How to Dispose of Paint Properly

By Alexa Erickson

Whether you bought more than you needed or you’ve found abandoned paint in the garage from an unfinished project, you may be wondering how to dispose of paint. Partially used paint cans add up, especially among DIYers, and there’s no use in them taking up space when they’re done for. Unfortunately, paint is not one of those items you can just toss and call it a day: Not only is paint runny and messy, but certain types are toxic and can cause all sorts of environmental issues if tossed in the trash.

Free up space by learning how to properly dispose of the paint, whether you choose to donate or your spent cans are ready to toss for good. This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

several paint cans on drop cloth

Photo via Angela, Blue i Style

Can You Throw Away Paint?

You should never throw away oil-based paints in the trash. It’s illegal in most states to do so, as they contain chemicals that can contaminate soil and water. Water-based latex paints can typically be dried-up or solidified, then placed out with the trash. However, always be sure to check your local government’s regulations for any type of paint you plan to dispose of.

How to Tell If Paint Has Expired

Like food, paint eventually expires and loses its functionality over time. Here’s how to check if your paint has expired:

  • For latex paint, which can last up to 10 years, check that it does not smell rancid, has not separated, isn’t hard on the bottom or sides, and maintains its original color. Test it out by loading some paint on a brush and wiping the brush across a piece of newspaper. If it’s rough and lumpy, it’s expired and needs to be disposed of.
  • Solvent or oil-based paint can last up to 15 years. Just be sure it hasn’t been exposed to extreme temperature highs and lows and was properly sealed. Typically, you just need to remove the top layer of film and stir well. If the paint blends back together smoothly into one consistent color, it’s still in good condition.

Can You Donate Paint?

Yes! Good paint doesn’t have to go to waste. If your paint is in good condition, you have several donation options:

  • PaintCare is an organization available in many states that makes recycling your leftover paint easy. There are convenient locations, which you can find on their website, where you can take your paint for reuse or recycling.
  • Your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore is another option and is great for repurposing latex paint. The paint will be mixed and then resold at the ReStore.
  • Ask a neighbor, friend, or local artist if they are in need of the paint you have on hand.
  • Contact local organizations like a school district or shelter to see if they have a need for otherwise-unused paint.

Be Clear on Paint Type

When contacting organizations, be sure to specify if you have latex- or oil-based paint. Some organizations only take latex-based paint, as oil-based paint can’t be recycled. For instance, PaintCare partners with household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities, as well as locations that have volunteered to recycle latex- and oil-based paint.

paint cans filled with cat litter

Photo via Albion

How to Dispose of Latex-Based Paint

To properly dispose of leftover latex paint, be sure that it’s completely dried out by following these steps. Once solidified, check your local government restrictions to see if it can then be thrown away in the trash or if you need to drop it off at a dedicated facility.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Tool to take paint lid off
  • Cat litter
  • Trash can
  • Paint stirrer

Step 1: Discard the Lid

Remove the lid from the paint can and discard in the trash.

Step 2: Allow Paint to Dry

Let the paint can sit open to allow the remaining paint in the can to thoroughly dry out. You can also speed up the process by adding equal parts cat litter to the paint can. If you’re working with more than half a can of paint, consider pouring the paint into a lined box or trash can, and then pour in the cat litter. Stir the cat litter into the paint until a thick paste is formed and let the mixture dry up for at least an hour.

Step 3: Toss the Dried Paint

So long as your local government permits it, you can place the dried paint in the garbage and dispose of it with your other trash. If dried paint disposal isn’t permitted in your area, check with local trash removal services to either request a pickup service or find a paint disposal drop-off location.

How to Dispose of Oil-Based Paint

As we previously stated, oil-based paints are considered a household hazardous waste, so they should be disposed of through a household hazardous waste collection service. Prior to handing over the paint to a facility, you should dry it out using the same method used for latex-based paint. Just be sure to air the paint out in an open, well-ventilated area.

How to Dispose of Paint Cans

If you've emptied a can of paint, be sure to let the residue in the can air-dry. Once dried, you can recycle the can with other metals.

Or, take this opportunity to try your hands at some DIY projects. Here are some ways to upcycle paint cans:

  • Decoupage the outsides with contact paper to make pretty storage buckets.
  • Clean out the cans, drill holes in the bottoms, and plant herbs in them.
  • Decorate the outside and use it as a vase for flower arrangements.

Do you have additional tips for how to dispose of paint? Share them below!

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