How to Dispose of Paint the Right Way

Wondering what to do with all that old paint? Use these tips to determine when it's time to throw it out and how to dispose of paint properly.

Whether you're updating your walls with a fresh color or revamping an old piece of furniture, it can be difficult to know exactly how much paint you'll need. And even if you calculated carefully to try to purchase precisely the right amount, there's a good chance you'll still have some leftover paint after finishing your project. Those partially empty paint cans can't simply be tossed into the garbage, so it's important to learn how to properly dispose of paint. The key is to make sure you're not throwing away liquid paint, which could potentially allow toxic chemicals to contaminate the environment. It's also important to note that some states and municipalities have specific rules about paint disposal, so check first before you begin. If you have paint leftover from past projects, some of which might have been sitting around for a long time, follow these guidelines on how to dispose of unused latex and oil-base paints.

paint cans
Kim Cornelison

When to Get Rid of Old Paint

The good news is that paint lasts a long time when it's properly stored indoors, away from temperature extremes, and with the lid securely in place. In fact, latex paint can last up to 10 years when stored properly, and oil-base (or alkyd) paint can remain usable for up to 15 years.

So before you get rid of old paint, pop the lid and take a whiff. If it just smells like paint, it's likely still useable. If it smells rotten, then it's best to dispose of the paint. Another way to tell if the paint is still usable is to check whether there are dried chunks or layers at the bottom or on the sides of the can. Remove any skin that formed on the top and give the paint a stir. Brush out a sample onto a scrap piece of cardboard and see if the color's right and glides on smoothly.

If everything looks (and smells) good, then consider donating the paint to an organization that can use it or resell it. Some options include schools, community theaters, shelters, or Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Always call ahead and check to make sure it's needed before dropping it off. If you have large quantities of useable paint, consider posting on sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to see if someone in your community is interested. There are tons of creative ways to use leftover paint for new projects that you might want to consider, too.

teal blue paint can with paint roller
Kritsada Panichgul

How to Dispose of Latex Paint

Most waste collection companies request that only solidified latex paint be thrown into the garbage and taken to the landfill. If there's only a small amount of latex paint left in the can, remove the lid and let it air dry. Alternatively, pour the paint out onto a newspaper-covered surface and let it dry. Throw the newspaper, dried paint, and can into the garbage for pickup.

To dry larger quantities of paint, add cat litter or shredded newspaper to the paint, stir, and let it air dry inside the can. Throw the can and its dried contents into the garbage for regular pickup. You also can purchase paint hardener, which is available at many home improvement stores for a few dollars; add it to the paint (up to ⅔ of a gallon), allow it to harden, and throw it all in the trash.

Buy It: HDX Waste Paint Hardener ($2.48, Home Depot)

paint supplies and bright paint on drop cloth
Jay Wilde

How to Dispose of Oil-Base Paint

Oil- and alkyd-base paints are considered hazardous waste. When disposed of improperly, they could harm sources of drinking water. So rather than throw oil- or alkyd-base paints in the regular garbage, call your local waste authority to find out how to dispose of oil-base paints. In most cases, you'll take the expired paints to a local hazardous waste drop-off site. Or leave it on the curb during your community's hazardous waste collection day.

warm color paint cans
Kim Cornelison

How to Properly Store Paint

To help latex and oil-base paints keep for many years to come, put plastic wrap across the top of the can opening and replace the lid, ensuring a tight seal with a few taps from a rubber mallet. Turn the paint can upside down to create a strong seal and store on a shelf where temperatures remain moderate and steady.

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