How Long Does Paint Last, and How Can You Tell If It’s Expired?

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated April 4, 2023
A couple painting wall at their apartment
Photo: visualspace / E+ / Getty Images


  • Paint typically lasts 10 years.

  • Once open, you might see a shorter shelf life.

  • Milk paint has a short shelf life and oil paint has the longest.

  • Proper storage and resealing extend the paint’s lifespan.

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If you have an old paint can sitting around in storage, you may be tempted to use it to spruce up your home’s walls. But how long does paint last? Before you start your home painting project, you’ll want to ensure that paint hasn’t expired. 

Paint can last anywhere from just a few days to over 15 years. With all that variation, here’s what you need to know before painting.

How Long Can Paint Last?

On average, a can of paint lasts around 10 years, but paint can last anywhere from one day to 15 years, depending on the type of paint and whether or not you’ve already opened the paint.

Unopened Cans

Unopened paint generally lasts longer than opened paint cans, but how long unopened paint lasts depends on the type of paint and your storage method. If you’ve not opened a latex, acrylic, or oil-based paint can, there’s a good chance you’ll still be able to use it. 

Opened Cans

The action of opening a paint can changes the outcome of its lifespan. When it comes to opened paint, how long it lasts depends on your paint type, storage method, and whether you properly resealed the can after opening it. Some paint types, like latex, can lose the right consistency if you store them in a place that freezes and thaws every winter. 

Other paints can mold if you leave them in a hot attic or garage. Powdered paints that contain milk protein will spoil quickly once mixed with water, so you need to store them in a cool location to maximize their shelf life.

Average Lifespan by Paint Types

Hand dipping a paint brush into a large tin of paint
Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial / Moment / Getty Images

The type of paint you choose can make all the difference in its shelf life. Check out this chart for a rough estimate of how long your paint might last by paint type.

Paint TypeAverage Lifespan
Water-based latex paint2–10 years
Acrylic paint2–10 years
Oil-based paint2–15 years
Limewash paint5–10 years
Chalk paint1–5 years
Premixed milk paint1–2 years
Powdered milk paint1–7 days

Water-Based Latex Paint

Water-based paint uses fewer preservatives than oil-based paint, which cuts into the paint’s shelf life. Expect latex paint to last anywhere from 2 to 10 years, depending on how you store it. Avoid storing latex paint in the garage or in a place where it can freeze, as the thawing process can cause the paint to lump. Paint that is too lumpy will need to be discarded—unless you want clumps of paint on your wall.

Acrylic Paint

Both latex and acrylic paint contain thermoplastic acrylic resin, but acrylic paint is chemical-based, while latex paint is water-based. As a result, acrylic paint is better at expanding and contracting. Both types have a similar shelf-life; however, acrylic paint is less susceptible to freeze damage and more likely to dry up if exposed to open air. Keep in mind that acrylic paint releases a higher concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than low-VOC paint like latex, milk, or chalk paint.

Oil-Based Paint

With a shelf life of up to 15 years, the longest-lasting paint is oil-based paint. You can even reseal and store oil-based paints for up to 10 years. Like chemical-based acrylic paint, oil paint releases flammable VOCs when it dries, so properly seal your paint to prevent fumes and shorter shelf life.

Limewash Paint

Limewash paint only consists of two or three ingredients: lime, water, and optional pigments for color. As a result, limewash paint has a long shelf life of 5 to 10 years, though it might last even longer. Limewash is a great way to brighten exposed brick walls for that feature wall you’ve always wanted.

Chalk Paint

If you enjoy the look of a simple, matte finish, chalk paint offers a subtle hue and plenty of character to a home. It also happens to be one of the most eco-friendly paint options on the market. The paint lasts between one and five years, so you’ll want to use this paint more quickly than some of the other options. Expired chalk paint will dry up, but you might get away with adding some water to thick chalk paint if water has evaporated. 

Premixed and Powdered Milk Paint

As the name suggests, milk paint contains milk. And, like any jug of milk, these milk proteins shorten the lifespan of this paint type to just one to seven days once opened or mixed at home. Premixed milk paint has a longer lifespan than DIYing your milk paint with powdered milk because it’s been sealed thoroughly. 

But once it’s open, the clock starts ticking, so keep milk paint refrigerated in between paint jobs to extend its life.

How To Know If Your Paint Expired

Nothing lasts forever, and with paint, it goes bad over time. You’ll want to be on the hunt for any signs that your can expired. A few telltale signs include:

It Smells Off

Sour, rancid, or moldy-smelling paint is a sign that bacteria has grown in the paint can, and it’s no longer viable. This smell will not go away after you apply it to your walls, so be sure to dispose of the paint immediately.

Paint Is Chunky 

If you notice paint chunks that don’t dissolve after stirring, you should throw it out to avoid applying lumpy coats of paint. This standard applies even if you open the paint can and it smells fine. 

There’s a Gel-like Texture

The paint should be smooth and have a liquid consistency. If your paint seems gooey, it likely won’t spread evenly across the surface you plan on painting.

Paint Is Dry 

If a fine layer of dried paint settles on the top of the paint in the can, you can usually remove it and mix the paint or add a paint thinner to it. But if you notice there’s a lot of dry paint or the paint-thinner doesn’t revive the paint, this could be a sign that it’s time for new paint.

Color Looks Different 

While paint may look lighter when wet, obvious discolorations from the paint on the wall, such as faded colors, may indicate that the paint’s expired.

Paint Has Separated Layers

If the paint has been sitting for a long period of time, it may have separated into different layers, with the pigment settling to the bottom. If you can't mix the paint back to a uniform consistency, it may be expired.

Mold or Mildew Growth

If you spot signs of mold or mildew growth on the paint, such as fuzzy growths or areas of greenish discoloration, then the paint is spoiled and should be discarded immediately.

Rust or Corrosion on the Paint Can

Rust and corrosion are telltale signs of age and poor storage conditions. If the paint can contains rust or corrosion on the outside, it likely indicates that the paint inside expired.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Expired Paint

Foul-smelling paint is usually due to bacterial growth. The last thing you want is a house that smells like rancid paint. Not only can expired paint smell bad, but it could also irritate your skin, nose, eyes, and throat, so it’s best to toss it out. 

If your paint doesn’t smell but has an unusual consistency, it can also make your home’s paint look like an eyesore. From lumpy paint to lackluster pigments, paint that’s old, dried, or faded is best left for the bins. 

Disposing of Expired Paint

Paint disposal depends on the type of paint. Acrylic and oil-based paints must be properly disposed of to avoid harming the environment. Expired paint can harm plants and wildlife, which is why some municipalities may require you to use a recycling program for throwing out old paint, so check with your local guidelines to be safe. 

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s generally a bad idea to use old paint. Expired paint may not perform as intended, and using it can lead to various issues, such as poor coverage, inconsistent color, and failure to adhere. Additionally, if the paint has been contaminated with mold, bacteria, or other harmful substances, using it can be a health hazard.

If you use old paint, it's important to check for signs of spoilage such as separation, lumpiness, or mold growth. However, it's generally safer and more reliable to use fresh paint that you know hasn’t expired.

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