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What To Do With Old Paint And Paint Cans [Your Best Options]

WRITTEN by CHRISSY, LAST UPDATED ON May 3, 2024

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If you’re wondering what to do with old paint and any old paint cans that you’ve got lying around – then you’re in the right place. Let’s delve into the options available, so you can decide on what will work best for you.

What To Do With Old Paint And Old Paint Cans - Your Best Options

Whether you’re sorting out your garage, you’ve just finished a decorating project, or you’ve owned a home for any length of time – you’re likely to have a few old paint cans lying around.

They seem to collect over time as we update decor, or maybe we inherited the paint from our homes’ previous owners (to use for touching up their decor) etc…

It can be hard to let them go because we may need them in the future.

Walls need touching up, paint is expensive – and we don’t want to waste it. It can also feel like a huge hassle to get rid of it.

It all ends up piling up in the garage or shed. Out of sight, out of mind.

And we rarely end up using it after all.

So – what can be done to let it go? Let’s look at the options you’ve got, and hopefully make it a lot more straightforward for you.

How Long Does Paint Last?

Paint doesn’t last forever.

Even if it’s unopened and stored correctly (cool, dark place), paint only has a shelf life of two to fifteen years (dependant on the type of paint involved i.e. oil based, latex, water based emulsion paint etc.).

Once you’ve opened a paint tin, it’ll start to degrade more quickly. You have about a year to use an opened can of paint before it goes bad.

So, if you’re not sure how old the paint is, err on the side of caution and assume it’s no good.

Yellow paint in can with brush - on yellow background

What Happens If You Use Old Paint?

If you use old paint, it probably won’t adhere to surfaces as well as it should. It might also chip, peel, or crack more easily than fresh paint.

Old paint can also release harmful chemicals into the air as it dries.

These chemicals can be dangerous to your health, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory conditions.

So, what should you do with all that old paint, and the cans it comes in? Here are a few options…

Reasons To Get Rid Of Old Paint And Paint Cans

  • You don’t need the colour any longer, decor changed
  • Moving House (you may not need the paint colour in your new home, and lots of removals firms won’t move paint as it’s toxic)
  • It’s old and has gone bad
  • It’s been decanted for touch ups and you want to get rid of the paint can
  • Paint cans are bulky and take up space

NOTE: Paint and the paint in paint cans is toxic, and so needs to be got rid of in a responsible way – whatever option you choose.

Options For What To Do With Old Paint And Paint Cans

Return It

If you’ve bought paint for a specific decorating project, and haven’t opened it all, then you have the option to take this unused paint back for a refund.

This stops waste, and helps your pocket!

Just remember to have a little left in your home for any touchups over the years.

Sell It

Usually only worth doing if you have a full tin of unwanted paint – as that will mean that the new owner can be sure that it’s in good condition and not affected by being exposed to the air etc…

You can sell paint locally using Facebook Marketplace, or try eBay.

Donate It / Give It Away For Free

This is a great option if you have only got some paint left in the paint can.

There are lots of people only looking for a little paint for a craft project, or to decorate one wall only – and they would probably be glad of saving some cash by getting what you don’t need.

Try posting on places like Facebook local groups, Freecycle etc… or ask friends and family if they are in need of anything for a project.

Also – there are some amazing charities out there that can match your leftover paint with someone who needs it:

Reuse It / Upcycle It

I love using paint for projects at home.

Furniture can be given a new lease of life with any leftover satin or oil based paint, and you can create some amazing artwork with emulsion on canvas (a great way to give some colour to rooms without painting the walls themselves.

In fact – there are loads of things paint can be used for – let your imagination go wild!

We’ve looked at ways to get rid of excess usable paint, but what about when it isn’t good enough anymore?

Whatever method of paint disposal you choose, you need to remember one key thing.

Make sure that any surplus paint is dried hard first.

Liquid paint / wet paint is hazardous waste as it can leak chemicals into the environment – so you have to harden paint before getting rid of it.

Simply leave it out with the paint can lid off and it will harden pretty quickly as long as it’s a warm day (if there’s quite a bit in the can then you may need to add sand or sawdust to the can to help it harden as well.

Recycle It

Only metal paint cans can be recycled – but check whether your local recycling centre takes them before you make the journey.

If you have a plastic paint can, then these are currently unable to be recycled – so you’ll need to ensure you dispose of it responsibly. Usually your recycling service can help you with this.

Throw It Away

Never be tempted to pour paint down the sink as this can cause blockages at best, and is toxic at worst.

Always remember to harden any paint in cans before disposing of it as household waste.

Once hardened it can be accepted as rubbish in most areas (check before you let it go, of course, as local authorities may differ).

What To Do With Old Paint And Old Paint Cans - Your Best Options

And there you have it – all the different things to consider when getting rid of your unwanted paint or paint cans.

Which option works best for you?

I’ve used them all in the past – even created some artwork – so never rule out any option until you’ve given it some real thought, as you never know…

Read These Next:

The Easiest Way To Make Cleaning Up After Painting Easier

Easy Way To Store Leftover Paint For Touchups In The Home

What To Do With Old Ink Cartridges – 3 Options To Use (And 1 Not To)

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This article was written by Chrissy

Hi - I'm Chrissy... Having run my own business for 12 years as a Professional Organiser and Interior Designer, I know what works (and what doesn't!) when it comes to setting up a home that works both functionally and aesthetically. Now you can mostly find me in a coffee shop or at home, working full time on OrganiseMyHouse.com (which I setup back in 2011) sharing all my tips and ideas. My mission is to help you create a home that you love to live in every day...

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