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Maybe you've just finished freshening up your bedroom walls with a dreamy new color, or stumbled across paint cans so old that they might predate the Stone Age during your basement remodel. No matter where—or when—it came from, you probably have paint leftover from a home improvement project stashed away somewhere in your home. After all, even the handiest DIYer usually has a tough time estimating exactly how much paint it'll take to finish a job up, which means those partially used cans of paint tend to pile up over the years. You want to get rid of them, but you've heard you just can't toss 'em in the garbage. Improperly disposed of paint can harm the environment, permeating the ground and contaminating drinking water.
So the question remains: How are you going to get rid of those paint cans?
The answer? With care.
How to Store Paint
Paint stays usable a surprisingly long time—about a decade for latex and around 15 years for oil-based—especially if it's stored correctly. To save an opened can of of paint for another day, use a rag to wipe down the grooves at the top, ridding it of any excess paint. Then stretch plastic wrap over the lid before tamping the whole thing down with a rubber mallet (hammers can damage the lid, making the can more difficult to seal). Place the can in a cool, dark place, like the basement, making sure it's off the floor so no moisture can rust the bottom. For good measure, write the date you opened it and the room you used it in on the label.
If the paint has gone bad, you'll probably know it by the rancid smell it gives off when you open the can. If not, you're most likely good to use it for fun projects, like giving new life to an old dresser. Just double check that the paint is its original color and hasn't hardened on the bottom or sides, and there aren't any lumps in it. You can remove that thin skin that's likely coating the top of the paint and simply stir what's left beneath.
If you're sure you won't need the paint for touch-ups or projects, you might want to consider donating it to an organization that can put it to good use, like a local high school drama club, scouts troop or an animal shelter that needs to spiff up its facility. Habitat for Humanity ReStore accepts liquid latex paint in original containers that are five gallons or less, with the original label attached. If you can't find any takers, you might be able to give your leftover paint away through a site like freecycle.org.
How to Dispose of Latex Paint
While different locales may have varying regulations regarding the disposal of latex paint, many permit cans with paint that has hardened or dried out to be included with household garbage for regular trash pick-up. If you have a can with just a little bit of paint, removing the lid and allowing it air dry, or dry in the sun, should work. Or, pour the paint onto a newspaper. Once it dries, throw the paper and can, with the lid off, away.
If you have too much paint to air dry, add equal parts cat litter to the can, and let the amended mixture sit for an hour. Shredded newspaper also works, but if you have more than a half-can of paint, you're going to want to pour it into another container and then add in the proper amount of paper or cat litter. Place the dried paint and can, with the lid off, in the garbage.
If you don't mind spending a few bucks, there are also paint hardeners available at hardware and home improvement retailers, as well as on Amazon.
How to Dispose of Oil-Based Paint
Oil paint, and its more modern cousin, alkyd paint, are classified as hazardous waste, which means you can't ever dump them down a drain or throw them in the trash. Instead, check with your municipality to find out the nearest appropriate drop-off site. Or, wait for the next hazardous waste collection day. Most communities offer them annually.
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