Reader suggestion: Storing and disposing used paint

Paint CansReader Mike sent us the following tip that he adapted from an episode of Clean Sweep that aired a number of years ago:

Paint cans in my garage tend to reproduce and grow. Pretty quickly after various projects there is a collection of 1 gallon paint cans taking up huge amounts of space. When my wife and I went to finish painting a room, we discovered our less than half filled paint cans also thickened a little over time.

To put and end to this, I purchased a few 1 quart cans and poured the paint out of the gallon containers into these little guys. In the end, I wound up throwing away a very small amount of paint, but a very large amount of paint containers.

He added the following tip:

Paint in its liquid form is hazardous waste, however, as a solid it is safe to throw away. I combined all my left over paint into a single one gallon container, capped it, and saved it with the used light bulbs for hazardous waste disposal. The rest of the [empty 1 gallon] cans were left outside in the sunlight to dry, then they were simply tossed.

Our readers may want to also consider the quarter-pint (125mL) cans for smaller amounts of paint required for touch ups. Mason jars with tight fitting lids are a good alternative but store them in the dark as exposure to light can change the color of the paint.

Thank you, Mike, for the great tip!


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

20 Comments for “Reader suggestion: Storing and disposing used paint”

  1. posted by Melissa on

    When we moved into our new house we had about 40 cans of paint left behind by previous owners. I was at a loss as to how to get rid of the paint, until I found the FreeCycle Network (

    I put an ad out on the bulliten board and within minutes I had several offers to take the paint.

  2. posted by Wimzy on

    Something to note is that there are several products out there that will harden full gallons of paint so it can be thrown out in the normal trash.

  3. posted by karen on

    i use kitty litter to solidify old paint.

  4. posted by Lulu on

    Theres also the option of buying less paint. Ive found I buy a gallon when Ive only needed 2 quarts. Or using less toxic paint that can be safely disposed and the container reused, or when tossed out doesn’t take up space elsewhere. I am devoted to removing clutter but I dont know “How to toss efficiently and safely,” Which makes the decision to toss slow and difficult.

    If a can is tossed in the garbage and no sees it is it still clutter?

  5. posted by anon on

    In some places (such as Toronto), empty paint cans can go in the regular recycling. No need to thow it in garbage!

  6. posted by Andamom on

    I second freecycle. Given that I live in an apartment building, I know that many of my neighbors have found success in putting their leftover paint in public spots – or outside our building (New Yorkers pick up free stuff from the street). The general point is — if your paint is still good, don’t recycle or trash it — pass it on.

  7. posted by t-mad on

    We love to paint and re-paint our rooms. We have extra paints of every colour of the rainbow. So when we have finished painting for a few months we combine the different paints, all the yellows together, the blues, throw in some red if there is only a little for purple. Suddenly 9 cans are 2 or 3. As for the empty cans, the paint store is run by a friend of ours and he takes all of them back to re-use (I’m not sure how, but he loves to get them back!)

  8. posted by Elaine on

    In my area, IIRC, Habitat for Humanity will take cans of paint that are 1/2 full or more. And I’ll second those mentioning Freecycle. It’s always better to give something an opportunity to be used before being tossed in the landfill!

  9. posted by Ornery's Wife on

    If you have just a small amount of latex paint left in a can and no longer need it, remove the lid and allow it to dry out in a safe place (top shelf), then you can safely dispose of it. Lead based (alkyd) paints must be disposed of differently, and in our community we have a hazardous household chemical recycle day a few times a year sponsored by the city. They also take pesticides, lawn chemicals and cleaning supplies.

    My question is, if they are too hazardous to dispose of, shouldn’t they be too hazardous to use?

  10. posted by Serene and Not Herd on

    Keep in mind that paints can also spoil like food. It usually takes longer, especially oil based. But water-based paints can spoil rather quickly if not tightly sealed, and occasionally even if sealed.

    Be sure if you are throwing out gallon cans of specialized colors you had mixed, that you keep the lid with the color recipe on it, or make a copy/scan on your multi-function document device.

  11. posted by Wendy on

    If you want to keep paint fresh a bit longer, stretch a piece of cellophane over the top of the opened can before you put the lid on it.

    I plan to use my leftover paints to paint up the basement in blocks. It’ll be bright and colorful.

  12. posted by Laure on

    I applaud the Habitat and Freecycling options. Once one realizes that paint doesn’t last forever, it is easier to give it up. Our area has a recycling center that takes old paint, combines it, and gets it to someone who reuses it, but it costs money. The Recycle Guys told me that basically they do the Kitty Litter trick for small amounts of paint in cans, so that idea has at least one more endorsement, too.

