9 Things to Do With Old Paint

Candace Nelson
Written by Candace Nelson
Updated January 3, 2022
A hand holding a paint brush dipped in pink paint
Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial / Moment / Getty Images


  • It’s tough to return paint to the store, but you can use it up in creative ways.

  • Offer it to non-profits or neighbors in need of a small amount of paint.

  • Some states require paint shops to take back paint for recycling.

  • Latex and acrylic paints can be dried out and placed in the regular trash.

  • Oil-based and alkyd paint need to go to a hazardous materials site.

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In the history of painting, virtually no one has ever purchased exactly the right amount of paint for the job and not an ounce more. The odds are good you’ll have some paint left over after your walls are colored the perfect, not-too-purple shade of gray. The next question is what to do with leftover paint. The answer largely depends on how much you have left, but we have some ideas.

1. Donate It

Often, paint is mixed to your specific sheen and color, so you can’t return even full, unused cans to the store. However, you might be able to give it away. Theaters or drama departments at schools might use it for building sets. Schools, churches, and other non-profits might be able to use it for small projects, just to name a few examples.

2. Offer It Up

List your leftover paint on local Buy Nothing sites or other neighborhood message boards. Someone else might be looking for that perfect shade of gray and would happily take the remainder of the samples you used to find your perfect match. If you have any other cans of paint or supplies hanging around, mention these too.

3. Recycle It

No takers on the free sites? The next option is to recycle paint, particularly if the can is still pretty full. Check with your local recycling or waste management company for recycling guidelines. You can also check Paintcare for paint drop-off sites near you. In some states, paint retailers might be required to take the paint back—even if you didn’t buy it there—so call around and ask.

4. Save It for Touch-Ups

High angle view of a green paint can
Photo: Alyssa Stasiukonis / EyeEm / EyeEm / Getty Images

Let’s be real: At some point, you’re going to nick the wall or scuff it up and need to repaint a section. Save your leftover paint for the inevitable. Leftover latex paint can last up to 10 years in your storage room, so you might as well hold onto it for a while. If it formed a skin on top, you might have to skim that off first, but that doesn’t mean the paint has gone bad.

5. Get Crafty

There are plenty of uses for paint besides coloring walls. If you loved the periwinkle you used in the baby’s room, perhaps you could use it on a wooden stool when they start potty training. It might be a fun way to update old furniture and incorporate the color in other areas of your house.

Once you’ve used up all the paint, you’ll have to properly dispose of the paint cans.

6. Add a Pop of Color

A leftover can of paint might be just enough to give your front door a pop of color, add an accent wall, or freshen up that dingy wall in the laundry room. You could even get creative in your home office. Take a tour of your own home and see where else you might use the paint. Follow these painting tips and tricks to get it just right.

7. Mix It Up

If you have several leftover paint cans, but no two colors are the same, you could mix them up. You might end up with a fine color to paint your unfinished basement or backyard shed. Just make sure that you're blending latex-based paints only.

8. Dry It Out

When there’s only a tiny bit left, or you’ve explored all the creative options, you can dry out the rest. Leftover latex or acrylic paint is generally not considered hazardous waste and can usually be dried and set out for collection with the regular household waste. However, regulations vary by municipality, so make sure you first check local ordinances.

To dry paint out, leave the lid off and let it sit somewhere away from kids, pets, and curious adults for a couple of days. You can also add clay-based cat litter to help speed the drying process. When it’s dry, it can go in your regular trash for weekly pickup.

9. Dispose of It

Leftover paint must be properly recycled or disposed of because it can damage the environment. If you’re stuck with cans of oil-based or alkyd paint, check with your local waste disposal company to learn how to dispose of hazardous materials properly.

Buy Just What You Need

Ideally, you won’t buy more paint than you need for your project. Online calculators can help you determine how much paint you need to cover your wall. A professional painter can also help you get pretty close and help you avoid common painting mistakes

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