supervised a kid's art project knows, their hands are going to end up covered in paint, ink, and the like... even if you're not making handprints or finger painting. One concern parents may have is that the paint they use will irritate their baby’s skin.

“Any nontoxic paint is fine to have on baby skin. This is assuming the paint will be on the infant's skin briefly and any excess paint wiped clean as soon as possible,” pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert, M.D., tells Romper.

Not only do babies love to put their hands in their mouths, but they’re also prone to rubbing their eyes, smearing paint in their hair, ears, and anywhere else they can reach. The possibility of getting paint in their eyes is another chief concern when it comes to using paint to create baby handprint art.

“Wash the paint off the baby's face as you are able and rinse out the eyes. This is most easily done in the bathtub by pouring water on the top of the baby's head and allowing it to naturally fall into the eye area,” Burgert says. “The paint will be irritating to the eye and cause the baby to cry, which is a natural way to rinse the paint out.”

What Happens If Paint Is Swallowed?

You can be as careful as possible when you’re making a handprint craft with your baby, but accidents will still happen. In the blink of an eye, your baby can swipe their paint-covered finger right over their tongue, leaving you in a panic over what might happen next.

Calling Poison Control as soon as you see your baby’s hand make contact with their mouth may be your gut instinct, and that instinct is a good one. A representative from the National Capitol Poison Center (NCPC, or Poison Control) tells Romper that if your child has swallowed paint of any kind, contacting their hotline at 1-800-222-1222 so that they can walk you through the next steps is key.

If a small amount of washable, nontoxic paint is swallowed by your baby “it is unlikely that significant toxicity will develop,” according to Poison Control. Depending on the amount of paint swallowed, the type of paint used, and the age of your child, they may experience symptoms ranging from vomiting to discolored stools.

Poison Control may direct you to visit the emergency room or follow up with your pediatrician if symptoms are present after ingestion. However, using nontoxic paint with the right precautions in place, the chances of this happening are low.

“Not to worry,” Burgert reassures parents. “Babies will not ingest much due to the bad taste. And, if they do ingest some paint, it may cause some mild stomach upset.”

Best Nontoxic Paints To Use

Most kid craft supplies will most likely be fine to use on your child's hands or feet, just double check to make sure the label says nontoxic and washable (unless you're also going for tie-dyed walls). There are nontoxic stamp pads available, too, which may be less messy than paint, and these ink pads work especially well if you buy one big enough to fit your kiddo’s full hand or foot. As Romper previously reported, the label on nontoxic paint or ink will likely contain the word "hues," meaning the pigment does not contain heavy metals, which can be harmful.

We only include products that have been independently selected by Romper's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Craft Ideas & Homemade Paint Recipes

Baby handprints make adorable gifts for holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, and family member birthdays as well. This tutorial for baby handprint kitchen towels from Creative Green Living is perfect for gifting. You can also apply baby handprints directly to a canvas or wood, as well as frame prints placed on paper once they’ve dried to create a precious keepsake.

If your little one is especially prone to putting their hands in their mouth (so, basically, all babies) you may want to be especially cautious and make your own edible finger paint using a recipe like this one from Learning4Kids, which is made using cornstarch, hot water, and food coloring. (Flour works, too, if you don't have cornstarch.)

If you're going all-in on the baby crafts, you may also want to make a plaster mold of your baby's hands or feet. These are safe to use, "as long as the parent follows the directions, which typically include applying a skin barrier prior to putting baby's hands and feet into the mold," Burgert says. You can also DIY this one by making your own play dough and then baking it in a 250-degree oven until it hardens. This tutorial from Prep and Pantry explains how it’s done.

Tips & Tricks

If you're trying to take infant handprints, you might have a hard time getting them to put their palm flat against the paper because their natural reaction will be to close their hand into a fist (also known as the grasping reflex). For the best results, try taking the print while they're in a deep sleep and then use a baby wipe or warm washcloth to remove the ink or paint afterward.

When it comes to removing the paint, “soap and water should do the trick,” Burgert says. You’ll likely want to remove the paint as soon as possible (both so your baby is comfortable and so your floors and walls don’t get destroyed). You can remove the paint with a warm, soapy washcloth.

If you're concerned about the mess factor, you can always take the craft party outside. Or, you could put one of the large cardboard boxes left over from your latest online order to good use. Simply sit your kiddo in the box (maybe by pretending it's a rocket ship or a boat) and take their handprint while they're somewhat contained and can't run away with painted hands. Just be sure to put a book or another hard surface under the paper or the canvas.


Dr. Natasha Burgert, M.D., pediatrician and nationally recognized child health expert

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