How do I dispose of unused paint?

Junk Removal Advice:

Some enjoy painting; others consider it a necessary evil. No matter the view you have or the project you are tackling, it never fails that in the end, there are always paint cans, empty or full, leftover.

Residents and businesses may bring any paint that they do not want to their local recycling center to dispose of it.

Generally, having leftover paint on hand is beneficial for future touch-ups. But what do you do with unused paint you don’t need anymore? How should it be disposed of? The answers to those questions and more can be found below.

Before we begin the discussion on the disposing of unused paint, let’s learn about inventory and proper storage techniques along with types of paint and how to calculate the paint you need for your project.

Inventory and Identification

Whether you have one can or many, identifying what’s inside and when it was purchased is important for storage and inventory purposes. Unless you are exceptionally careful, label information inevitably gets covered with paint during projects.

Once the project is complete, mark the lid or side of the can with a permanent marker that notes the date, type of paint, the brand/store it came from, and the paint color name.

Identification and dating helps with paint storage because most paints, if stored properly, will have a shelf life of up to 10 to 15 years. This applies to both latex and oil-based paints, which brings us to our next topic.

Paint: Is it All Hazardous?

Paint comes in two main types: water-based latex and oil base/Alkyd. Of the two, oil-based paint is the more hazardous of the two paints.

Water-based latex paints are not considered dangerous to the environment, and therefore can be put out with trash where the local government allows. We will come back to the proper way of disposing water-based latex paint in the disposal section further down.

In addition to water-based latex paints and oil-based paints, the following materials should also be disposed of properly.

  • Paint thinners
  • Paint solvents
  • Shellacs
  • Lacquers
  • Stains

Paint Storage Tips

As noted above, paint will typically last up to 10 to 15 years when sealed correctly. Proper storage begins the moment the paint is opened. Although it seems like the natural thing to do, using a screwdriver to open a can of paint is not a good idea.

Using a paint can opener will not bend the lid, therefore leaving it capable of sealing tightly when it is time to store. When replacing the lid, wipe away excess paint and place plastic wrap over the opening. Place the lid on the top of the can and hammer firmly with a rubber mallet so as not to dent the lid.

Often a skin will form on the top of the paint. You can stir this in or use a paint stirrer to remove it. There are paint stirrer drill attachments that can help mix the paint thoroughly and ensure the paint and pigments are blended if the wooden stirrer is not good enough.

If you should begin to stir paint and it has clumps, or its texture is overly thick, then the paint has expired and can no longer be used. Paint should be stored in a cool, dry place and kept away from sunlight and heated areas.

Ultimately, storing paint takes up a lot of space, and generally, nobody wants more than a quart left behind for touch-ups. To learn how to calculate the amount of paint you need for a room or rooms, continue reading below.

How Much Paint Do I Need

When trying to figure out the amount of paint you need for walls in a room, you will need to take a few measurements. To do this, you will need to:

– Add the length of all of the walls
– Multiply the total length by the height of the room

The amount you get is the square footage of the room. If you are not painting windows and doors, subtract those amounts from the square footage. Doors are 20 square feet, and windows are 15 square feet.

Note: Door and window square footage measurements above are based on average sizes.

Once you subtract doors and windows, you will have the measurement of the actual wall area you will need to paint. Typically 1 gallon of paint will cover about 350 square feet of space. For more exact estimates, divide the paintable area by 350 to figure out the number of gallons of paint you need.

If walls are unfinished, unpainted drywall, then you will need a primer and a little more paint because of absorption. For darker colors, plan on two coats for cutting in, walls, and touch-ups once the room is fully dry.

For woodworking and ceiling calculations, visit here.

Disposal of Paint

Depending on the type of paint you have will determine its disposal method. Below we have listed the two types of paint as well as other painting supplies and their disposal methods.

Water-based Latex Paint

Earlier, we mentioned water-based latex and how it was not hazardous and that it can be put out with the trash where allowed. To properly dispose of this type of paint, you will want to let it completely dry out or add one of the following to aid the paint in hardening.

  • Waste paint hardener
  • Cat litter
  • Shredded newpaper
  • Sawdust

When adding one of the above, leave the lid off and stir once every few days until it has completely hardened. When leaving paint out to dry, it is important it is placed out of the reach of pets and children.

Once the paint is hardened, it can be disposed of. Check with your local government to see if your town or city has a paint can recycling program available.

