• What To Do With Leftover Paint

    Here’s what to do with leftover house paint from home improvement projects

    As DIY home-improvement projects go, painting is one that many people are willing to tackle because it’s relatively easy. In fact, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the job comes after you’re finished with the actual brushing and rolling: Disposing of the leftover paint and containers.

    The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as much as 10 percent of paint purchased in the U.S. annually goes unused, which means some 65 million gallons is either sitting in storage or headed for landfills. California law prohibits disposing of paint in landfills and requires that it be recycled or otherwise dispensed with safely. Thanks to many city and county drop-off centers as well as PaintCare, the paint manufacturers’ stewardship program, recycling has become a pretty painless process for consumers.

    Using as a guide the three Rs of environmentalism — Reduce, Reuse and Recycle — you can maximize your home’s designer look while minimizing its environmental impact.


    Start by accurately estimating how much paint you’ll need for your specific job to reduce the amount of waste in the first place. Height x width = square footage, and roughly speaking one gallon of paint will cover approximately 350-400 square feet, but that can vary depending on the texture and porousness of what you’re painting, whether it’s been primed and so on. All the major paint manufacturers, such as Benjamin Moore, Dunn-Edwards, Glidden and Sherwin-Williams, offer paint calculators on their websites. There are also smart-phone apps to help you estimate, and experts at paint stores can be an excellent resource.


    Once you’ve finished the primary job at hand, it’s disposal time, and the first best step is to use up any leftover paint if possible. If you have just a small amount that you can store easily and safely, you may want to do just that so you’ll have some on hand for touchups when the need arises. Be sure to properly seal the can by first wiping away excess paint from around the rim and then firmly replacing the lid with a rubber mallet. If you have a moderate amount of leftovers, consider using it up by painting something else around the house, such as the inside of a closet or shed, a piece of furniture or maybe an accent wall. You can also put it to use by offering it to a friend or neighbor, an artist or a nonprofit organization, such as Habitat for Humanity.

    If you’re left with empty or nearly empty cans, simply leave them open to dry in a well-ventilated area out of reach of kids and pets and then place the dried, unsealed cans in your curbside trash or recycling bin, depending upon the regulations in effect in your area.


    If you have no other use for the paint or the leftover amount is too much to dry and throw away, it’s now time to recycle, and you have plenty of options. Many cities and counties operate household hazardous waste facilities where you can drop off paint as well as aerosol cans, solvents, cleaning products and other hazardous waste. One major benefit of these collection centers is that they tend to be fairly liberal about the types of items they’ll accept, so making that trip can also be a good time to get rid of old, unused—and potentially unsafe—household cleaning products, chemicals and electronic waste. However, the downside is that sometimes they’re not conveniently located and hours of operation may be limited. Check with your local municipality for locations, hours and guidelines.

    Conversely, many retail paint, hardware and home-improvement stores participate in the PaintCare program, acting as drop-off centers for leftover paint, primers, stains, sealers and clear coatings, such as shellac and varnish. These locations may be more geographically convenient, and they tend to operate daily during regular business hours. However, they do not accept aerosol cans, solvents or other waste items, and they require that paint be in well-sealed cans with their original manufacturer labels. Visit paintcare.org to locate a participating drop-off center near you.

    Regardless of where you choose to drop off paint, there’s no additional charge to the consumer for this service, as you already paid that when you bought the paint via a mandated fee that funds recycling programs.

    Paint that is determined to be suitable for recycling is either re-blended (mixed together, filtered and repackaged, usually in neutral colors) or re-processed (mixed with new paint and repackaged in a wider array of colors). If you want to be truly environmentally conscious, consider using recycled paint, some of which is offered free of charge, at the outset of your project. Information on where to acquire recycled paint can be found at paintcare.org.