What Are Paintballs Made Of?

When you’re out on the field, you might be wondering exactly what you’re getting slammed with when you expose yourself to an opponent with a marker. Fortunately, you can rest assured that you’re being lit up with materials that are non-toxic and biodegradable, but if you’re wondering about the science behind all of it we’ve got you covered.

Paintballs actually consist of two parts, the shell and the fill. The shell compromises the outer portion that breaks on impact, and the fill itself is the dye and solvent which make the trademark splatter on contact.

Gregory, Author Paintimpact
Gregory

What Are Paintballs Made Of?

What is the Shell Made Of?

The shell of paintballs is almost invariably constructed of gelatin. Think of them something like a large supplement capsule, the material holds the fill in well and will break with a heavy impact. Say, being propelled by a CO2 burst into your mask.

The origin of paintballs is a little bit less safe: they were constructed of thin glass. However, these were used primarily to mark cattle and trees and weren’t used for the sport.

Gelatin has a number of interesting properties, but the main one that will concern most players is the fact that when dropped it has a tendency to absorb water. This can cause swelling with even a limited amount of contact time.

Swelling can cause jams in your marker, or cause the ball to break in the barrel which results in one heck of a mess.

Basically, if you’ve dropped your paintball… let it go. Recovering it might seem economical, but once they’ve hit the ground you really don’t want to use them anymore.

 You’ll also want to keep them out of the sun and from prolonged exposure to air. This can cause the gelatin to harden, which means that you won’t get a satisfying splat when you hit your opponent and will instead have to rely on them noticing the hit.

This over-drying can also cause deformation of the paintball, leading to breakage in your barrel and affecting the accuracy of the shot. 

Because of this, many players buy their paintballs early before their next time in the field. You simply don’t want them sitting in the open for too long or they’ll “go bad.”

What is the Fill Made Of?

The fill is the liquid contained within the inside of the paintball.

The consistency of these is much more varied than the shell, which is pretty much invariably gelatin. Most modern paintballs are made using water-soluble dyes contained within polyethylene glycol.

PEG freezes at a lower temperature than water as well, something like -15°C which makes the myth of “frozen paintballs” maiming someone a lot less likely than they appear on the surface.

While it’s possible that some of the earliest paintballs around could be frozen, modern ones are much more likely to deform and shrink and just gum up your barrel rather than turning into a deadly projectile.

In addition to the PEG fill, there are also some very cheap variants which use an oil based fill. There’s not a lot to be recommended for them, so you should avoid them if at all possible.

The oil-based fill is hard on equipment, makes it harder to wash off of clothing and other wearable gear, and it can have an effect on the local environment. These cheap variants are why a lot of fields will require you to buy your paint there instead of allowing you to bring your own.

Are Paintballs Toxic?

For the most part, you’ll find that paintballs are completely non-toxic. You don’t need to worry if you get a splatter in your mouth during a match or anything, and they’re made entirely of food-grade materials so even eating one isn’t going to do much harm.

Eating a bunch of them is ill-advised, as you’re likely to suffer a laxative effect. This is the main reason that you should always keep them away from children. The “chewy” texture and bright colors can make them attractive.

There is one area where you should take care, however. Paintballs can be very toxic for dogs and cats. They are “osmotically active” which means they’ll pull water from the intestinal tract and can cause severe imbalances in electrolytes.

This can prove fatal. If your dog or cat has ingested paintballs, it’s best to seek veterinary treatment immediately.

How Do I Wash off Paintball Paint?

If you’re wearing normal clothes, instead of specific gear, while you’re on the field then you’ll want to know the best way to wash off the paint after you inevitably take a hit.

Your best bet is to try and use clothing which is thick and water resistant anyways, as this can prevent it from being permeated. If you pick wisely, you’ll often be able to wash it right off with water.

If you are using more normal clothing, however, you’re not going to have to take dramatic measures. The easiest way is to simply wash them like you would anything else, although you may want to wash the clothing affected by itself.

First treat it with any pre-stain remover that you find useful normally. Put the clothing in the washer and run a normal cycle, but don’t just throw it into the dryer immediately afterwards.

Instead, let it air dry and see if any staining remains. Sometimes you’ll end up with something stubborn, but don’t break out the bleach and steel wool just yet.

If the stain is particularly hard to get out soak the afflicted clothing for half an hour in a water solution with just a little bit of ammonia and dish soap. Afterwards, wash it again and let it air dry. This should remove even the most stubborn paintball stains.

Conclusion

Paintballs are easily cleaned and pretty much non-toxic to humans, although animals who ingest a large amount will suffer from toxicity. The best part is, they’re also biodegradable so you don’t have to worry about picking them up when you’re done with a session in the woods. We hope that we’ve shown you exactly what paintballs are made of and some of the unique properties inherent to their construction.

References

  1. http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/paintballs/
  2. http://www.choicepaintballgunsblog.com/?p=361
  3. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-6/Paintball.html
  4. https://theoutdoorrecreation.com/clean-paintball-stains/#Clean_Paintball_Stain_On_Your_Home