How to Dispose of Paint

When you’re done with the paint that’s left over from your home improvement project, you don’t want to just throw it away in the trash and hope for the best. There are many safety issues you must consider when disposing of leftover paint.

How Can I Safely Dispose of Paint?

To avoid any serious health risks to yourself and your family, follow these approaches to safely and responsibly dispose of paint once it’s outlived its usefulness.

1. Recycle at an Art Store

Chances are, you’ve got some unwanted paint supplies hanging around your home or office that you’re looking to get rid of. Before tossing them with other recyclables, it might be a good idea to check out your local art store, as they sometimes accept unused paint for recycling.

Most stores don’t accept broken or partially used tubes or cans, but only full ones. Also, make sure they can recycle what you have before you take it there. For example, not all stores take oil-based paints. And if they do take them, you may be able to receive a bit of cash back on your empty tubes.

It is best practice to check if your items are recyclable before you throw them away. You can check out how to recycle appliances like your microwave oven in our guide on How to Dispose of Microwave.

2. Give Them Away

Giving your unwanted paint away is another option for getting rid of leftover paint. If you live in an apartment building or a house with a lot of residents, ask around if anyone needs some.

You could even organize your neighbors into a little neighborhood paint-sharing system. It’s especially fun if there are kids in your area; don’t forget to teach them how not to play with toxic chemicals! If that doesn’t work, you can always post on Facebook or Twitter and find someone who is eager for their next DIY project.

If you do decide to give them away, choose a location where people will be careful with what they’re getting—churches, schools, and community centers are great options because people often value things more when someone gives them something as opposed to just buying it themselves.

Also, consider using sites like Craigslist or Freecycle that specialize in connecting people who want stuff with people who have extra stuff. While these sites aren’t generally set up for items as dangerous as paint cans, many caregivers check these kinds of listings religiously so finding one should be easy enough.

3. Use Biodegradable Bags

Instead of throwing old paint cans into a landfill or taking them out for regular disposal, throw them in biodegradable bags made from cornstarch. Once sealed, these bags will be safe for you to put in your home’s trash bin.

Just remember that many states don’t allow certain types of paint (e.g., lead-based paints) in landfills, so make sure you check your local regulations before tossing paint cans away. Also, make sure you’re using appropriate storage containers when working with paint. Never store it in plastic! It can release dangerous fumes if mixed with other chemicals.

Keep all cans and containers tightly closed at all times. If they are empty, dispose of them properly as well by placing them in one of those special bags made from cornstarch mentioned above.

If you aren’t sure what type of paint is contained within any given container, write down what’s on each can’s label so you know which bag it goes into once you’ve finished painting an area.

You’ll save yourself a lot of time later on if you do so. It is also advisable to avoid washing out used paint buckets; just dispose of them along with their lids.

4. Turn It into a Non-Toxic Homemade Cleaner

When the paint is in an oil-based form, it’s not biodegradable. If you want to dispose of leftover oil paint, your best bet is actually reusing it. Simply put all your leftover paint into a bucket with some warm water and vinegar (or any other homemade cleaning solution).

Once you’ve created your cleaning solution, go around your house—windows, doors, floors—and clean everything! You can safely dispose of your mixture down a drain when you’re done.

Use Caution With Acrylics: While acrylic paints are often considered more environmentally friendly than oil-based paints, they still should not be poured down a drain or flushed in a toilet because they will clog pipes.

5. Avoid Dumping Paint in the Ocean

Don’t dispose of your paint cans in a landfill; they’re a threat to our waterways. Many communities have drop-off locations for empty paint cans (make sure you put them in an approved container).

Additionally, you may want to check with local authorities, as there are stiff fines for improperly disposing of hazardous materials. It’s better not to throw them away at all than to risk being fined or having your paint cans harm wildlife.

It doesn’t take much imagination or research to figure out that concrete and water do not mix. It is always better to avoid dumping your unwanted paints down a storm drain either; that is where they end up anyways—in waterways.

6. Flush It Down the Toilet

This is probably one of your safest options for disposing of paint. Just be sure that you only use water-based paint, as oil-based paints could break down toilet parts over time. You can also neutralize both types with a commercial product or just dilute them in water first (3 parts water, 1 part paint).

If you have leftover paint sitting in a can and don’t feel like taking it to a hazardous waste disposal facility, use an EPA-approved safe solvent (available at home improvement stores) to mix with it until it dissolves completely.

Once dissolved, pour it down your drain along with enough hot water to cover it. Flush! But again, make sure you’re using water-based paint—you don’t want to clog up your pipes.

7. Don’t Dump it in the Trash

This one might sound like a no-brainer, but because most paints contain toxins, you can’t just throw your old paint cans in with your other trash. You have to dispose of them properly—which usually means taking them somewhere for proper disposal.

Luckily, many companies that sell or rent out tools or construction equipment also offer disposal options for unwanted paint cans. Before you go that route, though, check with your local city or county government—most have recycling programs for household hazardous waste items like leftover paint cans.

We’ve put together articles to help you dispose of other household items, you might want to see 7 Ways to Dispose Of Cooking Oil.

Frequently Asked Questions for Paint Disposal

Can Paint Go in Skips?

Many people don’t realize that it is actually illegal to put paint into most kinds of skips. This is because many skip companies are not certified as controlled waste carriers. In other words, they are not authorized to dispose of paints and other toxic materials in a way that complies with government regulations.

If you put paints in your skip, your skip company will have no choice but to remove them before disposing of any other waste that you might have left for them. So, if you want your paint disposed of properly, make sure you know who is going to be doing it!

Many companies may suggest that they can safely dispose of paints when in fact, they cannot guarantee safe disposal, so it is vital to ask plenty of questions!

Can I Put Empty Paint Tins in Recycle Bin?

There are two answers to that question. If you live in a location where paint cans are considered yard waste, then yes. You can absolutely recycle them with your paper, glass, plastic, and metal recyclables.

But if you live in an area where paint cans aren’t yarded waste, then no. Don’t put empty paint cans in your trash bin. Instead, dispose of them by dropping them off at your local household hazardous waste disposal facility or drop-off site. It’s easy to find one just about anywhere in the United States. Just search online for household hazardous waste drop-off. Many retail stores that sell paints also offer safe disposal options on-site.

Safety Caution

  • Open windows, wear gloves and stay out of your hair (if you have long hair).
  • Cleaning paint spills as soon as possible is a good idea. Once it dries it can be more difficult to remove.
  • Remember, if you’re going through any sort of renovation or repainting job that requires you to use large amounts of paint, be sure to have a way of disposing of unused paint safely. As with all chemicals, take care when disposing of them.
  • Do not just throw your old paint into regular trash bins or down drains as they may pollute landfills/rivers/sewage systems in your area.
  • If you are unsure what to do ask your local authorities or someone who knows. It is better to err on the side of caution than to risk hurting yourself or others.

Bottom Line

Paints add beauty to our surroundings, but once it’s out of a can, there are several ways it can cause trouble if you don’t get rid of it safely. It is improper and even illegal to throw paint in your recycling bin.

Before you dispose of any paint, make sure that you take advantage of an environmentally-friendly method for getting rid of leftover paint. Your health, your local community, and your environment will thank you for it!

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