How to Dispose of Paint Properly
Credit: Opensource

After every home renovation project, most people have leftover paint that will never be used. With time, it dries and you are left with several cans that sits around in the garage or storage building. 

In many areas of the United States, it is illegal to discard old paint in the garbage or pour it down your drain in your home whether you are on a municipal water system or own a septic tank.[1]

Not only do these types of products pose a health hazard if precautions are not taken during use, but they may pollute drinking water, damage your pipes or combine to make a volatile mixture within your plumbing system if disposed of improperly.

While latex paint is not toxic to the environment, it still needs to be disposed of properly instead of simply pouring it down the sewer drain at the curb. There is a right way and wrong way to do everything in life and that certainly applies to disposing of paint. Besides, you do not want to follow the environmental awareness model of previous generations.

I am reminded of an episode in the first season of Mad Men when Don Draper and his family were enjoying a picnic in a park. When they were ready to leave, Betty Draper gathers up the blanket, leaves all of the trash on the ground, while Don takes one last gulp of his beer, then chunks the empty can off in the woods. That characterization about that generation is not inaccurate. It was not just a matter of not knowing any better, they simply could not have cared  less.

So despite the fact that latex paint does not have to be taken to a toxic waste site, there are steps you can perform to dispose of it responsibly.

With latex paint disposal, or any type of paint or solvent:

  • Never pour paint into a drain because it can damage your pipes and it isn't good for the water treatment plants[2]
  • Don't pour paint onto the ground[2]
  • If you need to get rid of a lot of latex paint you may want to consider a paint hardener or absorbing product[2]

So how do you dispose of paint and clean paint utensils? 

Cleaning Up After a Paint Project

Cleaning Tips and Tricks

After painting the interior or exterior of your home, you are left with a lot of dirty brushes, rollers, rags, buckets and roller trays, all with residual paint on them.  Clean paint brushes are essential because just about all of those items can be reused if cleaned immediately and properly.

First, pour or press or wipe as much leftover paint as possible from smaller paint cups, roller trays or brushes back into the original paint can. 

There is a tool that painter’s use called, are you ready for this? A painter’s tool.  

Actually it is more commonly referred to as a 5-in-1 tool because of its many uses such as opening cans of paint and cleaning rollers by scraping them with the rounded corner of the blade. So take one of those and  scrape each roller. If the paint is still wet, hold it over the paint can to let it drip. Be careful not to scrape too forcefully or you will end up with debris from the roller in the unused paint. 

How to Clean Paint Brushes

Second, place the brushes and rollers on a “brush and roller spinner” to spin out any excess moisture, in this case paint. Place the head of the spinner inside an empty 5 gallon bucket and spin out the remaining paint. The paint remnants will dry in the bucket, then you can scrap them out and toss them in the trash.

Third, wash the brushes and rollers. There are several ways to do this, but I would advise against using a water hose outside and washing the paint into the grass or near brushes or shrubs. Not only will you waste a lot more water, but you may kill some of your plantings. Nor should you wash them in a sink  and let the waste go down the drain. Latex paint may be non-toxic, but it still is not filtered 100% by the waste water treatment plants and it will end up in a river somewhere.

If you are really concerned about doing this right, do the following:

  1. Fill three empty, clean 1 gallon cans or bucket with water half way.
  2. Clean each item  in the first bucket by moving it up and down the side which will remove most of the paint
  3. Next, repeat the same process in the other two cans. By the time you reach the 3rd can, the brush should be clean of paint assuming you did not let it dry on the brush.
  4. Remove the items from the last can, shake the excess water back in the last can, then press between newspaper.
  5. Lace the brush back in its original plastic holder with the card board insert it came with to help tit maintain its shape.
  6. Allow the solids from the paint to settle in the bottom of the cans, then pour the water into clean buckets to reuse for additional cleaning.
  7. After the solid remnants of paint have dried in the buckets, remove them and place them in a garbage bag.

Note: For oil based paint, the only difference in that process would be to fill each can with paint thinner instead of water

How to Dispose of Paint Properly
Credit: Opensource

Disposal of Cleaning Water

Latex Based

After you have cleaned the brushes, you can pour the leftover water on a flat grassy area or any area of open soil that will soak up the liquid.[1] Do not place it near any area on a slope where it will run off and into a storm drain or stream.

Alkyd  Based

The procedure for water used to clean alkyd  based paints and tools is a little different. After the solids have settled in your cleaning buckets, pour it into a sealable container for reuse the next time you need to clean brushes with that type of paint or solvent.[1]

If the water and wastewater is too dirty to reuse again, do not pour them on the grass or down your drain. Solvents of this type are high in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and are heavily regulated, so you need to find a place that will take these types of solvents. 

One place to start might be an auto parts store or occasionally, usually in the spring time, the large home improvement stores will have a recycle day and they will take anything like that.  If nothing else, this is another reason to use latex based paint because it is much easier to get rid of it.

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Disposal of Empty or Near Empty Paint Cans

How do I Dispose of Paint?

If you have paint leftover in the original can, but there is not really enough to use on another project or to donate, you might want to go ahead and prepare it for the trash dump, assuming it is latex based paint. There are a couple of ways to do this. Remember though, we are only talking about a few inches of paint leftover in the can. 

Let the Paint Evaporate

Believe it or not, small quantities of water-based and oil-based paint may be safely disposed of by allowing the liquid to evaporate in an open ventilated area outside. However, you have to be careful with this if there is any wildlife in the area or they may try to take a drink.How to Recycle Old Paint

  1. Move the container to a secure outdoor area away from flames, children and pets.
  2. Open the lid and allow the liquid inside to dry (evaporate).
  3. Discard any harden remnants of paint in a garbage bag.

Use Cat Litter

You know how cat litter absorbs and dries up everything in a cat box? Well, it does the same in the bottom of a paint can. Just pour about 2 inches into the can and let it sit for a day. Once everything is solid, you can remove it and place it in a garbage bag.

Use a Cardboard Box

Paint will also dry more quickly if you pour small quantities into a cardboard box lined with newspaper and let it soak in. (Have you ever noticed how there are a hundred different uses for newspapers now and none of them relate to actually getting the news from them?) Then take the box and put it in a garbage bag.

Note: Do not burn the solids left over from the dried paint because it releases chemicals into the air. For that reason, you may want to verify that your waste management company does not incinerate its trash. If so, you will need to find another disposal method or separate the solids from the rest of the trash.

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Where to Recycle Paint

Other Disposal Options

Where to Dispose of Paint?

If you do not have any use for your leftover paint and have too much to let evaporate or use one of the disposal methods above, there are programs available that will donate it to other organizations or individuals. Waste management companies, school systems and other county and local government agencies periodically have drives to collect paint for use on community projects.

How do you dispose of paint?

In general, lead-free oil-based and water-based paints may be donated if:

  • The paint is lead-free
  • You have more than a third of a gallon and still in the original can with original  label
  • It has not been frozen (latex paint only)

Additionally, the major home improvement stores usually have a recycling day once a year, usually in the spring.

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Recycle Paint Cans
Credit: English via Wikimedia Commons

Paint is just one of the many things you should be recycling. If you don't have any use for your leftover paint, first look into recycling or donating it if there are sufficient quantities leftover. If not, you can let the paint in the cans evaporate or fill them with kitty litter to soak up the excess, allowing you to dispose of the clumps in the garbage.

Never wash paint brushes in your home and use responsible and effective methods to clean up your project area and utensils so that you can reuse them the next time you get the urge to change colors in your house.