Hey Norma – I have lived in my home for almost 10 years, and from all the painting we’ve done I have amassed an arsenal of paint cans (almost full gallons, almost empties, and half full)… too many for the little storage space we have. So here are my questions: How long can you keep paint (how long is it good for)? How do you safely discard of paint cans? Do you have any clever tips on repurposing paint cans for other uses. – WYSK Reader Jenny

NV: You’re not alone, my dear. Many corners of garages and basements look like paint can cemeteries! Here’s my take on what to do with old paint and paint cans.


  • Exposure to air is what ages and hardens paint, so store paint in the smallest most airtight container as possible. (I use old glass jars.)
  • Properly stored paint can last a couple years or more.
  • Store paint in a cool dry location. If stored in a basement or damp location, keep it off the concrete floor (direct moisture will rust the can). Know that extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, and moisture will ruin paint.
  • If a can is almost full, store it in the original can and…
    • clean the can lid and rim
    • place a piece of plastic wrap between the lid and the can to act as a gasket.
    • pound down the lid to create a tight seal, but use a rubber mallet or hammer on a block of wood so as not to deform the metal rim.
  • Always keep some left over paint for touch ups.
  • Pour left over paint in a small jar and label it. Always label paint container with brand, name, finish, color-code, and the room(s) it was used in. All of this information is invaluable for future use!
    • My bonus tip on the pour… when you pour paint into a roller pan or smaller container, always pour from the backside label of the can. This way, the drip won’t cover the name and finish of the paint that’s always marked on the front of the can.


When you go to use the stored paint:

  • Do not shake and mix the can first.
  • Open up the can/jar and remove the “skin” that may have formed on the top.
  • Once any skin or debris is removed from the top, stir the paint thoroughly with a paint stick, as it will have separated.
  • If the paint is thick and lumpy after stirring, it may be ok for a small touch-up, but anything more than that, not—but because it’s been properly labeled, getting a new can will be a cinch!


To dispose of old paint:

  • Do not pour any paint down the drain—that goes for latex and especially oil-based paints.
  • Contact your local waste management facility to find out what their policy is for disposing of paint and paint cans.
  • You can locate paint drop off locations from paintcare.org.
Paint Can Lantern

Photo: Lowes


Finally, as for paint can repurposing, here are some crafty ideas:

  • Paint them cool colors, drill some decorative hole-patterns and use them as hanging or tabletop candleholders. These are especially fun for the yard!
  • Use them in your office or garage to organize and store markers, paintbrushes, screwdrivers, etc.
  • Drill a couple of drainage holes through the bottom, wrap them in a pretty fabric using fabric glue, and use them as planters.

Thanks for the great question and helping me to spread the word about proper paint disposal practices!

Norma sig

Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

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Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.