The Right Way to Get Rid of Old Paint Cans

Before you start reading, take a second to think about your parent’s garage. There’s probably old sports balls and bicycles. Or, there’s car oil and camping equipment. Now, how many cans of paint do your parents have in the garage? How much paint do they keep “just in case”? After you’ve finished recollecting old memories of your parent’s garage, I have another question for you. How many cans of paint do you have in your garage? I would guess that at some point, you collected paint cans because you were nervous about not being able to touch up your living room walls. Even if this doesn’t apply to you, you can benefit from knowing how to properly get rid of old paint cans. I’m sure that within the next few years you’ll paint a room of your home. Now, you’ll know how to really clean up.

Your Paint Matters

Virtually, everything that we do has an impact on others and the environment. The paint that you beautifully decorate your home with isn’t an exception to that. Paint can have a negative effect on the environment and your health. When paint is drying, it releases gases that contribute to pollution. Typically, this is more common in oil-based paints than water-based paints. However, all types of paint effect the environment. Even the paint that they use on the bottom of boats to protect it from the elements. That paint is washed into our oceans daily. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that we dispose of paint and paint cans properly. That way, we can lessen the pollutants that are let out into our atmosphere. Luckily, it’s easy to get rid of paint and paint cans the right way!

Different Paint, Different Plan

There are two main types of paints. Oil-based paints and water-based paints. It’s important that you know which type of paint you are dealing with because you will need to dispose of it differently.

Oil-Based Paint

First, let’s talk about oil-based paints. You cannot recycle oil-based paints. The oil doesn’t bode well with the environment. Therefore, it’s best to avoid recycling it. Since you can’t recycle oil-based paint, you can do one of two things. First, take it to a household hazardous waste program. Second, dry the paint out and throw it away. We will talk about efficient ways to dry out your unused paint later on in this article. It should be clear on the can that the paint you’ve used is oil-based. However, if it isn’t clear, then you can take it into any home furnishing store and they can help you.  

Water-Based Paint

Next, there’s water-based paint. You can recycle this type of paint. The paint is water-based, as the name implies, which means that it doesn’t emit as many chemicals and is easier for plants to recycle. An example of water-based paint is acrylic paint. Also, latex paint is a type of water-based paint.

paint cans, garage, dirty

The Process Begins

It’s important to note that you can’t do anything with your paint cans until you’ve properly disposed of the paint. Therefore, the first step in the process of getting rid of paint cans the right way is to get rid of the paint. There are four main ways that you can get rid of the paint. To donate it, recycle it, dry it out, or use it.  

Donate Your Old Paint

First, donate it to a school’s art program or a habitat for humanity near your home. There are plenty of non-profits that would be happy to take your left over paint. Plus, they might want to keep the can, too. If that’s the case, then you don’t need to worry about recycling the paint can. However, some might just want the paint. If that’s the case, then they will have instructions for you to properly transfer the paint. However, you may not have enough paint to donate. In that case, you can look at any of the other three options.

Recycle Your Paint

If you live near a household hazardous waste program, then you are one lucky person. The HHW’s are a great resource to responsibly get rid of hazardous and harmful materials. In fact, it’s the #1 option for disposing of paint. These programs have protocols and materials that allow them to dispose of the paint safely. They will recycle water-based paint for you. As for oil-based paint, they usually burn that in a contained space so that the pollutants don’t rise into the atmosphere. Overall, household hazardous waste programs are top notch. However, if you don’t live near one, then there are still ways to safely dispose of paint.

Dry Out Your Paint

You’d be surprised how easy it is to dry out paint. There are four main ways to dry out paint that you want to throw away.

Cat Litter

That’s right, you didn’t read that incorrectly. Cat litter is a great way to dry out paint that you don’t need. It’s better to use a clay based litter because it’s more absorbent. It’s a simple process, really. First, toss in as much cat litter as you have paint. Then, let it work its magic and absorb the paint. Lastly, throw away the hardened paint and feel proud that you safely got rid of paint.


For some, cat litter isn’t readily available. Also, it’s too expensive to buy a bag of cat litter to use for half a gallon of old paint. If you don’t have cat litter, then you can use newspaper. First, tear the pieces of newspaper until they look like scraps. Then, place a bunch of paper into the paint can or a separate bucket. Next, let the newspaper harden and dry out the paint. Lastly, throw the paint away. It’s literally the same process as using cat litter. However, newspaper is more readily available to most people.

Air Dry​​​

You can always let Mother Nature work her magic. If you have time to spare and a yard that gets a lot of sunlight, then you can try and let the paint air dry. However, this will work best if there isn’t a lot of paint left. If you have a few inches of paint left, then the lower layers might not dry out. Therefore, if you have a lot of paint, I suggest using cat litter, newspaper, or paint hardener. Letting the paint air dry will take longer than the newspaper and cat litter will. Make sure that it stays in a safe area where kids and pets can’t get into it. Also, hope that it doesn’t rain. If it rains before the paint is dry, then you could end up with a bigger mess than you had before.

Paint Hardener

Lastly, you can buy waste paint hardener at your local hardware store. Basically, this powder will mix with the paint and take away it’s “wetness”. First, pour a cup of the powder into the paint. A single cup of powder will work wonders on a gallon of paint. If you’re not kidding around about drying out your paint, then this is a good option for you!

paint cans, many paint cans, colorful

Use It

There are a million adorable things that you can use old paint for. You can make beautiful paintings. Or, you can decorate furniture. If you want to try and use your unused paint, then here are a few ideas for you!

Get Rid of Those Paint Cans

Once your paint is gone, you can get rid of that paint can. The hardest part about properly recycling your paint can is emptying it. Afterwards, it’s a piece of cake to recycle the can. You leave the paint can on your curb to be picked up by your trash collectors. Or, you can put it with your soda cans in the recycling. Basically, any neighborhood collector will take it. Here’s the catch, though. You need to make sure that there isn’t more than an inch of paint in the paint can. If there is, then the recycling plant can’t recycle it properly. Therefore, it’s important that you make sure your paint is dried out and throw away before recycling the can.


In conclusion, recycling a paint can is easy. However, getting rid of the paint that was in it is the hard part. Paint is one of those strange items that have a complicated recycling process. But, at least you know that you can recycle some types of paints. Being informed is the best way that you can help the environment. Knowing what you can and can’t recycle is crucial. However, it’s even more important that you follow what you’ve learned. Now that you know how to properly get rid of paint cans, then, hopefully, you feel more comfortable getting rid of them. You can clear out space in your garage for other important items. Like, flat basketballs and old artwork. Overall, there are programs set up to help us succeed and to help the environment prosper. But, you can do it yourself if you so desire.    

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Bailey Longhurst

I am amazed every day by the beauty that this world provides for us and think it is important to preserve it! Taking care of ourselves and our earth is crucial and I want to help people discover new ways to do both. Publishing for Green and Growing is a unique way that I can get my message across, and I hope you all enjoy what we write about!

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