What to Do With Leftovers: Storing and Disposing of Paint

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When you finish painting a room, what do you do with the leftover paint? If you’re like most people, you carefully put the lid back on the can, place it on a shelf in the basement or garage – and never think about it again.

When putting it away, you probably thought you’d need it someday for a touchup or future project, says Jeffrey Phillip, a professional organizer in New York City. But paint doesn’t last forever so leftovers should be addressed.

“If you painted a room several years ago, chances are the colors won’t match anymore because over time the color on the walls fades,” Phillip says. Here’s how to tell if your leftovers are still good, plus storing, disposing and donating tips.

1. Find the right space.

“Paint needs to be stored in a dry place like a basement or closet at room temperature,” Phillip says. It can separate and dry out, and eventually harden if you store it in a place with extreme weather condition like your garage, shed or attic.

2. Label it.

Phillip suggests pouring any extra paint into a small plastic or glass jar with a screw-top lid. “This not only reduces the paint can’s storage footprint but it makes it easier to find later if you’re doing touchups,” he says. Write on a sticky label the brand name, color, product number, room you used it in, and date of purchase. Labeling is especially important if you’re using, say, various shades of white or gray paint throughout the house.

3. Seal it properly.

To prevent paint from drying out, clean out any spillage in the can’s grooves with a clean rag before putting on the lid.

4. Consider shelf life.

Most water-based or latex paint lasts about 10 years; oil-based paint lasts up to 15 years. How to tell if it’s gone bad? There are signs, says Phillip – if the paint has a strong rancid odor, if the particles have separated from the solvent and don’t blend together, if there are lumps in the paint, visible signs of mold or mildew, or the paint can has bulges or a puffed lid.

5. Donate it.

If you have a sizable amount of paint left in a can and it’s in good condition, Phillip suggests donating it to a church or other place of worship, community theater organization or charity – places working on projects with limited budgets.

6. Dispose of paint carefully.

Since paint can have devastating effects on the environment, it must be disposed of properly. Latex paint can be thrown out in the trash but it has to dry out first, Phillip says. “Use a commercial paint hardener or stir equal parts cat litter and paint into the paint can, and once it thickens and is dry, you can throw it in the trash.” Oil-based paint, which is considered hazardous waste, has to be taken to a community recycling center; you can bring latex paint to these centers, too.

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