How to Open a Can of Paint

There's more to opening a can of paint than you may think. Follow our simple steps to learn how to keep it clean and how to keep you paint fresh.

Paint Cans
Photo: Picture 643

A painting project starts well before you brush that first stroke of paint onto the wall. You first have to decide on a color, choose a sheen, clear the room, tape the trim, spackle any holes, and lay down a drop cloth. Then, finally, you can crack open that fresh can of paint. It's the last step, actually, that can easily be performed incorrectly. Take a look at our helpful tips below to do this crucial step right, and get your paint project started off as good as a painting professional. Before you get started, however, know that it is best to start your paint projects no more than 24 hours after you purchase your paint. Any longer than a day may cause your paint to settle and not be mixed correctly. However, if you need a few days to prepare, you can always go back to the store and ask them to remix your paint, free of charge.

What You'll Need

  • 3-in-1 or 5-in-1 tool
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Rubber mallet
  • Stir stick
  • Paint bucket

Step 1: Remove Lid

Use a 3-in-1 or 5-in-1 tool to gently open the paint can. Place it in-between the lid and the lip of the can and slowly pull down on the tool's handle. The lid should release itself easily. It's common for homeowners to use a screwdriver for this, but we do not recommend that. The screwdriver is strong and will bend and distort the lid shape, making re-sealing the paint can difficult. You can, however, opt to use a paint can lid opener, shown here. This inexpensive tool has a curved tip to easily remove paint can lids without damaging the seal.

loosening paint can lid with tool

Step 2: Mark with Paint

With the lid removed, dab a spot of the paint on the side of the can and the can lid. This quickly identifies the type of paint sheen and color inside the can for future home projects or paint touch-ups. You want to avoid opening paint cans when you can if you're just checking the color inside.

Step 3: Seal Lid in Plastic

Slide the wet paint lid into a plastic zip-closure bag. Sliding the lid into plastic prevents the paint from drying, stops the lid from dripping paint, and provides a clean lifting tab to be able to open, pour, and close the can as needed. Keep the plastic on the lid until you're ready to reseal the paint can for future storing.

Step 4: Punch Holes in Can Rim

Next, punch holes in the groove inside of the rim, called the lid well, with a hammer and nail or with the sharp point of the 5-in-1 tool and a mallet. The holes allow excess paint to drain back into the can. This rim catches a lot of excess paint as you pour and scrape brushes on the side of the can. This technique will also ensure that after the project is finished, the lid can set and seal properly into the can for storage.

tap nail into paint can top with hammer
Jacob Fox

Step 5: Stir Paint

With the can prepped and ready, lightly stir the paint. Use a paint stick provided by the hardware store or paint store that sold you the paint can. Be sure the stick reaches all the way to the bottom to get the most even stir. Look out for drips as you remove the stick from the can, scraping it along the inside lip to get most of the paint back in the gallon.

stirring paint with stir stick
   . Jacob Fox

Step 6: Pour Paint

Next comes the pouring. Gently lift the paint can by the handle and use your other hand to tilt the bottom of the can back. It's also smart to purchase a paint can pourer, which is a large plastic lip that fits on the edge of the can. This tool helps you pour mess-free with no drips down the side of the can. Pour only ½ inch of paint into the paint tray. It is important to use a tray instead of painting straight from the can. Dipping a brush into a can will contaminate the paint with dust or dirt picked up from the wall. Only pour a little at a time so you can frequently replenish the supply with fresh paint before it dries.

pouring white paint into pan

Step 7: Seal Lid After Painting

Once you are done pouring the paint or are done with the project, place the lid back on the paint can. Remember—the enemy of paint is air, so you want to make sure this is done correctly. Use a rubber mallet to tap along the edges of the paint can lid to seal.

tapping lid with mallet to close paint can

If you haven't already, make a running list of paint colors used in your home. This list will come in hand down the road when you need to repaint a spot, but you're out of paint or the paint you saved is spoiled. When you keep track, be sure to write down the paint brand, color, and sheen. It's also good practice to write down the paint numbers so any store can recreate the color. Keep this paint list with your other home documents.

Updated by
Hannah Bruneman
Hannah Bruneman
Hannah Bruneman is an editorial associate at Her contributions focus on home renovation and decor trends. Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, Southern Living and more.
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