Expert Answers: Disposing of Old Paint

What do you do with old paint that you have no use for anymore? HANDY has the answer.

Q: I have an assortment of leftover paint, most of which I will never use. Some cans have labels that are smudged with dried paint, so I can’t tell whether they are oil- or latex-base. What is the best way to dispose of them? - Amy Sitze, Minneapolis, MN

A: You have several options, depending on the age, type and volume of paint. First, if any of the paint was manufactured before 1978, it likely contains lead and should be treated as hazardous material, even if it is in solid form.

Open the cans of “post-‘78” paints to determine whether the contents are still in liquid form. If the paint has completely dried, you can toss the can (with the lid off) in your regular trash for collection. Paint that hasn’t dried can be taken to a collection site for household hazardous waste. (Check with your municipality or county for collection locations and dates.) Or, if it’s a small quantity (less than one-fourth of a container), you can dry the paint and then put it in the trash. Simply remove the lid and let it stand, or pour it out on cardboard or newspaper to dry. Do this in a well-ventilated area away from children and pets. Oil-base paint, which has a petroleum (mineral spirits) odor, will take longer to dry than latex. It is also more hazardous to breathe and can be an explosion hazard.

As for the paint that is usable, look for a surface in your house or garage that you could freshen with a coat, or offer it to neighbors or friends. Again, check with your municipality. Some communities have lists of organizations that accept donations of paint. For more disposal ideas, visit the Environmental Protection Agency Web site, epa.gov. - HANDY