Out With the Old (House Paint), in With the New: How to Dispose Properly

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Updated February 11, 2022
Old paint cans
Photo: Kypros / Moment / Getty Images

You can be green no matter which color you choose to paint your house by tossing that old house paint in an environmentally-friendly way

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You just applied the last stroke of paint on the wall—what should you do now? Wash your paintbrushes? Do a little DIY bragging on Instagram? What about disposing of your leftover old house paint? That’s the one. Before you post your painting progress, read these tips on how you can safely dispose of old paint—or better yet, learn some ways to recycle or donate it.

Be a good steward of the planet with every home project by being responsible with paint. If disposing of old paint seems like a lot of work, consider reusing your latex paint as a base for the next time you hire a painter in your area.

Choose the Right Disposal Method Based on Paint Type

Confirm the type of paint you've used. How you can safely dispose of old house paint depends on whether it is oil- or latex-based. Some towns let you dump paint as needed. Check your town's facility to see if you need to show up at a set time reserved exclusively for hazardous waste materials.

How to Dispose of Oil-Based Paints 

Oil-based paints are considered a toxic hazard, so you should always take them to a paint recycling center in your area. These types of paints are not allowed in landfills.

How to Dispose of Water and Latex-Based Paint

Check your local and state government. Latex-based and water-based paints can be disposed of in the garbage because they aren't considered hazardous. The caveat is that you will have to dry this type of paint before chucking it in the garbage. 

Here are a few ways to harden paint so it’s safe to throw away:

  1. Let the open can sit out in the sun for a few days.

  2. Buy a paint hardener at the hardware store.

  3. Add mulch, kitty litter, sawdust, or shredded newspaper until the paint hardens.

  4. Throw away. 

Locate Your Town’s Hazardous Waste Facility

Some states actually have special retail drop-off locations for latex-based and water-based paints. Most places simply require you to remove the lid to show that the can is mostly empty. Do a little research to learn about all of the options available for both hazardous and non-hazardous paint in your town.

Tin cans of paint
Photo: Martin Poole / DigitalVision / Getty Images

How to Recycle Paint

Some towns have curbside recycling for paint. However, you’ll need to dry your paint before you can recycle it.

 Here's how to recycle paint for a curbside program:

  1. Pour your extra paint into a cardboard box.

  2. Once the paint is dry, place the box in your garbage.

  3. Put your empty paint can and lid in your recycling bin.

Verify that your town accepts both paint and paint cans for recycling before you leave anything by the curb.

How to Donate Paint 

You can offer your leftover paint for free if you feel guilty about throwing away a perfectly good item you don't want to store. With a little effort, you can find local organizations in need of paint for interior and exterior projects.

Here are some places you may be able to donate leftover house paint:

  • A local Habitat for Humanity ReStore may accept unexpired paint for recycling.

  • Call local non-profits like shelters, churches, and animal rescues to see if they have a need.

  • High-school theater groups will often take donated paint for use on stage sets.

Paint Disposal FAQs

What can I do with leftover paint?

It's not a bad idea to keep recently used paint hanging around for just a little bit after you're done. You may need to touch up spots here and there. Make sure you're giving your interior or exterior paint job a glance a few days after you finish the project to see if you missed anything. Verify you've applied enough coats by looking at your walls in both natural and artificial light before you toss away extra paint. You can technically keep most paints for up to 15 years as long as you store them properly. 

Here are some best practices for storing house paint:

  • Give the lid an airtight seal by hitting it with a rubber mallet.

  • Wipe away any excess paint dribbling down the sides.

  • Pick a cool, dry location that stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Keep paint cans away from sunlight.

There is no guarantee your paint will be usable after you store it. If you see lumps and clumps, your paint is probably too dried up to use with good results.

Can I throw away old paint? 

Nope. Don't make your old paint someone else's problem by dumping it in a public dumpster or garbage bin.

Can I pour paint down the drain? 

No. You should never pour old paint down a drain or sewer because it can clog pipes and pollute the environment.

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