Research shows that on average, people store about three gallons (11.36 L) of paint in their homes. If you’re one of these people, you may be wondering what’s the best way to get rid of all that paint

Here’s how you can dispose of old paint and cans:

  1. Dry the remaining paint.
  2. Dispose of the dried paint and can.
  3. Recycle the old paint and cans if possible.

Learn the details of every step – plus some tips on paint and can recycling – by reading below.

Dry the Remaining Paint

As with most industrial liquids, paint is something you shouldn’t throw away.

Oil-based paint contains harmful substances such as:

  • Xylene
  • Toluene
  • Acetone
  • Ethyl acetate

Latex paint, on the other hand, is laced with some chemicals that are harmful to wildlife. If disposed of wrongly, any of these paints can leach into the ground and damage the environment.

Are you thinking of flushing the paint? Don’t even dare. Not only will it ruin your plumbing, but it can also contaminate your water supply.

To make matters worse, it’s no secret that prolonged contact with paint can be harmful to your health. The same is true for the people who need to deal with it! Just think of the poor sanitation workers who might get sick because of your reckless abandon.

For these reasons, it’s important to dry the remaining paint in your cans before disposal.

How to Dry Paint Before Disposal

Here are ways you can dry paint before disposal:

  • You can dry a small amount (less than ¼ of the can) by exposing it to the sun. Stirring it every few days and applying the leftover latex paint on old newspapers should work as well.
  • You can dry larger amounts of paint by transferring a half-inch (1.27 cm) of the material into a box lined with plastic. This should help avoid some unnecessary mess.
  • You can mix the paint with equal amounts of absorbent material, such as sawdust, sand, or kitty litter. Let it dry before adding another half-inch (1.27 cm) of paint – up until you finish the entire can. You can also speed things up by drying the latex paint in multiple containers or batches.
  • Pour the substance in a plastic-lined cardboard. If you’re dealing with paint that has ‘separated,’ pour the clear substance in plastic-lined cardboard and mix the paint with absorbent material.

Remember: drying is only applicable to latex paints. Oil-based paints are hazardous and should be taken to a hazardous waste facility for proper disposal.

How Long Does It Take for a Can of Paint to Dry Out?

A small amount of latex paint – less than one inch (2.54 cm) – will take two to four hours of drying time under the sun. Meanwhile, it’ll take an hour (or more) to dry every half-inch (1.27 cm) of paint with sand, sawdust, or kitty litter.

You may be able to cut some time from this by stirring the mixture regularly. Another shortcut is to dry the paint in batches.

Even with these timelines, the drying process may last for months. The time will depend on the paint quality.

If you want to speed things up, you can use a hardener, which takes the appearance of an absorbent powder. This should dry a large amount of latex paint in a few days.

Remember: You need to make sure that the paint is indeed dry. Before you throw the can away or recycle it, pierce the paint first to check.

Where to Dry Paint

Since paint contains toxic substances, it’s best to dry paint in a well-ventilated outdoor space. Good candidates include the balcony and a screened porch.

More importantly, keep your ‘workspace’ out of your children’s or pets’ reach. Keep the paint away from rain or open flames (think barbecue grill).

Dispose of the Dried Paint and Can

Once you have dried the paint in the can, it’s time to get rid of both.

How to Dispose of Paint Cans

If the can contains dried paint, make sure to remove the lid before throwing it in the bin. That way, the sanitation worker can quickly check if the paint has indeed dried.

As for empty cans, it’s as simple as throwing them away with your other recyclables.

You can also ‘upcycle’ them for other projects (more about this below).

As a gentle reminder, these disposal methods are only applicable to latex paint cans. Those that contain oil-based paints should be handed over to a hazardous waste facility.

If you don’t know where to find one, you can always ask your local waste management agency for directions to the nearest branch.

Can You Throw Them Away?

You can throw paint cans with some remaining latex paint into the bin as long as you have dried the remaining material inside. As for empty paint cans, you should place them inside your recycling bin.

Does Home Depot or Lowes Take Old Paint?

Neither Home Depot nor Lowes takes used paint. Because paints are considered hazardous materials, most retailers and home improvement stores won’t take them. Only garbage or hazardous waste collection agents are qualified to deal with the disposal of paint.

Recycle the Old Paint and Cans if Possible

Instead of throwing old paint and cans away, recycling them is the better way to go.

Just like plastic and rubber, paint can be reprocessed. Some companies repackage old stains for reuse. Some facilities mix them with other pigments to create a new product.

