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How to Dispose of Old Paint

Last Updated: December 9, 2021

How to Dispose of Old Paint

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When our family decided to embark on a big spring cleaning of our garage, we were surprised to discover lots of cans of old paint, everything from a small can of touch up paint to larger cans of latex paint, many with only a bit remaining. Turns out we are not alone.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that Americans generate over 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste each year. In fact, the average American home accumulates about 100 pounds of household hazardous waste in our basements, garages, sheds, and storage closets. And much of that hazardous waste is in the form of liquid paint and stains with about 60 pounds of old cans taking up space.

Keep reading to learn how to properly dispose of old paint properly.

Why is there so much old paint in our homes?

Some people save extra paint for later touch ups, or they inherit a collection of old paint when they buy a new home. Some old paint cans come from abandoned paint projects or are colors that just didn’t quite work. While it is good to keep some leftover paint around for necessary repairs or touch ups, much of this old remaining paint can be discarded.

It may seem easy to simply toss this leftover paint in the trash. But this is dangerous to the environment. Liquid paints and stains are considered toxic waste, and there are state regulations in place to ensure proper disposal. While store paint is not an extremely hazardous chemical, it still has the potential to ignite or contaminate surrounding areas if spilled. Improper disposal can lead to contamination of nearby water, air, and soil. A half-full can of paint tossed in your residential garbage collection can lead to spillage onto the roadway when the trash truck compacts the trash.

Most latex and water-based paints have a 10-year shelf life. Oil-based paints are good for about 15 years. Surprisingly, paint can actually go bad. Any paint that smells rancid is unusable. Foul-smelling paint usually is the result of improper storage. Paint can have mold, which will be visible on the surface of the paint. Separation doesn’t necessarily mean a paint has gone bad, unless it does not blend back together after stirring. Any paint that has developed sediment should be discarded.

How to Dispose of Used Paint

1. Let Used Paint Dry Out Before Tossing

You can safely toss latex and water-based paint as long as it is not in a liquid state. Leave the can open until it dries out. This can take a few days, depending on the amount of paint left in the can. If you have a larger amount of paint, add kitty litter or shredded newspaper to the can to help soak up the paint and speed up the drying process.

2. Use a Paint Hardener

For quicker results, you can use a liquid paint hardener. This is a substance that can be added to latex paint to solidify it. If you have several cans with small amounts of paint, combine them into one can before adding the hardener. Dump the contents of the hardener package in the can. The hardener is activated by water, so you will need to add the required amount of water, stirring with a wooden stick to combine. After about an hour, the paint is thick enough to dispose of safely. In many communities, you can toss hardened paint into your regular trash. But before tossing into your residential trash or a rental dumpster, be sure to check if your community allows disposal in this way.

3. Take Your Old Paint Back to the Retailer

You can take your leftover paint to participating paint retailers. These are paint, hardware, and home improvement stores that participate in paint stewardship programs for homeowners and businesses and recycle your paint at no cost. There are limits to the amount of paint they will accept, so check first before loading up all your old paint cans. You can find a list of these retailers at PaintCare.org. Scott Cassel, founder and CEO of Product Stewardship Institute says these programs “divert millions of gallons of paint from landfills, collectively save local governments across the state millions of dollars each year, increase environmental benefits, and boost the green economy.”

an infographic explaining ways to get rid of old paint
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4. Bring Your Paint to a Household Hazardous Waste or Recycling Facility Near You

You can take leftover paint to your local household hazardous waste (HHW) facility. Search Earth911.com to find one near you. Some of these facilities do charge a nominal amount, but usually only pennies for a pound of paint, and many offer these services free of charge.

5. Recycle Your Paint

As local communities recognize the hazards of old paint disposal, more and more offer easy recycling for your leftovers. As Huzaifa Matawala, founder of The Paint Foundation explains, recycling paint “reduces pollution by diverting waste paints from landfill or burning. Fuel incineration burns valuable ingredients. Recycling reutilizes it. Paints stay alive for use again.”

6. Offer Your Paint for Free to Others

Ask friends, family, and neighbors if they have any use for a small amount of paint. Leftover paint is usually enough to cover a small accent wall or craft project. You can post the offer of free paint on neighborhood groups like Nextdoor or Facebook. Some community groups, like school drama clubs, local scout troops, churches, animal rescue facilities, and artists’ groups, are happy to accept opened cans of paint.

Prevent Hazardous Paint Disposal with Smart Paint Buying

A good way to help protect the environment from the hazards of paint disposal is to buy smarter to begin with. This will reduce the amount of leftover or spoiled paint you need to dispose of.

1. Choose water or latex-based paints over oil-based paints.

Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to only choose an oil-based paint if it is best suited to your use. Limit it to trim work, metal painting, and anything that needs a more durable finish. For everyday room paint jobs, you should not need an oil-based paint.

2. Plan well before buying paint.

If you are unsure about how much you’ll need, bring your room measurements to the paint store. The staff has the experience to more correctly determine how much paint you’ll need without any unnecessary waste.

3. Store your leftover paint correctly.

Before closing the lid, clean the rim of any paint to ensure a tighter seal. Close the lid with a rubber mallet rather than a metal hammer. For a more secure seal, cover the opening of the paint can with plastic wrap before replacing the lid.

4. Use up your excess paint rather than store it.

A small amount of paint can be used for a small room, accent wall, window frame, bookshelf, or other craft project. Light-colored paint can even be used as primer for another color when painting a room.

Do Not Do This When Disposing of Paint

Finally, make sure that your disposal method is legal and safe. Illegally dumped paint can cause harm to native plant populations, wildlife, and water supplies. It is also unsightly and expensive for a community to clean up. Never pour paint down a sink or toilet. Paint can contaminate septic tanks and the wastewater treatment system and can damage your home’s plumbing. By being responsible about paint disposal, you’ll ensure that your community stays safe and clean.

About Monica Mayhak

I am an expert content writer with a depth of experience in the waste management and dumpster industry, with over 25 years of experience writing about construction, home improvement, property management, and education topics. As lead research writer for Discount Dumpster, I have expanded my knowledge and understanding of waste management, construction, and environmental issues over the past several years.

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