How to Dispose of Paint

Paint disposal requires care to avoid harming the environment. Improper paint disposal can pollute groundwater, soil, and air. Follow these best practices to dispose of paint responsibly.

Buy Only What You Need

The most eco-friendly way to dispose of paint is to not create it in the first place. Before starting a paint project, calculate how much paint you’ll need. Consider the surface area to be covered and the spread rate of the type of paint. Buy only as much as you’ll use to limit leftovers. Return unopened cans or give extra paint to friends, neighbors, or community organizations to use.

Use Up the Paint

If you have leftover paint from a project, look for ways to use it up:

  • Touch up walls and trim throughout the house where you see nicks, scrapes, and other imperfections that could use fresh paint.
  • Paint accent walls, doors, cabinets, or other items around your home. Upcycle furniture, flowerpots, frames, and more.
  • Offer usable latex paint to community theaters, schools, churches, nonprofits, or neighbors planning DIY projects. Don’t give away lead-based paint.
  • Save quality outdoor paint for future exterior touch-ups. Seal the can tightly and store upside down to keep the lid from sticking.

Dry Out Latex Paint

For water-based latex paint that is still usable but not needed, you can solidify it yourself to dispose of it with your regular household trash. Here’s how:

Supplies Needed

  • Leftover latex paint
  • Container like an empty coffee can or plastic tub
  • Cat litter or sawdust
  • Stir stick


  1. Pour a thin layer (1⁄4 inch or less) of latex paint into the container. Spread it around to coat the bottom.
  2. Sprinkle cat litter or sawdust over the paint until it’s completely covered.
  3. Use the stick to mix the materials together, breaking up any clumps.
  4. Add more layers, alternating between paint and cat litter, until the can is full.
  5. Allow the paint to dry fully, then you can dispose of the hardened can in your regular trash.

Donate Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paints like enamel, alkyd, primer, and paint thinner require special disposal methods. Never mix these with latex paint. Instead, bring them to a household hazardous waste collection event or donation center if the cans are at least half full. Some reuse stores also accept paint donations. Call ahead to find options and requirements in your area.

Properly storing oil-based paints until your next donation opportunity helps keep them viable for someone else to use. Follow these storage tips:

  • Wipe the rim and threads clean before sealing the lid tightly.
  • Store upside down to create an airtight seal.
  • Place the can on several layers of newspaper or a disposable pad to catch any leaks.
  • Store in a well-ventilated area away from extreme temperatures.

Dispose of Paint at a Household Hazardous Waste Facility

If you can’t donate or dry out your leftover paint, the most environmentally responsible option is to bring it to a household hazardous waste disposal location. These facilities have procedures in place to properly handle toxic substances like paint so they don’t end up in landfills.

Search “[your city or county] household hazardous waste” to find an event or permanent facility near you. Some things to know before you go:

  • Most accept latex and oil-based paints, stains, and other coatings like primer, sealer, polyurethane, shellac, and varnish.
  • Some transfer leftover paint to recycling programs. Contact your local facility to see if they accept only empty paint cans for recycling.
  • There may be quantity limits per visit, like 20 cans. Call ahead so they can be prepared for large volumes.
  • Not all locations accept paint from commercial businesses. Ask about business disposal policies.
  • Ask if they require appointments or have other restrictions like only taking residential drop-offs on certain days.
  • Additional items like pesticides, cleaners, fluorescent bulbs, and gasoline may have different procedures. Follow their instructions carefully.

Proper transportation is key when moving hazardous materials:

  • Keep cans sealed in heavy plastic bags to contain any spills, leaks, or fumes.
  • Place upright and steady them during transport so they don’t tip and spill.
  • Take the hazardous waste directly to the drop-off location. Don’t leave it sitting in your vehicle.

Avoid Improper Disposal of Paint

It may be tempting to take shortcuts getting rid of leftover paint, but improper disposal can harm the environment and even be illegal:

Down the drain –

Do not pour paint down drains, sinks, storm sewers, or elsewhere into the drainage system. Wastewater treatment systems are not equipped to filter out paints’ harmful ingredients.

In the trash –

Paint and their containers do not belong in your household trash. Paint can leak from trash bags and cans at the landfill. Plus the toxic chemicals could contaminate groundwater. Letting paint dry out first is the only safe way to dispose of it as trash.

