Unwanted Paints

How to Deal With Unused or Unwanted Paint and Solvents

Each year, thousands of gallons of leftover or unwanted paint, solvents and thinners are flushed down sinks and drains or dumped into trash cans. These actions can overwhelm sewage systems, destroy septic tanks, and damage landfills’ protective barriers. The resulting contamination fouls surface and underground waters. The same water we all depend on for consumption and recreation. You can help ease these threats to human health and the environment by following a few simple steps:

Use Paint Completely Or Give It Away

Have your paint dealer help you estimate correct amounts for your project. Afterward, if some paint remains, apply additional coats to use it completely.

If you have useful quantities of leftover paint, ask friends, neighbors or relatives if they can use it. Otherwise, donate leftover paint to churches, animal shelters, housing authorities, theater groups or others who can use it. Recipients will appreciate your generosity even more when you give them paint in original containers having legible labels.

Other Disposal Options

Paints containing lead, cadmium or mercury are highly toxic and must be taken to a household hazardous-waste collection. Most other paints can be rendered safe for collection with your general refuse.

Latex Paints

Solidification is essential. Place open cans containing small amounts of latex paint in a well-ventilated area away from children and pets. Allow paint to dry thoroughly. Otherwise, mix paints with absorbents until solidified. Use kitty litter or commercial products intended for cleaning up oil spills. Place open cans of solidified paints with your weekly trash pickup, and recycle empty paint cans, if possible.

Oil-Based Paints

Handle paints containing petroleum distillates with great care. They are ignitable and their fumes are potentially harmful. Always follow label directions.

You can solidify oil-based paints by allowing their volatile components to evaporate in a well-ventilated area. Mix remaining liquids with absorbents and allow to harden.

Alternatively, apply leftover paint to scrap lumber or cardboard. Keep children and pets away while these paints are drying. Then place these scraps with your regular trash.


Never pour paint thinners, turpentine, mineral spirits or other solvents down any drain or sewer, never dump them on land or in any waterway. Donate unused products to others. You can “recycle” used solvents by allowing paint pigments to settle to the bottom, and later pouring the clarified liquid into a new or recycled (and accurately labeled) container. Mix the remaining solvent/paint sludge with an absorbent and dispose with your general refuse.