Shellac poisoning

  • Definition
    • Shellac poisoning can occur from swallowing shellac.

      This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

  • Poisonous Ingredient
    • The substances in shellac that can be harmful are:

      • Ethanol
      • Isopropanol
      • Methanol
      • Methyl isobutyl ketone
  • Where Found
    • These substances are found in:

      • Paint remover
      • Shellac
      • Wood finishing products

      Other products may also contain these substances.

  • Symptoms
    • Below are symptoms of shellac poisoning in different parts of the body.



      • Low blood pressure
      • Severe change of acid level in the blood, which can cause organ failure
      • Weakness
      • Collapse


      • Kidney failure



      • Leg cramps


      • Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
      • Dizziness
      • Fatigue
      • Headache
      • Convulsions


      • Blue-colored skin, lips, or fingernails


      • Diarrhea
      • Nausea
      • Vomiting
  • Home Care
    • Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. Seek medical help right away.

      If the shellac is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

      If the shellac was swallowed, give water to the person right away, unless instructed otherwise by a provider. Do NOT give water if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.

  • Before Calling Emergency
    • Have this information ready:

      • Person's age, weight, and condition
      • Name of the product (and ingredients, if known)
      • Time it was swallowed
      • Amount swallowed
  • Poison Control
    • Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

      This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • What to Expect at the Emergency Room
    • Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

      The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

      The person may receive:

      • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
      • Bronchoscopy: camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
      • Chest x-ray
      • EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
      • Endoscopy: camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
      • Hemodialysis (kidney machine)
      • Fluids through a vein (IV)
      • Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison
      • Surgery to remove burned skin
      • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
      • Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • Isopropanol and methanol are extremely poisonous. As little as 2 tablespoons (14.8 mL) of methanol can kill a child, while 2 to 8 ounces (59 to 236 mL) can be deadly for adults.

      How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

  • References
    • Jacobsen D, Hovda KE. Methanol, ethylene glycol, and other toxic alcohols. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 32.

      White SR. Toxic alcohols. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 155.