  13. posted by Deanna on

    Guys, I hate to break it to you, but Mike’s a bit mistaken.

    Yes, paint in its liquid form is not viable for non-hazardous waste disposal. However, only LATEX paint is non-hazardous once dried out. So, you can dry out your latex paint cans, simply by leaving the covers off of the cans, and feel free to just toss them in the bulk waste trash. That’s perfectly fine. Oils, lead based, and any non-latex paint should NEVER be disposed of in the trash though. They contain chemicals that can leech into groundwater or prove toxic if put in an incinerator.

    Non-latex paints, batteries, lead pipes/fishing sinkers, and other standard household waste should be disposed of in yearly haz-waste drives. For information on those, contact your waste management company, or municipal department, or simply google it.

    The best way to handle the little hazardous wastes that pile up is to just stick it in a coffee can, and wait until haz-waste day, then drive up, have them handle it, and fill up your can again next year!

  14. posted by Dan B on

    Ornery’s wife writes… “Lead based (alkyd) paints must be disposed of differently…” Since 1978 lead-based and alkyd paint haven’t been the same. Prior to the 1980s, alkyd paints did contain large amounts of lead. In 1978 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission lowered the allowable level of lead in paint to .06% (considered trace amount). Of course house painters using paint bought before 1978 contained toxic levels of lead. Lead was used because it helped speed up the drying of linseed oil. As a pigment lead provided great coverage and slowed deterioration from fungus and mold.

    NB: In the 19th century, oil (mostly linseed) was used as the vehicle for paint. The yellowing of paints that contained oil was a key drawback, so it was a significant advance in the 1920’s when alkyd, a close cousin chemically, replaced oil used in paint. For more, see “Paint in America”, Roger Moss, ed.

  15. posted by Melissa on

    I am really surprised that no one has said my favorite idea for storing paint. I always keep a little of the extra paint around for touch-ups from scratches and to paint room accents.

    Glass food jars. Sure you could recycle them, but you bought them. They’re strong and they seal well. Jelly jars, PB jars, pasta sauce, baby food and more. They’re great because you can see the colors and you can easily dip a small brush in then re-seal. Just run them through the dishwasher to get them good and clean. If you crave consistency on your shelves you can use canning jars.

    I also use them to store left over nails and screws from projects (no sharp points can get through them). The empty paint cans are then free to be “project buckets” as described here: or for parts storage. For example we had some leftover hardware on a plumbing project that we keep for maintenance later.

    And of course, don’t forget to label everything. You’ll never regret it.

  16. posted by The Mommy Blawger on

    I have heard, though never tried it, that if you mix all your paint colors together, you will end up with a nice shade of brown which is suitable for painting the garage or the basement or some other utility area.

    And I would like to add that the disposal of paint and other hazardous waste is likely to be regulated by state and/or local law, and therefore the correct answer to the question of how to dispose of paint will vary depending on where you live.

  17. posted by Linda on

    Los Angeles county has several permanent hazardous waste disposal locations that are open on the weekends. I take all unusable liquids (paint, cleaners), spent batteries, expired drugs to the site closest to me. As I declutter, I fill a cardboard box or two and when those are full, off they go. These sites meet all the state requirements for proper disposal of all household hazardous waste and e-waste.

  18. posted by adam on

    One or two comments mentioned about paint spoiling. Boy is that true!

    We recently used some old acrylic paint to paint a small area in the bedroom. Within hours we noticed an incredibly acrid smell, some say that it’s like cat urine. At first, we suspected a new mattress that had been delivered the same day, especially given that some new mattresses are known to smell for a few days after delivery. We removed the mattress, and the smell remained. Then we suspected the paint. (Note, the odor isn’t obviously traceable to the paint on the wall, and we could only confirm the culprit by cracking the paint can.)

    So, the point is I now really question the wisdom of keeping paint beyond whatever period causes it to break-down in this manner. Once applied, the smell from old paint is very difficult to eliminate, even if painted over.

  19. posted by Alan on

    I second freecycle. Given that I live in an apartment building, I know that many of my neighbors have found success in putting their leftover paint in public spots – or outside our building (New Yorkers pick up free stuff from the street). The general point is — if your paint is still good, don’t recycle or trash it — pass it on.

  20. posted by Theresa on

    I try very hard to minimize paint, if at all possible. My home interior is painted one single color throughout, Origami White. Walls are all flat, trim is all satin…period. I have two cans of paint in the garage, one flat, one satin. Compared to 5-6 different paints/colors, like I used to have, this is such a huge improvement and it feels very minimalist. 🙂

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