Does Paint Go Bad?

Painting is the easiest and most inexpensive way to change the look of a room. It’s amazing the difference just a coat or two of paint will make. The room looks cleaner and fresher, even without changing anything else in the room. If you have painted all or most of the rooms in your home, you’ve likely used more than one color of paint. Hopefully you have some leftover paint for those times you need to touch up the walls after making repairs, getting marked up or preparing to put the home on the market, which we all know WILL happen at one point or another.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve painted you may be wondering if you can use the old paint that you have stored in the garage. So this begs the question, does paint go bad? Paint can and will eventually go bad. However, there are a few things you can do to help your paint last as long as possible. When stored in the proper way, paint can last a very long time. Oil-based paint can last up to 15 years and latex paints can stay good for 10 years. 

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The key words here are “when stored in the proper way”. Extreme temperatures are very harmful to paints. Extreme temperatures are anything below 50 degrees or above 72 degrees (room temperature). If you have been storing your paint in the garage or storage shed, it’s likely they’ve been exposed to these temperatures. You should really try to store your paint in a climate controlled area. 

How Can You Tell If Paint Has Gone Bad?

When paint has been opened it is exposed to air for long periods of time. This will change the chemical make-up of the paint. You should open the paint and stir it up for at least five minutes. Then test it on a piece of cardboard. If the paint goes on smooth, you are good to go! If you paint it on and it’s full of lumps or grainy bits, then the paint is bad and will need to be disposed of. 

If your paint can has a puffed up lid or the can is bulging, the paint is likely no longer usable. It may also have a rubber like film on the top, which is also a clue that the paint is past its prime. You should be able to mix it up to a smooth consistency within 5-10 minutes. If not, it is bad and unusable.

If you open the paint and it has an odd smell, it may be contaminated with bacteria and have mold or mildew on it. This paint should be properly disposed of and not used. 

Storing Paint The Right Way

The best way to be sure your leftover paint will be available to you when you need it is to store it properly. The best place for paint storage is in a dark, dry space, such as a climate controlled garage or basement. You will need to be sure your opened paint can is well sealed. Wipe the top of the can and the lid well to remove excess paint. Then place the lid on top of the can with a towel over it. Take a hammer and gently hammer the lid in place. 

Some people say you should store paint upside down once it’s been opened. This creates an air-tight seal between the opening of the can and the paint itself. You can put a piece of plastic wrap over the opening of the can before putting the lid on. 

They also make plastic containers with airtight lids if you would prefer to remove the paint from the can altogether. Whichever way you choose to store your paint, be sure that you label it with the paint color, the number, and the date you purchased it, along with the room you used the paint in. Believe me, there will be times you can’t tell the difference in the tan in one room and the ecru in another. 

Disposing of Paint

If your paint is still usable, but you no longer have use for it, then consider donating it to friends or neighbors. Even some charities will accept used paint, especially those who build or restore homes.

On another note, if your paint is unusable, you will need to dispose of it properly. If not, it can contaminate the water or worse. 

For acrylic or latex paints, you can try to solidify the paint and toss it out with your regular trash. Not all areas allow this, so you will need to check if it’s ok to do this where you live. You will need a clay based cat litter for this. Mix two parts cat litter to one part paint in a well ventilated area. Once it is solid, remove it from the cat and toss it in the trash. 

Oil-based paints contain chemicals that can harm soil and water. They should never be disposed of in the trash. In fact, in some places it’s actually illegal. You could take the paint to a household hazardous waste facility. If there isn’t one open all the time in your area, some places host events for this at least once a year. 

Please be a responsible and courteous citizen and make sure you dispose of your paint in the correct, safe, and responsible way. This will ensure everyone is safe and stays healthy and the environment is harmed in the process. 

Uses For Left-Over Paint

You may have several different containers of left-over paint in your garage or storage area. If they are of the same type, latex with latex, acrylic with acrylic, oil with oil, you can mix them and use them as an undercoat primer. 

Other uses for old paint include painting old furniture to give it a new look. Farmhouse distressed furniture is the new rage these days. The old paint could be used for a mural, you could paint your front or back door, paint your garage and even use it for arts and crafts and you will need it for touch-ups. As you can see from this small list of suggestions, there are tons of ways to utilize the old paint that you have sitting around the home before it expires. 

What Happens If You Use Old Paint?

If you open your paint and it has chunks or grains in it after you stir it completely, you can still try to revive it. You can use a paint strainer to get all of the grainy, chunky pieces out of it. Then pour it into a different container and mix it really well. If your paint can is almost full, take it to the paint dealer and ask them to mix it for you. Most will do this free of charge. 

If your paint has been contaminated with bacteria and has mold or mildew in it, there is no way to salvage it. If you were to use this paint, the mold and mildew would continue to grow on whatever surface you painted with it. It is important if you did accidentally use it to wash the surface you painted and re-paint with new paint immediately. We do not want mold growing on our walls.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is old paint does go bad. So it is important to use proper storage and labeling. If both of those things are done correctly, you can have yourself some paint that is useful for 10-15 years.


How long does paint last on walls? Usually, interior paint will last 5-10 years. Of course, this depends on the quality of your paint and the condition of the surface you’ve painted. Exterior paint should last 5-7 years. Remember that the exterior of your home is exposed to all of the elements of weather, so this will obviously affect how long your exterior paint will last.

Does paint change color as it ages? Yes! Paint does will change color slightly as it ages, so you will need to keep this in mind if you have touch ups to do later years later.

Does unopened paint go bad? Unopened latex paint should have a shelf life of about two years. Again, proper storage is vital to keep your paint fresh, meaning a cool, dry place away from extreme temperatures.

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