DIY Painting & Finishing

How to Open a Paint Can the Right Way

Pop open a can of paint like a pro! With the correct tools and technique, you'll keep mess to a minimum and make it easier to store your leftovers in between coats.
Person opening a can of white paint.


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Opening a paint can isn’t particularly difficult or complicated, but some tried-and-true methods can save time and help avoid unnecessary mess. We’ve seen DIYers use all sorts of objects to try to open paint cans, and while some might reach for a screwdriver, hammer, key, or other device that seems like a handy lever, those aren’t the ideal ways to remove the lid. Even if you can get the lid off the can, you can damage the lid or the can so you can’t close it easily later. 

If you plan to use the entire can of paint in one painting session, replacing the lid might not be a priority. For the rest of us who need to take a break to eat lunch, sleep, walk the dog, or run an errand like driving a child to practice or a lesson, there are a few tried-and-true methods that make painting easier. Reach for a paint key or a multitool for easy paint can opening, and follow the steps below on how to open a paint can with professional ease. 

How to Open a Can of Paint 

Cans of paint near yellow wall and can openers.
Photo: Theresa Clement, MyFixItUpLife

Though it isn’t a difficult task, how you choose to open a fresh can of paint will determine how easy it is to pour the paint into a paint tray, and replace the paint lid later. Your method will also determine how easy it is to remove the lid again when it’s time to touch up the paint job after the wall is dented, dinged, or scratched. 

If you are wondering how to open a paint can without an opener like a paint key, reach for a multitool. The steps are the same. Here is the best way to open a paint can. 

The best tools to open a paint can with ease are those that cause little spillage, and little damage to the can or lid.

  1. Place the can of paint on a drop cloth. 
  2. Position the paint key (or multitool) between the lip of the lid and the rim of the can.
  3. Gently break the seal by slowly levering the handle down. (Do not try to remove the lid yet.) Remove the paint key. 
  4. Use your other hand to rotate the can and place the paint key between the lip of the lid and the can rim about ½ inch away from the first location. 
  5. Repeat this slow levering around the can’s lid until you can lift the lid off evenly and gently.
  6. Once the lid is free, remove it slowly, and place it on the drop cloth with the paint-marked side up. 
  7. Finally, use a hammer and a scratch awl to puncture four to eight holes along the inside rim well to allow any excess paint that pools up to drain back inside. This drain technique, used by professional painters, will prevent the paint from dripping down the sides as you work and hindering an even seal when you close up the can.
  8. With the can opened successfully, you’re ready to get to work on your paint job. 

How Not to Open a Paint Can 

Opening a paint can with a screwdriver.

While you might be able to open a paint can with a hammer or open a can of paint with a butter knife, there are plenty of reasons why these other tools and methods aren’t preferred, the main one being because they can damage the lid or the rim of the can. When the lid or rim get distorted, it’s difficult to reseal the can. If the can can’t be properly closed, you’ll need to decant the remaining paint into a sealable container to keep it fresh and usable for later. 

  • It’s not a good idea to open a paint can with a screwdriver; flathead screwdrivers can deliver too much pressure, which can bend or damage the lid. 
  • Keys used to be a commonly cited tool to open paint cans. Unfortunately, the process can damage both the can and the key. 
  • Putty knives aren’t designed to open paint cans. They are too flexible by design, since they are meant to spread or scrape. However, if you have an older can of paint with dried paint around the rim, a putty knife—or utility knife—can be one method of how to open a can of paint that’s stuck by scoring and breaking up the dried-up paint along the rim. 
  • Power tools can open a paint can, but get ready for a mess. They deliver too much force and are unnecessary as a paint can opener. 


There are a lot of questions about opening cans of paint. Here are answers to some of the most popular questions. 

Q. How do you properly dispose of a paint can after use? 

It depends on the type of paint. Most household paint is latex- or water-based. If there is just a bit left in the can, then you can leave it open and let it sit out to dry out on its own. Adding some cat litter can absorb the paint to speed up the drying process. Then, check with your local municipality about disposal. Often, you can throw the dried paint and can in the regular garbage collection. 

Disposing of oil-based paint is more involved. Check with the local municipality and take it to a local drop-off point.  

Q. Can you reseal a paint can for future use? 

Yes, at the end of the painting session, swipe the paint brush along the inside rim to clean out any remaining paint. Then, place the lid back on the can, cover it with a cloth, and gently hammer around the rim to securely shut the lid. 

Q. How should you store an unused paint can?

Always store paint out of the direct sun in a cool, dry location where there’s no risk of freezing. Proper closure and storage factor into how long paint can last

Q. Should you tap the lid of a paint can before opening it?

You don’t need to tap the lid of a paint can before opening it. However, if you have just shaken an older can of paint to mix it, tapping the lid could help get some of the paint off the lid before removing it. Still, it’s not necessary.

Q.  Is it safe to use a knife or sharp object to open a paint can? 

Never use a sharp object like a knife as a lever to open a can of paint. It can slip too easily while levering around the can’s lid. 

Q. Are there any special instructions for opening spray paint cans? 

The steps for how to open a spray paint can are different from opening a can of bucket paint. Before opening spray paint, always shake the can for 1 to 2 minutes. If the spray paint isn’t new, turn the can upside down and push the spray button to clear the nozzle opening. 

Final Thoughts

Theresa Clement opening a paint can with a multitool.
Photo: Theresa Clement, MyFixItUpLife

A can of paint isn’t hard to open when using the right tool. It’s important to choose the proper tool to reduce mess and to make it easier to store and reuse the can of paint later when touch-ups are needed. Once your can is open and ready to go, you’re ready to paint a room, paint a house, or whatever might be on your to-do list.

About the Author

Theresa Clement is a handy designer who has been improving homes for more than 20 years. A certified color expert, she is known for solving design dilemmas with paint, and has painted everything from murals to odd accessories to complete a look for a client. Starting with her work at architecture firms, she has authored DIY books; writes for Architect magazine, JLC magazine, and Remodeling magazine; and worked as a design producer on makeover shows. She now works with her carpenter husband on private homes and their home improvement brand MyFixitUpLife.