What Should You Do with Leftover Paint?

You’ve finished painting, either for the day or for good (congratulations)! Here’s what to do with all of that leftover paint, and how to know what you should keep, what you should throw away, and how to properly do it!

Bruce and Jeanne Lubin
3-minute read

What to Do with Leftover Paint

Pause a Painting Project

If you’re done painting for the day, but not the week, don’t worry about washing your brush between each use. Instead, just place it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. When you’re ready to paint again, run it under the warm water then. The cold temperature keeps the paint from drying, so no dried bits will ruin your brush. Instead, when you run it under the warm water, it will be as though you just stopped painting moments ago. Dry with a rag or paper towel before going back to work.

Don’t Keep Old Cans of Paint

When you’re finished painting, you might tell yourself you need to keep all your old paint in case you need to do a touch-up. But you should know the paint on the wall (especially if it’s in the sun) will fade in only a matter of months. So, that half-full can of leftover paint probably won’t match the color on your walls—you’ll have to repaint the entire room from scratch for an even job. However, it might be worth saving a small amount for a very small area, like a nick or scratch. We like keeping extra paint in a clean shampoo, conditioner, or body wash container. It will keep away the clutter of old paint cans, while keeping the paint fresh. If you need to use some, just dispense it onto a paper plate and get painting!

How to Keep Used Paint Fresh

If you’re keeping your leftover paint to use for a separate job, keep it fresh. One way to do it is to place a piece of plastic wrap under the paint can’s lid, make certain the lid is on tight, and turn the can over. The paint is exposed to less oxygen this way and will last much, much longer. Bonus points if you use this trick: Blow up a balloon until it’s about the size of the remaining space in the can. Then put it inside the can before you put the plastic wrap over it. This will reduce the amount of air in the can, thus prolonging the paint’s freshness.

Prevent Dried Paint Flakes

If you’ve ever used leftover pain from a can, you know it can develop a film that leaves annoying little flakes in the paint. Keep this from happening before you close the can for storage. Place the lid of the can on top of aluminum foil or wax paper and trace around it. Cut out the circle, then drop it gently into the can so it covers the paint. When you open the container later, just take out the foil and you won’t have any messy dried paint bits to worry about.

How to Recycle Leftover Paint

Getting rid of leftover paint? Enter your state here and find locations where you can drop off your unused paint for safe disposal and recycling.

How to Throw Away Leftover Paint

As long as it’s not oil-based paint, you can throw it away yourself, according to Lowes. If you just have a little bit left in the can, let it sit out with the lid off until it dries, then throw it away. If you have a half a can or less, fill the rest of the can with cat litter, then let it sit until it absorbs the paint and none will spill out. Then throw away with your regular garbage, if your town allows it.

About the Author

Bruce and Jeanne Lubin

Bruce Lubin and Jeanne Bossolina-Lubin are the proud parents of three boys and more than a dozen books. After saving thousands per year using everyday tips and simple lifehacks, they started their own business in the hopes of sharing their knowledge with others. They have been known to go into their friends' refrigerators to turn their eggs upside down so that they last longer.