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How to Safely Dispose of Latex Paint

Latex Paint

Latex Paint Americans try to make wise choices when it comes to waste generation. Despite our best efforts, about half ends up in landfills instead of recycling plants. People are well aware of the options for plastic and aluminum. It helps that you can find labeled bins that make it more convenient than just tossing empty containers in the trash. However, it is not always intuitive with some kinds of waste.

Latex paint falls into the latter category. You might think that it’s okay to wash the excess down the drain. After all, it is less messy or smelly than oil-based products. However, the problem is evident if you’ve ever had a can of paint dry up before you needed to use it again. Think about what the mess is doing to your plumbing and water treatment plants. Not pretty. So, what’s the proper way to get rid of it?

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Before You Start

Safe Latex Paint
Image Credit: Anshu A, Unsplash

The first question when considering your options is whether the paint is toxic.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if it can harm you or the environment, then the answer is probably yes. Oil-based paints fall into that category, whereas latex paints do not. Making the switch to latex wasn’t without its challenges.

Oil-based paints offer many advantages from an aesthetic perspective to the application. These products are easier to use and deliver professional quality results. However, they have some glaring disadvantages, too, which latex paints have addressed. While oil-based paints go on like butter, the brushes and other accessories are a pain to clean.

That’s part of what makes latex paints so desirable. You can clean everything with water since it takes the place of paint thinner in oil-based products. However, that doesn’t mean you should dispose of any excess down the sink. What is the best way to dispose of latex paint?

1. Plan Your Project to Get the Right Amount in the First Place

It may not seem like an issue, but unused paint is where the problem starts. The EPA estimates that there are over 750 million gallons of excess product. Let’s put that figure into perspective. If you consider that the average size bubble bath is 40 gallons, then this number translates into 18,750,000 bathtubs full of latex paint.

The best way to avoid this waste is to plan your project before you buy the paint. Start by measuring your room and using a paint calculator to figure out how much you need to get. Bear in mind that doors, windows, and other features will tap into the amount you need. Those structures may account for a lot of the waste that ends up in landfills.

2. Allow the Excess to Dry Out by Leaving the Lids Off of the Cans

Colorful Latex Paint
Image Credit: Taelynn Christopher, Unsplash

The problem with latex paint is not its liquid form, but the solid mass it forms when it dries. That’s what can clog pipes and put the hurt on the plumbing. Remember that you’re talking about a major repair if it does a number in your home. Make sure you put the cans someplace that is out of reach of the kids and pets. It’ll likely take several hours to dry completely before you toss it in the trash.

2a. Speed Up the Process with Kitty Litter

Kitty litter is absorbent because it has to work this way. You’ve likely used it for other things than the litter box. Think of oil stains in the garage or pet vomit to make the clean-up easier. Don’t be afraid to fill up the can. It’ll be ready for the garbage in about an hour.

3. Use the Excess for Other Projects

Unless you’ve picked a wild pink or outrageous orange, you can probably find other projects for the excess. We suggest thinking out of the box for those projects that have been gathering dust on your honey-do list. How about that garage door or the table you bought at that garage sale that needs a facelift?

4. Donate the Extra to a Charity Like Habitat for Humanity

You can make getting rid of your excess latex paint a fulfilling experience by paying it forward to a charity, such as Habitat for Humanity. It’s an excellent way to help others and protect the environment. It is hard to beat the feeling of making someone’s life better with an unselfish gesture.

5. Hang on to the Excess in the Garage

Inevitably, the room you painted will need a touch-up a year or two down the line. Scratches happen. You may even find that you’ll notice that place that you missed when you painted the room. The fact remains that latex paint can last up to 10 years with proper storage. Those are the operative words. You must tap the cover close with a mallet to make it air-tight.

You don’t have to make a decision right away. We recommend labeling every can of paint with the date you opened it and where you used it. You may also find it helpful to tape the sample card on the can to make it easier to mix up some more if you run out of paint.

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Final Thoughts About How to Dispose of Latex Paint

As you can see, you have several options about what to do with the excess paint. The key is to play it smart. Don’t spill it down the drain or pour it into the lake. If you or someone else isn’t going to use it, let it dry out and then toss it in the trash. It won’t hurt the environment or anyone else at that point. What you shouldn’t do is add it to the hazardous waste disposal. That’s overkill that is unnecessary.

Featured Image Credit: David Pisnoy, unsplash


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