How to dispose of paint – safely and conscientiously

Half-empty paint cans collecting dust? Discover how to dispose of paint safely and properly with our expert advice

Paint cans
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Knowing how to dispose of paint safely and conscientiously is important. It’s not as simple as tossing it into the garbage or pouring it down the sink, so chances are you’ve accumulated a few cans of it over the years.

Luckily, disposing of paint safely and conscientiously is easier than you think. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you do it the right way, as well as a few eco-friendly solutions for using up leftover paint that you might not have thought of, such as recycling or donating. 

So if you are about to paint a room, discover all you need to know here. 

How to dispose of paint safely and conscientiously 

One of the best things you can do to make the disposal process easier is to avoid buying too much paint in the first place whether you’re planning to paint a wall, paint a ceiling or paint a stairwell

‘The best time to start thinking about paint disposal is before you’ve purchased any paint,’ says Mike Mundwiller of Benjamin Moore (opens in new tab). ‘Paint calculators can help you determine how much paint you’ll need based on the details you provide, which reduces the amount you’re left with at the end.’   

Despite best intentions, it’s hard to calculate exactly, so leftovers are likely. And how you dispose of paint depends on what type of paint it is and how much you’ve got left. 

Can you throw paint in the trash? 

It depends on the type of paint, and the state it’s in. Oil-based paints are considered a hazardous household waste, so are never to be thrown in the trash under any circumstances. Latex (water-based) paint can be discarded in the trash, but most garbage collection services do not allow wet paint, so it’ll need to be hardened first. 

How to tell if paint has gone bad?

When properly stored, paint can last a surprisingly long time. In fact, latex paint can last for up to 10 years and oil-based paint up to 15. Before you dispose of it, check whether it’s still usable – even if you don’t want it, you could donate it to someone who does. 

The easiest way to do this is to open the paint can and smell the paint inside. If it smells rotten, it’s probably best not to use it. Another way to tell is to give it a stir – if it’s hardened on the sides or has lumps in it, it’s time to get rid. 

Determine what type of paint you have

Before deciding on the appropriate disposal technique, you’ll need to work out what type of paint finishes you’re working with. The most obvious way is to look at the label, but if it’s faded or missing, there’s an easy test you can do. Dip a paint brush into the paint then try rinsing it in water. If the paint comes off the brush it’s latex. If it doesn’t, it’s oil based. 

Check regional paint disposal guidelines

Paint disposal policies vary by region so it’s important to check these first before you begin. 

‘A web search like “paint disposal near me” or “paint recycling near me” is likely to provide information on your municipality’s paint disposal policies, which will probably include regular pickup dates or drop-off sites,’ says Mike.  

How to dispose of latex paint 

Latex (water-based) paint isn’t considered hazardous, so can usually be included with household garbage. While different locales have varying regulations (check these in advance beforehand to ensure you’re following guidelines correctly), most collections won’t accept wet paint, so you’ll need to dry it first. 

First, assess how much paint you have left in the can. If there’s just a small amount left, brush it on to scrap paper or cardboard, leave to dry, then put it in the trash (it can’t be recycled once it has paint on it). If there’s less than a quarter of a tin left, let it sit out in the sun, away from kids and pets, until it dries – ‘this may take a few days, but it’s the safest way,’ says interior designer at DIY Geeks (opens in new tab), Tony Adams. 

‘For larger quantities of paint, you can add equal parts kitty litter or a commercial paint hardener to solidify the paint,’ advises Mike. 

How to dispose of oil-based paint 

‘Oil paint is classified as hazardous waste, which means it can’t be disposed of in the trash, so you’ll need to visit a hazardous waste drop-off site,’ says Mike. Check with your local waste management department to locate your nearest.

‘Most cities have household hazardous waste collection events, so you can let them get rid of oil-based paint for you,’ adds Tony. ‘Alternatively, you could donate or recycle it.’

An alternative to disposing of leftover paint is to donate it. There are numerous community schemes and charities that could put it to good use, such as schools, theaters and shelters. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore (opens in new tab) also accepts leftover latex paint to re-sell at its stores, assuming it’s liquid and in the original marked container.

Recycle leftover paint

 There are companies that will recycle leftover paint for you.  

'Earth911 (opens in new tab) also has a ‘Where to Recycle’ function on their website where you name the type of product you would like to dispose of and your zip code and it will list locations where you can recycle it,’ says Jan Walter, founder at Gocolorize (opens in new tab)

Can you pour paint down the sink? 

No, you should never pour paint down the sink, regardless of paint type. Not only is it bad for the environment, but it can interfere with your plumbing system, particularly if you have a septic tank. The same goes for washing paint brushes in the sink – even a small amount of paint can lead to blockages and become a flammable hazard, leading to costly repairs. 

What can you do with leftover paint? 

Firstly, don’t automatically assume your paint needs to be thrown away. If stored correctly, it can last a surprisingly long time, roughly 10 to 15 years depending on the type. If it’s usable, consider saving it for touching-up paint on walls or future DIY projects. If you’re sure you won’t need it, consider donating it to someone who will put it to good use such as friends and family, or local organizations such as community theaters, schools, clubs and shelters. If you can’t find any takers, consider giving it away via a sharing site such as Freecycle (opens in new tab).  

Contributing Editor

For 10 years, Tara King worked as a Content Editor in the magazine industry, before leaving to become freelance, covering interior design, wellbeing, craft and homemaking. As well as writing for Ideal Home, Style at Home, Country Homes & Interiors, Tara’s keen eye for styling combined with a passion for creating a happy – and functional – family home has led to a series of organization and cleaning features for H&G.