Interior Paints & Finishes

What to Do with Old Paint

Leftover house paint is not the easiest stuff to get rid of. You can't simply throw it out without risking pollution and fines.
Leftover house paint is not the easiest stuff to get rid of. You can't simply throw it out without risking pollution and fines. Photo: JProvey Photo: JProvey

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Not sure what to do with old paint cans cluttering up your basement or garage? Follow this action plan to either condense or dispose of your surplus—and win back some valuable floor and shelf space in the bargain.

Determine if the paint is still good 

Solvent-based paints have a 15-year shelf life. If you can stir it, it’s probably okay to use (even if you have to remove the “skin” on the surface first). Latex has a shelf life of 10 years. If it has been subject to freezing, it may not be usable. Test by stirring and brushing onto newspaper. If there are lumps, the paint is no longer good.

Decide what to keep

If the paints are in colors that are still on your walls, it makes sense to hang on to them. They will be useful for touch-ups and repainting when the time comes. If the lids are loose, seal them carefully; transfer small amounts in smaller containers. Be sure to label with color name, number and date of purchase.

Look for ways to use the leftovers

Even if you’re sure the paint color is not one you’ll return to, consider mixing leftovers of the same paint type (latex with latex, acrylic with acrylic, oil with oil) to use as an undercoat primer.

Donate paints you don’t want

If you have good paint that you can’t use, offer it to family, friends and neighbors, or call a local paint contractor. Some charities may take paint too, especially those that do work helping the elderly with home renovations.

Dispose of what you can’t use and can’t give away

How you do it depends upon the type of paint, but it’s critical that it be done in a manner that won’t cause pollution to drinking water or waterways. One gallon of paint can contaminate many thousands of gallons of water, harm fish and aquatic plant life and eventually poison the food chain.

Listed below are the proper ways to dispose of paint:

  • Latex and acrylic paints: Many municipalities will allow you to solidify these paints and throw them away with the household trash. One way to do this is to mix it with a clay-based cat litter at a ratio of two parts litter to one part paint. Do this in a well-ventilated place that’s off-limits to kids and pets. Another way is to use an additive. I tried XSORB’s Rock Solid (view on Amazon) and found that about a cupful turned the old latex paint in the photos to a solid after an hour.
  • Oil-based and alkyd paints: Check to see if there is a scheduled household waste collection day in your community (typically posted on your state’s Department of Environmental Conservation web site). You can also call your town hall. Bring paints to the specified collection site along with other toxic products you want to get rid of, such as paint removers, used solvents, pesticides, and herbicides.

If your community does not offer this service, call your County Extension Home Economics Agent, the local waste management agency, your area’s water treatment plant or the local landfill, and ask what the procedure is for where you live.