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How to Dispose of Paint Safely

February 4, 2014

When the Jerry Enos Painting crew finishes up on a jobsite, there’s only one thing they’ll leave behind besides a beautiful paint job and that’s the leftover paint. It’s not that we get lazy after putting our noses to the grindstone – rather, it’s that we know that homeowners and other clients are eventually going to need that paint for touch ups. In fact, if all of the paint purchased for a particular project has been used, we’ll make sure the client has a quart of each color they’ve chosen so touch ups are no problem.

But of course, tastes change and homes change hands and that means that what looked gorgeous on the living room walls now no longer seems quite as delightful. In a single decade a room might change color two, three, or even four times! Multiply that by multiple rooms; add in exterior paint for shingles, siding, stairs, and railings; and suddenly it’s not just a few touch up quarts in your basement but stacks upon stacks of half empty gallon cans.

Which, as you probably already know, can’t just go out with the trash as-is. Paint disposal laws and regulations are set by the Environmental Protection Agency but the enactment and enforcement of these rules are generally left to cities and towns. The best way to dispose of old paint is always going to be the exact way recommended by your area’s sanitation department for a given type of paint, but there are other acceptable methods, too. For instance:

Dry it out, then throw it out

Open your acrylic or latex paint cans and put them somewhere outside where they’ll be shielded from the elements. Then you wait! And wait and wait. Once the paint is completely dry the cans, with lids still off, can be put in the trash. Alternately, expedite the drying process with equal parts clay cat litter or commercial paint hardener. For other kinds of paint, you may need to contact your city for hazardous waste pick up.

how to dispose of paint - disposing of old paint

Turn old paint into new paint

This option is for cans that are half or mostly full of paint. Here in MA, the Paint Exchange is the only commercial paint recycling center around and the fee for disposal is $2/can, but many towns have disposal centers that participate in city-run paint recycling programs. Recycling in this context includes simple re-use, re-blending (which is a nice way of saying that many different colors and paint sheens are mixed), and re-processing (which blends old paint and new to create a more versatile product). Check Earth 911 to find the closest drop off site.

Put it on Craigslist – seriously

You may be surprised that there’s demand for your old paint, but as long as you have enough to paint a small room or hallway or the right amount to use in a refinishing project you’ll probably be able to find that paint a new home. Just make sure that old paint hasn’t gone moldy or curdled, and that rust from the can hasn’t gotten into the paint so you’re not just passing on your paint disposal problem to the next homeowner.

Get creative with those old colors

You’ll be amazed at what you can do around the house with little bits of latex paint or other finishes. Many paints can be used in furniture refinishing projects or to “upcycle” things like picture frames, lamps, and trim. Maybe now is the time to finally try your hand at art! We’re not saying you should hold on to old paint forever, but do consider whether it might be helpful in the completion of projects around the house.

Of course, before you do anything to dispose of old paint figure out which cans you absolutely need to keep. Our rule of thumb is that if a color is still on your walls, keep the can. You never know when you’re going to need to patch a hole or touch up a scratch. Annoyed by having to store a big can for just a little paint? Pick up a few empty quart cans at the hardware store. Just make sure that whatever interior and exterior paint you keep is clearly labeled because having to guess at what’s inside an old paint can is no fun.

At Jerry Enos Painting of MA, we know the right products for the job. Every Massachusetts exterior painting and interior painting project is different, and unlike other MA painting companies, we will always treat your house, building, or surface as one-of-a-kind. Call us for a free estimate at 978-546-6843.

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