Oil-based Paint

Since oil-based paint is considered HHW, Hazardous Household Waste, it contains harmful solvents, resins, and pigments that are flammable and toxic. Almost all cities and towns have a place to drop oil-based paints so that they are disposed of the correct way.

Visit PaintCare Locator and enter your zip code to find where in your area you can dispose of your oil-based paint.

Oil-based paint can be left out to dry, but only in well-ventilated spaces because fumes can build up. This type of paint can never be poured down drains or into the trash. This is especially important when cleaning brushes and trays containing oil-based paint.

Oil-Based Stains

Like oil-based paints, stains are just as hazardous and need to be dried out or solidified before disposal. When staining and using rags, remember these are also hazardous and highly flammable.

Rags should be laid in a safe well-ventilated place to dry before disposal. Keep them away from any source of fire or direct heat, so they do not spontaneously combust.

Disposal of Other Paint Supplies

Like those above, drying out leftover painting supplies is key to proper disposal. The following are other ways to assist in drying out paints, stains, thinners, solvents, etc.

  • Small Quantities: brush it onto old cardboard or wood and then let the can dry out with the lid off
  • Large Quantities: pour in thin layers into a cardboard box and let dry before pouring the next layer on until the can is empty

For paint thinners, mineral spirits, turpentine, etc., pour into a glass container and seal tightly. Allow paint particles to settle in the bottom and then pour back into the original container minus the sediment. The remainder can be brushed out or absorbed with sawdust or newspaper.

Alternatives to Disposal

In the event that you no longer need the paint and it is still in good condition, you can always donate it. There are several charitable and non-profit organizations that will take leftover paint that is still usable for painting houses, graffiti cleanup, etc.

Keep America Beautiful
Habitat for Humanity
Boy or Girl Scouts
Salvation Army
Homeless Shelters

Another way to get rid of unused paint is to check with local galleries and artists, schools, community theater groups, or craftspeople. For a successful donation or hand-off, be sure the paint can has been labeled and is easily identifiable.

If the paint should be unopened and unused, some stores will accept it for a return or exchange. The paint must not have been opened or altered in any way. Also, some communities have swap programs for paint exchanges and drop-offs.

Paint Facts

1. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the United States uses about 1.6 million gallons of paint annually.

2. In 1978, the US banned lead paint from being used in homes as it causes poisoning.

3. Linseed oil was a common paint additive until it became scarce in the 1940s due to WWII. During this time, the linseed oil shortage encouraged chemists to discover artificial resins.

4. Sherwin Williams was the first to create the first ready-to-use paint. The paint was created in 1866. It was not long after that they were also credited with creating the resealable tin can that is still in use today.

5. In 1949, spray paint was first invented.

6. Until 1990, mercury was added to about 30% of all latex paints as a pesticide and preservative.

7. Paint, by volume, is the largest category of waste for HHW collection programs across America.

8. On average, 3 gallons of paint is typically stored in every home in the US.

Helpful Tips About Paint and Painting

  • When storing paint, be mindful that the cans will rust and stain shelving and floors if they should get damp. This is especially true on cement floors. Storing cans of paint is best done when they are upside down. This prevents air from entering the can.
  • When purchasing paint, use the calculation above and buy only what you need. If you use the right primer, you will not have to apply multiple coats.
  • For latex paint, wrap brushes in plastic bags if the project will last multiple days. Cold temperatures keep latex paint from drying quickly, so all you need to do is wrap up your brushes and place them in the fridge.
  • Know what you are painting over. Knowledge of what is currently on the wall is helpful. To determine what type of paint is on the wall, take a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and rub a small area on the wall. If paint comes off on the cotton ball, then it is latex. If no paint comes off, then the wall is painted with an oil-based paint.
  • Wipe down walls to ensure they are clean and ready to be painted. This will help uncover anything on the wall that may keep the new paint from adhering properly.
  • Prime your walls if they are untreated or raw wood, new drywall, or walls that are about to have a dramatic color change (light to dark, vice versa).
  • For high humidity and high moisture rooms, use a stain blocking primer to reduce peeling, chipping, blistering, or bubbling of paint.
  • If choosing a self priming paint, choose wisely and go for a premium brand with good reviews.
  • For water-based latex paint, you will want to use nylon bristle-type paintbrushes. For oil-based paint, natural bristle brushes are the way to go.
  • If you are going to be painting a large area, pour all gallons into a resealable plastic bucket. This not only helps with storage but it also helps with uniformity while mixing and painting.

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