How to Dispose of Paint

Is old paint hazardous?

Oil-based paints are considered Hazardous Household Waste (HHW) and are not suitable for reuse after long storage. The label of an oil-based paint will say "oil-based" or "alkyd," or it will instruct you to clean brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine. Paints of this type are flammable, toxic and contain harmful solvents, resins and pigments; very old oil-based paints (1978 and before) may also contain lead [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]. For these reasons, oil-based paints must be taken to disposal facilities that accept HHW. Many communities work to simplify this by holding annual or semi-annual HHW collection days.

Latex or water-based paint, on the other hand, is not a hazardous waste, and can enjoy many reincarnations after its initial use. Latex paints are those that clean up with soap and water. They're very common for both interior and exterior painting. Before we go into how latex paints can be disposed of, let's talk about what NOT to do.

Before 1990, about 30 percent of latex paints contained mercury and many exterior latex paints still do [source: Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention]. For this and other reasons, latex paints must not be disposed of in liquid form. Specifically do not:

  • pour latex paint into storm drains, onto the ground, or into creeks, streams or rivers
  • put cans of liquid paint out for regular trash pick-up
  • try to burn paint

Disposing of paint this way introduces contaminants into the air, soil and ground water that can eventually work their way into the food chain.

Got paint? Keep reading for ideas to teach an old product new tricks.