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How to Dispose of Old Paint

We found some old paint cans when we were helping clean my parents’ house in January, and after painting both our living room and bedroom, we’ve now got a bunch of cans to get rid of. But we can’t just toss them. It turns out that paint can be considered hazardous waste.


Oil-based paint should always be taken to local hazardous waste disposal days. Latex paint—which I think most indoor paint is—can be dried out and put in the trash with the lid off. (Cambridge doesn’t recycle the paint cans.) An inch or less will dry out by itself with the cover off; more should be mixed with clay clumping kitty litter or poured out into a shallow container to dry.

This worked fine with our nearly empty cans. But I ran into a problem with my parents’ old paint. It was at least 15 years old and had separated during that time. The paint on bottom had already dried out; the oil on top never did, even when we poured it out and left it for days. I think we’re going to have to take that to Cambridge’s next hazardous waste disposal day on April 24.

I wonder if my parents’ paint would have been in such bad shape if it had been stored properly. We store our cans upside down so air can’t get to the paint. Hopefully it’ll still be good to use if we need it later.


Comment from Jamie Ribisi-Braley
Time April 15, 2010 at 9:15 am

If the paint that you’re trying to store and save for later use is upside down, air can still get to it because there’s air inside of the can. The paint could still dry out from that air (I’ve lost lots of palette of paint to that!)– one way to make it last a little bit longer is:
Acrylic or latex base: Put kitchen wax paper or cling wrap (I hate that stuff) on top of the paint and that’ll be a barrier to the air in the rest of the can– make sure it’s cut to the size of the interior of the paint can or even a little larger so that the edges are covered.
Oil base: Do the same thing but with aluminum foil– the oil will eat through plastic over time.

Most towns have hazardous waste drop-off areas, too- it’s worth looking into and free!

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time April 15, 2010 at 9:37 am

Thanks for the tip, Jamie—you’ve used waaaay more paint than I have. Do you press the cling wrap all the way down into the can? If you do that, I’m assuming you don’t turn it upside down, right? Doesn’t that get really messy when you go to open it again?

Comment from Jamie
Time April 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Yeah– it works the same for artist paint 🙂 Just press the cling wrap inside of the can (right side up) and make sure it’s completely touching the surface of the paint at all areas. When you go to pull it up later on, it’ll drip a little but it won’t be too bad.

An extra tip– do the same thing with wax paper on top of partially eaten ice cream to prevent freezer burn! 🙂

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