Why You Should Recycle Paint

Throwing out unused paints and cans isn’t the only solution. Here are three reasons why you should recycle (and not throw away) your old paint and cans:

  • Recycling paint helps the environment. Paint makes for the largest waste volume collected by such facilities. When they dry up in a landfill, they release substances that form ozone – one of the substances responsible for smog.
  • You get to save resources by reusing paint. When companies make a gallon of paint, they use 100 kWh of energy throughout the process. To make matters worse, they release about 115 pounds (52.16 kg) of carbon dioxide when they do so. By recycling your old paints, you can save energy and minimize your carbon footprint – all at the same time!
  • Recycling paint keeps landfills ‘less filled.’ In 2015, Product Care Recycling reprocessed 6.8 million liters (1.7 million gal) of paint. These would have gone to a landfill if they weren’t recycled. By reprocessing your old paint, you help keep these areas less filled.

Where Can You Recycle Old Paint?

You can bring your old paint and cans to recycling depots operated by PaintCare or Habitat for Humanity. Likewise, you can search for a nearby facility through the Earth911 website.

In most cases, the facility will accept a maximum of 5 gallons (18.93 L). However, some stations can take in as much as 100 gallons (378.54 L).

Remember: paint recycling facilities won’t accept leaking, unlabeled, or empty cans.

You can also ask local agencies about their paint-back programs. Who knows? You may be lucky enough to catch a roving collection site near you.

What You Can Do With Old Paint

Apart from sending paint to the recycling facility, you can also try these three green alternatives:

Use the Old Paint

Unlike most liquids that go bad after some time, paint tends to last. Oil-based paint can last for up to 15 years, while latex paint has a ‘shorter’ lifespan at only ten. This, of course, is based on the assumption that it hasn’t been frozen and thawed.

If you want to check for the quality of the paint, all you need to do is stir it. As a general rule, your paint is still usable if it still mixes well. It should have a smooth composition – not thick or rubbery. There should be no lumps in the mix either.

You can check the consistency by applying a layer of paint on, say, a cardboard surface. If the paint appears rough or peels quickly, then the dye is past its prime.  

Additionally, ‘good’ paint should be free of a foul or pungent smell.

Let’s say that after checking, you can say with confidence that your old paint is good. By all means, you should go ahead and use it for some minor tweaks and touch-ups.

Perhaps there’s a wall that needs a second coat. You can even use it to paint your closet in a different color!

Want a unique shade? You can go ahead and mix your old paints.

If some more paint remains after such projects, you can always keep it for future use. Here are some storage tips that’ll keep your old paint good for the years to come:

  • Cover the can with plastic and hammer the lid down.
  • Don’t put the can on a cement surface, as this will rust the bottom faster.
  • Store the paint can in a cool and dry place, away from your kids and pets.

Donate the Old Paint

Even if your house doesn’t need painting, some people’s houses do. Why not give your unwanted paint to them?

A small amount of paint will go a long way, especially for a hobby painter or a housing program that needs it.

You can donate your unused cans to Global Paint for Charity, a foundation that collects leftover paint for rehabilitation projects. Not only will this minimize waste, but you also get to help people and organizations in need. 

Return the Paint

If you have an unopened can lying around, you can take it back to the store to get your refund. Make sure to check the store’s policy, though, as return schemes vary across retailers.

What You Can Do With Old Paint Cans

As mentioned, most recycling depots don’t take empty cans. Instead of throwing them away, why not use them as:

  • Hanging planters. Punch a few holes in the bottom and transfer your plants to the can. For the ultimate recycling project, you can use the remaining paint to color the can.
  • Pen holder or letter/bill sorter. Small cans work as unique pen holders for the home and office. As for the bigger ones, you may use them to sort letters or bills.
  • Jewelry holder. You don’t have to buy a new container for your baubles. Instead, you can transform small paint cans into DIY jewelry holders. You can paint, label, and embellish the cans to make them look elegant and expensive.
  • Coat hooks. This is another ingenious way to use your old paint cans. You can affix the bottom of the can to the wall for an instant coat hook. Again, you can use the remaining paint to adorn these can-cum-coat hooks.
  • Lid mirrors. Apart from the cans, you can use the paint lids for some DIY projects as well. You can color them in gold or peach to make them reflective. If you’re looking for an easy way out, you can always affix round mirrors on these lids. You can install them near the coat hooks to complete your upcycled interiors.

What to Do After Disposing/Recycling Old Paints and Cans

Disposing or recycling old paints and cans is just one chapter of the story. There are other things you need to do after. These are:

  • Check the area where the old paint cans were stored. It would be best if you made sure that the space is clean and dry. If you have made some spills during the drying or disposal process, you need to remove them. For water-based paints, all you need is a rag and some hot water. As for oil- or solvent-based paints, you’ll need to apply some thinner to the affected areas.
  • Learn how to buy the right amount of paint. To avoid disposal issues and save money, you need to know how to calculate your project area. If you plan on repainting your walls, you should multiply the height and length of the area. Remember to deduct the space taken by the doors and the windows. As a general rule, you’ll need a gallon (3.79 L) of paint for every 350 square feet (32.52 sq m).

Final Thoughts

Unlike other materials, you shouldn’t dispose of old paints haphazardly. You need to dry the paint and throw the can away properly. Better yet, you can do your part for the environment by recycling them.

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