When you think of freezing, you likely think of your pipes, outdoor faucets and plants, but those cans of stored paint in your garage or shed can also freeze when the temperature dips. Freezing often ruins paint because it affects the consistency, making it unusable. But sometimes you can salvage that old can of frozen paint without any long-term effects on the consistency.
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What Happens to Paint When It Freezes
Latex paint is most susceptible to freezing. Since it's water-based, the paint can freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit just like regular water. If you store your paint in an unheated garage or storage shed and you live in a cooler climate, there's a good chance the paint will reach temperatures below the freezing point during the winter months. Oil-based paint doesn't freeze as easily, so you don't have to worry about it as much.
When paint freezes, it can affect the emulsion of the paint. That means when it thaws, the consistency and texture may be ruined. However, sometimes the consistency is okay after thawing, especially if the paint hasn't frozen before. Check the paint before you use it to make sure you get quality results.
Thawing Frozen Paint
Before you can determine if the consistency is off, you need to slowly thaw the paint. The best way to do this is to bring the can inside at room temperature and wait. It's tempting to grab a hairdryer, space heater or another source of heat to speed up the process, but a gradual thaw is your best chance at salvaging the paint. This process may take several hours depending on how full the can of paint is. Put an old towel or several sheets of newspaper under the paint can to protect your floor.
Checking the Paint
Stir the paint well once it's completely thawed. You can also take the can to a paint store to be shaken. The first test is a visual check of the consistency of the paint. You might notice immediately that it's ruined. Frozen paint sometimes looks like cottage cheese after it thaws. You might also notice clumps in the paint or a stringy, ropey texture. If you don't notice anything obvious, inspect the paint a little closer to look for graininess.
The next test is actually using the paint. Grab a paintbrush and make a few passes on a piece of paper or a scrap piece of wood. Notice how well the paint goes on. Check the painted section to look for lumps, visible grains or other inconsistencies in the finish.
If everything seems normal, the paint should be fine to use on your project. It should have a consistent color and texture that's the same as it was before freezing. If anything is off, it's best to discard the paint.
Paint Storage Tips
The way you store your paint can prevent future freezing so your leftover paint lasts longer. Since latex paint freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to keep the cans in a place that never gets that cold. Storage sheds and garages often fall below the freezing point if you live in a northern area. If your garage is climate-controlled, your paint should be fine stored there. Otherwise, bring your paint indoors to an area that's heated. A shelf in the basement, provided the basement stays above freezing, is one option. A heated storage area in another part of the house can also work.