How to Store Leftover Paint

Learn the best way to use and store leftover paint so it lasts a long time. We discuss storage requirements, how to seal, and disposal.

Paint cans in storage with


Proper paint storage is crucial to prolong the life of the paint. Paint can be expensive and needs to be stored properly to be able to reuse.

In my post about buying paint, I discussed how to make sure you buy the right type and amount of paint. Let’s talk about storing today.

Honestly, I feel like paint is like scrap wood around here. It seems to multiply exponentially with every project.

No matter how much I try to “shop” my paint collection for a project, it is always that one color that isn’t there. I end up buying 2-3 samples to pick the color… then comes the quart or the gallon of the final paint color – you see how that goes?

If you think I am kidding, here is a picture of my paint storage. I wasn’t kidding!

Cans of paint cluttered on floor

When we moved into this house, we started putting all the paint and lumber in the storage shed without thinking about organization. What happens when you don’t organize? Everything becomes a mess.

This spring, I finally decided to go through, sort it out and organize it.

Along the way, I decided to research and find the best way to store leftover paint. Storing leftover paint the right way will not just keep your storage location organized; it will also help prolong the life of the paint.

***This post is sponsored by PaintCare. PaintCare is a non-profit that plans and operates paint stewardship programs on behalf of paint manufacturers. Thank you for supporting the brands that help us bring you new projects and information***

Open Right

Always use a paint can opener to open the lid. DO NOT use a screwdriver or a sharp edge. This can distort the lid making it harder to properly close and seal the can later.

Opening a paint can with a paint can opener

Most paint stores will offer you the can opener free of charge with the purchase of the paint.


Use Right

The life of paint also depends how you use it.

You want to try your very best not to get paint into the rim of the paint can. This will harden over time, making it hard to seal the lid when it is closed.

There are a few different ways to ensure that the rim remains clean.

  • Make holes in the rim – Using a sharp nail, make holes in the rim for the paint to fall back into the can. Even though this can be effective to a certain extent, it still leaves some paint stuck on the rim and can lead to a poor seal.
  • Never use paint from the can directly. Always pour the paint into a paint tray or cup to use. Using the paint directly from the can requires you to leave the paint open for a longer time which will also deteriorate the paint
woman painting the veneer cabinet doors
  • When pouring, the paint will inevitably get onto the rim. To prevent that, use painter’s tape in a V-shape on the rim to create a channel to pour paint. This will keep paint from getting on the rim and make for a relatively mess-free pour. You could also try using a paint can pour spout that is pretty inexpensive.
Using painter's tape to create a Pour spout on the can.

Close Properly

In between pours, be sure to keep the lid closed. This can be done by tapping it shut. Never use a hammer to close the lid. Hammers can deform the lid, making it harder to get a good seal. Use a rubber mallet instead and tap on top of the lid to close it tight.

tapping the paint can with a mallet instead of a hammer

Once you are ready to put the paint away, the can should be sealed as tight as possible. To get a good airtight seal, place a layer of plastic wrap on top of the can and replace the lid – again using a rubber mallet to put the lid on.

Tapping the paint can closed with a mallet

Paint Storage

Anytime you store paint, you want to make sure that it is sealed tight. Air and moisture can ruin paint over time.

This is also why you want to have as little air inside the can as possible. If you have a can with a little paint left which you plan to use the next time you need touch-ups, use an inert gas preserver to purge the oxygen out of the can. This can be used with both latex or oil-based paints.


Label the Paint

When storing paint, use a permanent marker to write the following information on the original can – brand of the paint, color name, and sheen, plus where it was used if applicable.

Storage Location

The paint storage location is crucial for a long paint shelf-life. Paint should be protected from extreme temperatures – especially from freezing and also from direct sunlight. It needs to be kept in a dry place to keep it away from moisture.

paint storage in shed

Freezing temperatures can spoil the paint because the resin and solvent in the paint can separate and will be impossible to mix back together.

The best place to store paint is in a utility closet inside the home or basement, which is temperature-controlled.

I live in Southern CA, where the temperature rarely falls below 40F, so I keep them in my storage shed in the backyard. Also, I don’t have a utility closet or a basement.


How Do You Know if Paint Is Spoiled?

The first test is the smell test. Paint should smell like paint – and should not have a weird odor. Once mixed, it shouldn’t be clumpy, have rust particles in it, or contain texture. If you see a few clumps, but overall the paint looks good, you can strain the paint with a paint strainer to remove the clumps and use it.

If you’re still not sure, test it on a little sample like scrap wood. If it goes on smoothly, it is good. If not, it is time to dispose of it.

Proper Disposal of Paint

Over time, especially if you are into DIY projects, you can accumulate a lot of paint.

A lot of the paint might not be needed anymore. Instead of keeping the paint in storage, it is best to recycle it.

I had accumulated a lot of paint. Rooms had been repainted, and the old paints were not needed anymore. plus, I had lots and lots of test pots.

PaintCare makes it easy to recycle leftover, unwanted paint. It is a nonprofit organization created by paint manufacturers. They set up drop-off locations for leftover paint and arrange for recycling and proper disposal of the paint.

PaintCare is currently available in 9 states and the District of Columbia. Find out if it is available in your state here. In fact, most of the drop-off sites are at paint retailers such as paint, hardware, and home improvement stores. The closest location for me was 4 miles away.

I took all the leftover extra paint and stains over and dropped them off. The employee came out with a flatbed cart and rolled away all the paint and stain for recycling.

It was a 5-minute affair. Now I don’t have to worry about all the old paint taking up space, and it is so much better organized.

woman rolling away paint in a cart for recycling

See more tips on how to store paint here.


Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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  1. David Crebs says:

    After writing ware the paint is use on the top of the can, we take a picture of the the top with the mixing instructions. that way if we have to get more more paint we have the mixture with us when we got to the store.

  2. Linda L Weeks says:

    I’m in the same predicament with paints, I’ve got a lot of wonder what that is kind of paint. Wish Paint Care was close by to me! (Maryland)

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