On the ground or in wooded areas –

Dumping paint into dirt, forests, or other land is extremely hazardous to plants, wildlife, soil quality, and groundwater. Never dispose of paint or other chemicals this way.

Burning –

Do not attempt to burn leftover paint, such as in a burn barrel. Many paint ingredients release toxic fumes, particulates, and vapors when burned which pose serious health risks.

Alternative Uses for Paint Containers

Before placing empty paint cans in the recycling bin, consider reusing them around the house and garden:

  • Store nuts, bolts, nails, and other hardware items. Hammer the top edge flat to remove any sharp points.
  • Use to organize garden supplies like seed packets.
  • Cut plastic gallon jugs in half to make scoops and dustpans.
  • Recycle metal cans as pen and pencil holders or to hold paintbrushes upright.
  • Plastic lids become stacking trays for potted plants or saucers under flowerpots.

Dry out paint cans completely before repurposing so no wet paint remains. Remember to recycle emptied metal and plastic paint containers once you’re done with your projects. Check if any local paint stores offer paint can recycling programs too.

Signs Your Disposal Method is Unsafe

Sometimes it’s tricky knowing whether you’re properly disposing of paint or if you should be handling it differently. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • You see paint leaking from a garbage bag or trash can.
  • Paint is poured down a sink, sewer, or street drain.
  • Leftover paint is dumped on the ground or buried.
  • Oil-based paint cans feel warm or are bulging.
  • Paint is burned in a fire pit, burn barrel, or other open flames.
  • Wet paint is tossed in the trash instead of being dried out first.
  • Very strong chemical odors come from stored paint containers.

These are signs you may be mishandling paint and potentially polluting the environment. Reassess your disposal methods if you notice any of these hazards.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take paint to dry out for regular trash disposal?

Allow latex paint mixed with absorbents like cat litter or sawdust to dry for at least 24 hours before placing cans in the trash. Thicker paint may take 48-72 hours to completely harden. Oil-based paints take even longer to fully cure. Let them dry for several weeks before disposal.

Can I dry out paint quickly with kitty litter or heat?

Quick-dry methods are not recommended because they can leave wet paint below the surface. Paint must be fully solidified for safe trash disposal. Rushing the drying time risks liquid paint leaking later. Be patient and let paint dry thoroughly.

What kind of cat litter should be used to dry out paint?

Standard clay cat litter works well to absorb wet paint. Avoid clumping litter, especially the kind with chemicals to prevent tracking. Crystals or pellet types of cat litter may not soak up as much paint. Go with an inexpensive clay litter without scent or tracking control.

How should paint be stored until the next hazardous waste event?

Store paint sealed tightly in its original can placed inside a heavy plastic bag to contain leaks. Keep it in a cool, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight and away from flammable materials. Place the can on an absorbent pad or several layers of newspaper in case it leaks.

Can paint be recycled?

Some communities have paint recycling programs, but options are limited. Latex paint is sometimes recycled into new latex paint. Oil-based paints can potentially be distilled into new products. Check with your local household hazardous waste facility to see if they accept old paint for recycling. Otherwise, the main disposal options are to dry, donate, or dispose.

What are the fines for improper paint disposal?

Fines vary by location but can be several hundred to several thousand dollars per infraction for unlawful dumping. Jail time is also possible if you contaminate storm drains, sewers, groundwater, or public land and put health and environmental safety at risk with improper paint disposal. Follow your area’s hazardous waste disposal regulations to avoid penalties.

Key Takeaways

  • Leftover paint should never be poured down drains or dumped on the ground. These improper disposal methods pollute the environment.
  • Allow latex paint to dry fully by mixing in sawdust or cat litter before tossing empty cans in the trash.
  • Donate usable leftover oil-based paints to neighbors, theaters, schools, and reuse stores when possible.
  • Facilities for household hazardous waste offer the safest disposal for wet paint of all types when you can’t use it up or donate.
  • Completely dried and empty paint cans can be repurposed for handy household storage solutions or recycled.
  • Improper paint disposal often leads to fines and penalties in addition to harming ecological and human health. Follow local regulations carefully.

By using up, drying out, donating, and properly disposing of leftover paint, you can keep hazardous chemicals from polluting the environment. Paint responsibly and safely to avoid fines while also benefiting your community.