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How do you properly dispose of paint?

Leftover paint is worth keeping around for a while, in case you need to touch up any scuffs, stains or filled-in spots on the wall.

But eventually the paint already on the wall fades to where it’s no longer a close enough colour match, or the paint in the tub or tin goes past its best.

Liquid paint can’t just be poured down the drain because it will pollute sewers and watercourses, and it usually can’t be put in a hire skip when painting and decorating either.

So if your shed, garage or cupboard under the stairs is getting overwhelmed by half-full cans of paint, here’s our guide to dispose of paint properly, ethically and without harming the environment.

1. Use it up

The best thing to do is use paint in full to begin with. If there’s just a bit left in the tub, consider adding an extra coat to the wall – you’ll often end up with a better finish, stronger colour and more durable paint job with an extra coat.

Alternatively, see if there’s anything else you could repaint to use up the last little bit, from garden benches, sheds and fences, to a birdhouse or bird table, anything to empty the container so you can dispose of it safely.

2. Sell or return it

If you’ve got full cans left over after buying too much, see if you can return it to the shop if you have the original receipt.

Alternatively, sell it on to someone else – even a single can of paint might be wanted by someone, especially if it’s a discontinued colour or you’re offering it at a discount.

A big picture of open paintcans.

3. The hard work

Disposing of paint correctly is literally a case of ‘hard work’, as you’ll need the liquid paint to dry out and go hard before you can throw it away.

You can speed this up by mixing in dry powders like sand, soil and sawdust, and keeping the paint exposed to the air (just be careful it can’t get knocked over or leak).

Remember paint contains solvents to help it dry, so make sure it’s in a well-ventilated area if you’re planning to keep it open until it dries out.

4. Disposing of dry paint

Dry or hard paint can usually be disposed of at household recycling centres, assuming it’s not commercial waste.

The good news is that there’s a lot less that can go wrong when taking dry paint to the tip, compared with transporting wet paint.

Check online to find the nearest waste treatment facility for paint in your area, or ask your local council if dry paint is permitted in your weekly wheelie bin collections.

5. Don’t forget the cans

Finally, think about what you will do with the cans – if you’ve let the paint set solid inside them, they won’t be recyclable.

Because of this, if you have any empty non-recyclable containers, such as old plastic buckets that are the ‘wrong’ sort of plastic for recycling, you could decant the paint into them for disposal.

Don’t pour it down the sink or drain – you want to minimise the amount of paint entering the sewers or nearby watercourses – but any last small remnants can be safely rinsed off so the empty, clean tins and tubs can be recycled and the materials used in new products.

Clean, empty tins are fine to include in the waste you put in a skip, so if you’re planning to hire a skip for painting and decorating, this is one way to get rid of empty paint cans correctly.

Tins of used paint.