How to Dispose of Unwanted or Leftover Paint

 In Exterior Painting, Interior Painting, Painting Tips

With warmer weather fast approaching, many people will start their Spring cleaning soon. One thing that many people have a hard time dealing with is left over paint. How do you know if you can still use it, or if you should dispose of it? Once you’ve figured that out, then what?

First things first, is the paint even still good? If you recently bought it, chances are it’s fine. Storage has a lot to do with how long paint will keep though. If you have a water-based or latex paint, these can usually last for about 10 years. Solvent or oil-based paints will typically out last those by another 5 years.


  • Latex – First, smell it. If it smells rancid, it’s gone bad. Does it look like it separated? If it does, remove the thin skin layer on top, and try to mix it back together. Make sure there are no hard spots on the bottom or the sides. If the paint blends back together and looks like the correct color, it should be fine. However, you can always test it by brushing some onto a piece of newspaper to be sure. If it comes out lumpy or rough looking, you should dispose of it.
  • Oil-Based – As we said, storage is everything. As long as it was sealed properly and wasn’t exposed to extreme temperatures, this paint isn’t as prone to going bad as latex is. If it hasn’t been moved for awhile, there’s likely to be a thin skin coat across the top of the paint, which will need to be removed before you try mixing it back together, just like with latex.

Ok, so your paint is still good. What are you going to do with it? You can check out this blog we wrote about uses for leftover paint for some ideas. Keep in mind, the options are limitless though. You can find some more great ideas here at HGTV DIY Projects.

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Maybe you thought about it a little too late, and your paint went bad though. How do you dispose of paint? You can’t just throw it out, as it’s considered hazardous material. You’re in luck though, as the process for getting rid of it is pretty simple.


  • Drying agent, such as kitty litter or sawdust – for mixing purposes
  • Stir sticks – which you can get for free at any Sherwin Williams store
  • Tarp – to place cans on and clean up any spilled litter

The actually process is really simple, so we’ll use kitty litter as our example. Mix the litter into the paint until you have a thick consistency. For latex paint, this will end up being about 50/50 litter to paint ratio. Oil based paint is about ⅓ paint to ⅔ litter – this one will also take longer to dry. You’ll want to add enough litter to get a thick oatmeal texture when stirring. Make sure to get the litter all the way to the bottom, otherwise that paint won’t dry completely.

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If you’re having any doubts about how much litter you’ve added, go with the general rule of thumb – more is better. You can also check out the video below for a visual aid. Once you’ve got the paint to that texture, let it sit for about 3-4 hours before returning. If you can allow it to sit in the sun, this will help it dry faster. If the mixture is not completely dry when you check on it, just repeat the process until it is.

When you’ve dried out the paint as much as you can, leave the lid off the container before disposing. You don’t need to try and pull the mixture out, either.

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  • If you have more than half a can of paint, you can pour it out into something else to make it easier to mix and dispose of, such as a box or trash can. Just make sure they’re lined, so no paint leaks out.
  • If you only have a little bit of paint left in the can, you can leave it in the sun to dry it out. Make sure to place it high up or out of reach from children and pets.
  • If you don’t want to use kitty litter, there are commercial paint hardeners that you can purchase, such as Krud Kutter. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for those.
  • You can also donate your extra GOOD paint to places working on a limited budget, such as charities, a community center, or Habitat For Humanity. These places can always use the extra supplies.

If you’d like more information on recycling, below we’ve listed some of the surrounding areas city pages.

Lakewood          Westlake          Bay Village

Rocky River      Avon       Avon Lake      Cleveland

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