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What To Do with Old Paint

It’s a familiar scene for many homeowners and DIY enthusiasts: A shelf stocked with half-empty paint cans, relics from past projects, and paint trends of yesteryears.

While it’s tempting to shove them back into the dark corner and forget about them, I believe there are more environmentally-friendly and useful ways to deal with old paint. As you set about decluttering or spring cleaning, you might wonder, What do I do with these cans of old paint? You’ve come to the right place.

tl;dr: Old paint can be recycled, reused, donated, or safely disposed of. Check with local recycling centers for options, and always store paint in a cool, dry place for future use. Never pour paint down the drain or in the trash without proper precautions.

1. Check Its Viability

Before deciding what to do with old paint, it’s essential to determine whether it’s still good. Over time, paint can degrade and separate, making it unsuitable for most projects.

How to Check?

  • Open the can and give it a good stir. If the paint mixes well and retains a consistent texture, it’s probably still good.
  • Smell the paint. If it has a rancid or off odor, it’s likely spoiled.

Note: Latex paints usually last up to 10 years, while oil-based paints can last up to 15 if stored properly.

2. Recycle the Paint

Why not go green? Many communities offer paint recycling programs, especially for latex-based paints. The collected paint often gets repurposed into new products or remixed for community projects.

I recommend reaching out to local recycling centers or municipal hazardous waste programs to see if they accept old paint. Some programs even blend multiple donations into a standard color, making the paint useful for large-scale community beautification projects.

3. Reuse or Repurpose

If the paint is still good, why let it go to waste? Get creative and give it new life!

  • Touch-Ups: Old paint is perfect for covering up minor scuffs and dings on walls.
  • Crafts: Use the paint for various DIY crafts or furniture restoration projects.
  • Blend: Mix different leftover paints to create a unique shade.

4. Donate the Paint

Many organizations gladly accept donations of usable paint, especially in large quantities. Schools, community centers, local theaters, or charities might need it for projects and renovations.

I recommend reaching out to Habitat for Humanity, local schools, or community theaters to inquire about their need for paint donations.

5. Safe Disposal

If the paint is too old or spoiled, it should be disposed of safely. Never pour paint down the drain or into the ground.

For Water-Based Paints (Latex):

  • Air dry until it’s completely solid. You can speed up the process by adding cat litter or a commercial paint hardener.
  • Once solidified, it can be thrown away with regular trash in most municipalities. Always check local guidelines.

For Oil-Based Paints:

  • These are considered hazardous waste. They should be taken to a hazardous waste facility or collection event in your community.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Environmental Management highlighted the environmental impacts of improperly disposing of paint. The research showed that harmful chemicals from paint can leach into the ground, contaminating water sources.

Note: It’s essential to be responsible with paint disposal for the sake of our environment and future generations.

Storing Paint for Future Use

One might think that keeping old paint is just about sealing the lid and shoving the can into the back of a cupboard. But there’s an art to it.

Proper Storage Keeps Paint Fresh Longer

Paint’s worst enemies are extreme temperatures and air exposure. To get the most shelf life out of your paint:

  • Keep it Cool and Dry: Store paint in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Basements are often ideal, but ensure they are dry and free from potential flooding.
  • Seal Tightly: Before sealing the lid, place a piece of plastic wrap over the paint can, then firmly hammer the lid down. This ensures an airtight seal.
  • Store Upside Down: This might sound strange, but storing paint cans upside down ensures that any skin that forms will be at the bottom when you reopen it. Just ensure the lid is tightly sealed to prevent leaks!

Note: Regularly checking your stored paints ensures you can use or dispose of them before they go bad.

Creative Uses for Old Paint

When it comes to leftover paint, your imagination’s the limit. Here are some additional unique uses:

  • Stenciling and Murals: Give your walls or furniture a decorative touch.
  • Fabric Paint: Mix with a fabric medium to create custom-colored fabric paint.
  • Floor Paint: Got leftover porch or concrete paint? Refresh the look of your garage or workshop floor.

I recommend checking out Pinterest or DIY blogs for inspiration. The global DIY community often comes up with ingenious ways to repurpose materials, paint included.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability

It’s not just about getting rid of old paint; it’s about doing so responsibly. Paint has a significant environmental footprint, from manufacturing to disposal.

  • Chemical Runoff: Paint dumped irresponsibly can lead to chemicals seeping into the soil, affecting groundwater and harming ecosystems.
  • Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in paints can degrade indoor and outdoor air quality. Proper storage and disposal are vital to minimize these effects.

A study in the Environmental Science & Technology journal highlighted that paint production contributes substantially to environmental issues, such as smog, due to the VOCs it releases. By reusing or recycling paint, we reduce the demand for new paint production and mitigate these impacts.

Bartering or Selling Leftover Paint

In the era of upcycling and sustainability, there’s a market for almost everything, including paint.

  • Online Marketplaces: Platforms like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Freecycle often have sections dedicated to building materials. You might find someone local in need of your exact paint shade.
  • Local Swaps: Some communities organize swap meets, where locals can exchange items they no longer need.

I recommend always being transparent about the paint’s age and condition if you choose to barter or sell.

Safety First: Handling and Transporting Old Paint

When moving old paint cans, especially if they’re heading to disposal, safety comes first.

  • Avoid Spills: Ensure the lids are tightly sealed. For extra security, tape them down.
  • Upright Transport: Always transport paint cans upright in a box or crate to prevent spills or leaks.
  • Ventilation: When working with or disposing of paint, ensure you’re in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes.


Old paint needn’t become an environmental concern or mere clutter. With a little effort and creativity, those dusty cans can be turned into community projects, crafts, or be given a new lease on life.

Remember to always consider the planet first, whether you’re recycling, reusing, donating, or safely disposing of old paint. Informed decisions today lead to a brighter, cleaner tomorrow.


How long does paint last?

Latex paints: Up to 10 years.

Oil-based paints: Up to 15 years.

Is it safe to throw away dried paint?

Yes, once latex paint is dried and solidified, it’s safe for landfill disposal. However, oil-based paints, even when dried, must be taken to hazardous waste facilities.

Can I use old paint on exterior projects?

If the paint is still good, absolutely! Just make sure it’s the right type of paint for exterior use.

Remember, when in doubt about what to do with old paint, prioritize environmental safety and community usefulness. Your actions can make a difference!


  • Chris Chamberlan

    Chris Chamberlan, passionate animal welfare activist and USC graduate, conducted undercover RSPCA missions exposing slaughterhouse malpractices. A vegan and advocate for humane treatment, Chris has spoken at international conferences, been involved in vegan outreach, and founded Solarpunk Solutions for sustainability. His blending of animal welfare with eco-living principles for a compassionate future.

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