We all have a couple of cans of paint floating around our homes somewhere. Maybe it’s that can of bright red you thought you would be bold with and then changed your mind. Or maybe it’s a half can of white you keep around for touch ups that rarely get touched up. No matter the reason for your old paint cans, there’s one thing you need to know: is it still usable? If you’re wondering how to tell if your paint is off, follow these steps to test if your old paint is still usable.
The good news is that if you have an unopened can of paint that has been stored properly, it’s almost guaranteed to still be fine to use. Unopened latex and water-based acrylic paints can last up to 10 years and alkyd and oil-based paints can last up to 15 years. Unopened paint maintains its ratio of liquids and semi-solids which is why it’s fine to use after a long period of time. Once the can is opened and exposed to air, this ratio begins to change.
It’s important you test a small patch before you plan to use that can of 5-year-old paint in your home. Since the paint has been sitting for so long, it’s likely it has separated. You will have to blend the contents thoroughly with a paint stirrer for at least five minutes. Stir up the paint and then test it on a piece of cardboard. If the paint looks normal and goes on smoothly, then you’re ready to start painting! If you notice lumps or grainy bits that you can’t stir out, the paint’s chemical makeup has changed and it cannot be used.
If the can of paint you want to use is opened, there may still be hope. When paint is exposed to the air for long periods of time, it changes the chemical make up which is why old paint cannot be used sometimes. To check if yours is okay, you will have to open the can and stir up the contents. Before you do, be sure to remove the layer of thickened skin on the top. Once this is gone, you can stir the paint and then test it on a piece of cardboard. If the paint goes on normally, your paint is safe to use! If not, another trip to the paint store is in order.
Paint Exposed to Weather
If you’ve been keeping a can of paint on your back porch on in your garage for several years, it’s likely the paint is not in the best condition. This is because paint cannot handle being exposed to extreme heat and cold. Even fully sealed contents may not survive our Canadian weather. It’s worth doing the paint test described above just to check. Remember that smooth paint is fine to use, but if it’s lumpy and grainy you’ll want to purchase a new can.
Tips to Maintain Paint
It makes sense to hold on to paint cans if there’s still a good amount of paint left over after you’re done your project. You may want to do touch ups or paint something else in the same colour. If you want to hold on to your paint, it’s important you store it somewhere where the temperature is mostly consistent (like your basement) and it won’t be exposed to harsh weather.
Make sure you tightly close the can of paint when you’re done with it. Wipe the excess paint off from around the rim of the can and the lid. Put the lid on the can and place a towel or rag on top of the can and gently hammer the lid shut.
Once closed, take a piece of masking or painters tape and write the name of the colour, its number, and the date of purchase. This way when you find the can of paint 4 years later, you’ll know how long ago you purchased it and what colour it is without opening it.
If you only have a small amount of paint left, you can transfer it to a different container and label it the same way.
How To Dispose of Unwanted Paint
If you have good quality paint that you have no use for, consider donating it. Offer it to friends and neighbours who may have a small project that needs painting. Some charities will accept paint, especially those that work with providing home renovations or repairs.
If you’ve done the paint test and find that your paint is unusable, it’s important to dispose of it in the right way. Not taking the proper steps to dispose of paint could result in pollution and contamination of water and aquatic life. One gallon of paint has the potential to contaminate thousands of gallons of water.
For latex and acrylic paints, you may be able to solidify the paint and throw it out with your regular garbage. Before you begin, check the rules in your area. If this is fine to do, you can mix the paint with a clay-based cat litter. Mix two parts litter to one part paint. Once solid, remove it from the can and add it to your regular garbage. If you do use this method, be sure to mix the paint and cat litter in a well-ventilated area.
For oil-based and alkyd paints, you will have to dispose of them as you would other hazardous and toxic products. Check online to see what the procedure is in your location and follow the steps provided.
Now that you know how to check if your old paint is still usable, it’s time to get to work and start painting. If you would rather have someone else do the hard part for you, you can easily and quickly find a painting company by clicking here. Do you have any tips when it comes to checking or storing paint? Let us know in the comments below.
Cover image courtesy of Gretha Scholtz.