How to Dispose of Paint

You rocked the new paint in the bedrooms and the hallway, and now it's time to clear out all the leftovers so you can sit back and enjoy the results of your hard work. But disposing of random bits of leftover paint poses a dilemma. Paint can be a hazardous substance -- it's certainly messy -- and different municipalities have specific protocols for dealing with dumping paint.

Keep It for Touch-Ups

Maybe you shouldn't throw the paint away. You might need that Summer Watermelon Dream shade to repair a scrape or scribble on the dining room wall, and carefully stored leftovers will save the day.

If you have a small amount of paint to save, decant it into a smaller paint can or a large jar. If you're storing enough to use the original can, wipe spilled paint off the lip; place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the can, and then fit the lid back on and tap it securely closed with a rubber mallet. Don't just hammer the lid on -- you could bend or dent it, and then it would never seal closed. If you don't have a mallet, put a piece of plywood on top of the lid and tap it down. Label the stored paint with color, location of painted walls, any paint store formula and the date. Then keep it somewhere safely out of reach of children and pets, and away from heat, moisture and extreme cold.

Latex Disposal

Paint should never be poured down the drain -- you already knew that. But you can't just set it out for the trash when it's still wet. A little bit of paint may be dried in the can and then put in the garbage, probably recycling, according to your municipal garbage regulations. Mix the paint with cat litter or shredded newspaper to help it dry faster. Or just open the can for a smidge of paint, and let the sun dry it out.

When you have too much paint for the cat litter trick, donate it to a local charity like Habitat for Humanity, advertise it on Freecycle so someone else can use it, or -- if you have less than 5 gallons -- take it to a designated municipal waste drop-off site. In a pinch, you can buy paint hardener to speed up the drying for proper disposal.

Oily Issues

Oil-based paint is considered a hazardous waste product, because of its volatile organic compounds, flammability, and toxicity. In New York City, you may mix leftover paint with cat litter or any absorbent material and place it in a black garbage bag -- not in its can -- before putting it in the trash. Most places prefer that you take oil-based paint to a recycling center that deals with hazardous waste. Check your municipality for rules about donating large amounts of leftover oil-based paint, or where and when to bring it to a designated recycling and disposal center. Oil-based paint doesn't deteriorate as quickly as latex, so it can be stored and reissued to another user.

Get the Lead Out

If you clean out that old shed or cobwebby basement and find cans of lead-based -- or just seriously vintage -- paint, you've got a hazardous waste disposal issue. Most government agencies have rules against accepting lead-based paints in liquid or in debris form in general recycling and in landfills. Don't give it away; don't open it -- do call your recycling center to find out where to bring the paint. Often a single hazardous waste center in an area is the only facility that will accept and dispose of the paint, under strict environmental protection protocols. Other options, for large amounts of suspect paint, are licensed private haulers or environmental services companies.