This article links to a film that claims:

a clean, nicely painted house is more likely to survive a nuclear attack than its dirty, run-down neighbors.

Is there any truth to this claim, or were the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association and National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau giving people a false sense of security?

  • 1
    This site is about examining notable claims. If you want the claim "a clean, nicely painted house is more likely to survive a nuclear attack than its dirty, run-down neighbors" examined, that is on topic. But, answering the related question you constructed is off-topic.
    – user5582
    Jul 11, 2013 at 17:05
  • @Sancho I'll edit the question; I wasn't sure if I was supposed to provide evidence of my own research (well, intuition, really) or not. Jul 11, 2013 at 17:09
  • I think the idea is that having a house painted clean white would reflect the intense light from the blast, preventing the house from setting on fire. Of course, this will do nothing if your house is at ground zero...
    – Bigbio2002
    Jul 11, 2013 at 18:04
  • @Bigbio2002 Is there any evidence that supports that notion, though? Jul 11, 2013 at 18:23
  • 4
    A clean, bright white finish will reflect more thermal radiation than a darker/dirtier finish. Nuclear-capable bombers exploit this via "anti-flash white" paint. Not sure if this effect would be sufficient to provide any sort of protective effect on a wooden building or not. The Apple-2 shot of Operation Teapot did use a simulated town to test the effects of nuclear blasts on buildings, so any information available from that may be enlightening. The Federal Civil Defense Administration film "Operation Cue", about that test, may also provide answers.
    – Compro01
    Jul 11, 2013 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


The claim is true but possibly only applicable to a very small range of situations.

Upshot Knothole

In 1953, as part of Operation Upshot Knothole, tests were carried out on miniature buildings to test the effects of extreme heat on the buildings. They did find that wooden buildings surrounded by dry combustible material were more likely to catch fire than clean white-painted buildings lacking any large quantities of loose combustible material.

Project 8.11a, Incendiary Effects on Building and Interior Kindling Fuels, was fielded by the Forest Products Laboratory, Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. The project was designed to study the vulnerability of urban structures to primary fires produced by nuclear detonations. The study focused on materials that were either part of a building or were found within a building. Before Shot ENCORE, personnel placed furniture in two block houses and materials outside of three small frame houses specially constructed for the project. For both Shots ENCORE and GRABLE, personnel placed wooden racks with materials such as newspapers, weeds, and rags at various distances from ground zero. They returned after each shot to inspect damage (52)


The Effects of Nuclear Weapons

This was allegedly the title of a 1957 book published by the DoD.

only 12 cal/cm2 was needed at the 1953 Encore nuclear test to ignite houses made of rotted wood or surrounded by a trash filled yard and wooden fence (the whitewashed wooden house with a clear yard survived). Two wooden houses were also constructed for that test, exposing 4 x 6 foot windows with a line-of-sight exposure to ground zero. Both were subjected to the same 17 cal/cm2 thermal flash from the Encore nuclear test, and the one full of inflammables ignited with immediate flash-over to the entire room, while the one with modern fire-resistant furnishings survived with just minor smouldering which was extinguished by the recovery party when they entered the house an hour after the test. So yes, if you paint your wooden house white and remove nearby combustible materials it is less likely to catch fire if there is a nuclear strike on a nearby city.

National Paint ... Association

The "National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau" were an arm of the "National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association". They used information from the nuclear tests to promote their products.

It is notable that they avoided any analysis of how narrow the range of distances from epicentre might be where such differences in household tidiness would affect the outcome. Any closer, and the houses would be knocked over by blast. Much further and the dried grass around the untidy houses might fail to ignite.

  • 5
    iow, if there's fire near your house, your house is more at risk from catching fire. Did they also test what'd happen if a white house was surrounded by the same combustibles as an unpainted house? Were the white and unpainted houses of the same construction (a white stone house is less combustible than a white wooden house...)?
    – jwenting
    Jul 12, 2013 at 5:30
  • 5
    @jwenting if there's fire near your house, your house is more at risk from catching fire. can you provide a reference for this?
    – user5582
    Jul 12, 2013 at 15:20
  • @Sancho - the term "firewall"
    – user5341
    Jul 12, 2013 at 18:49
  • @DVK the term "firewall" what?
    – user5582
    Jul 12, 2013 at 19:33
  • Did they compare white paint vs yellow paint?
    – user5582
    Jul 13, 2013 at 16:41

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