You’re not a proper homeowner until you’ve got a few stacks of half-used paint cans stashed in a dark corner of your basement, attic or shed. A few were leftover from when you threw a fresh coat on the walls before you moved in, maybe one from that time you remodeled the bathroom, even a few hand-me-downs from the previous owner.
Some of these you’ll want hang on to. It’s always good to keep a little extra wall and door paint around for when you inevitably need to do a some touching-up. But some is probably already expired and others (what were you thinking with that dark purple??) are just gathering dust until their ultimate demise.
How to tell if paint has expired
Paint doesn’t last forever (properly stored oil-based paints last up to 15 years; 10 years for latex). You can first check whether your paint is still good with the sniff test: Paint that has expired will have a strong rancid smell to it.
You’ll also need to determine whether the paint particles have permanently separated from the solvent by giving it a good mix (if a thin skin of hardened paint has formed over the top, remove that before you start mixing).
If the paint blends back together smoothly into one consistent colour, you should be good-to-go. If you’re still not sure, brush a bit of it onto a piece of newspaper or cardboard to see whether it goes on smoothly.
If your paint is expired, you’ll want to dispose of it, so skip ahead to that section below. But if the paint is still usable—you just simply have no use for it—consider donating it to someone who does.
Where to donate it
If you are looking to donate (non-expired) paint, make sure to first check whether an organisation wants or needs it before you start lugging cans around town. Many non-profits do not accept leftover paint for donation. But there are a few options you can look into if you’d rather donate than dispose:
A local community organisation that works with kids may have a use for excess paint, depending on the types of projects they have coming up. High school drama clubs, in particular, often need paint for sets and scenery.
Any organisation that is looking to remodel their facilities on the cheap, such as a shelter or church may have a use for your excess paint. A little bit left in the bottom of the can won’t go far for a job like this, but if you’ve got a substantial amount, they might be able to use it to spruce up a room.
How to dispose of latex paint
If no one wants your paint (or it’s expired), it’s time to dispose of it properly. Before you do anything, check your local municipality’s regulations regarding paint disposal.
In some areas, you will need to take latex paint to an approved drop-off location, in other areas, you are permitted to dry it out and dispose of it yourself. You might be able to find a local paint recycler, such as Paintback.
If you’re drying it out yourself and there is only a small amount of paint left in the can, popping off the lid and leaving it open in the sun for a while might do the trick. If there’s too much for the sun to handle, add cat litter, newspaper, sand or sawdust to absorb and dry out the paint.
For a larger quantity, line a cardboard box with a garbage bag, dump the paint inside and mix with the absorbent material.
To test whether the paint is dry, try plunging a tool, such as a screwdriver, into the paint. If it doesn’t penetrate the surface, your paint is dry. You can now safely throw it away in the trash.
How to dispose of oil-based paint
Oil-based paint is considered hazardous household material and must be disposed of either through a government program or a hazardous waste vendor. Your local area might host hazardous household waste collection events sporadically throughout the year, and your state’s Department of Environmental Conservation website likely has a list of upcoming collection programs.
Whatever you do: Do not, do not, DO NOT pour any liquid paint down drains or into the trash.