How to Dispose of Oil-Based Paint?

how to dispose of oil based paint

Whenever we paint anything, from a piece of furniture to a room to an entire house, we’re asserting our own style. But once you’re done with the paint you need, what do you do with the rest?

In many cases, we wind up with half-empty cans sitting in a garage or basement, largely forgotten. While it’s certainly worth keeping partial cans for periodic touch-ups and new coats, multiple half-used paint cans can create some serious clutter.

In this post, we’ll discuss the differences between solvent-based and water-based paint and how to dispose of oil-based paint properly.

Solvent-Based vs Water-Based Paint

Generally speaking, you have two kinds of paint to choose from – water-based paint or solvent-based paint.

Solvent-Based Paint

This is the historical standard for home and industrial paint. By definition, oil-based paints are also solvent-based. Oil-based paint provides a smooth, uniform color and it usually has darker pigments, which means the colors come out with a richer, deeper hue than its counterparts. It’s also long-lasting and what was used primarily for paints for many years.

The downside of solvent-based paints is that they have a strong odor. There’s also an issue with the volatile organic compounds which are released as these paints evaporate. These compounds release fumes that cause the characteristically strong odor and they can have a very negative effect on the environment as well.

Water-Based Paint

Water-based paints, like acrylic, aren’t as harmful to the environment, but there are a lot of other benefits too. The paint is durable, so it lasts for a long time without chipping. Also, the odor is far less strong and there’s a very quick dry time. The vast majority of paint that’s sold for residential purposes falls into the water-based paint category.

How Do I Know if the Paint is Oil-Based?

As a general rule, oil-based paint is smoother to the touch than water-based paint. If you’re not sure, you can do a simple spot test. Simply select something that’s been painted with the same paint you’re curious of. This can be anything from a wall or door to furniture and toys. Apply some sort of solvent that utilizes acetone as its base to a clean rag or even a paper towel. Then dab it lightly onto the object’s surface. If the color begins to bleed onto the rag, it’s very unlikely that the pain in question is oil-based.

How to Dispose of Oil-Based Paint Properly?

First of all, it’s important to understand that oil-based paints are toxic and can even contain high levels of lead. Due to the toxic nature, oil-based paints can’t be recycled or disposed of as easily as acrylic/latex paints.

Know the Laws: While different states may have different rules, oil-based paint is considered a hazardous material, much like paint thinner. Thus, it’s illegal to use the same methods of disposal that would be fine with acrylic paints. This means you can’t simply dump it down a drain somewhere, nor can you gradually solidify it before throwing it away.

Give it away: Before you dispose of your unused oil-based paint, see if someone else can use it. Ask your friends and family, who might be grateful for a new pop of color in their lives. Likewise, there is a large online presence and many community paint recycling programs that seek out unused paints for those in need. However, even if you can’t give it away, bear in mind that there’s no real hurry. As long as you properly store it, your oil-based paint should remain good to use for up to 15 years.

While you don’t want to get rid of paint you might need again, it does worth mentioning that oil-based paints can collect toxic fumes when they begin to dry out. This can contribute to the risk of fire and other dangers.

Find an Appropriate Drop Off Site: You can look online or inquire with your town officials as to the proper spot to bring hazardous materials, such as oil-based paint.

Let it Dry Up: If you have no other choice, you can allow your oil-based paint to simply dry up over time. This is not a quick solution and you also want to be sure you keep the open paint can in a well-ventilated area to avoid exposure to toxic fumes. You can get your oil-based paint to dry out a little faster by mixing in some sort of absorbent material. Cat litter is an effective and cheap option, as is sawdust.

Once the paint has entirely dried in the can, you still want to take it to a hazardous material waste site to ensure it doesn’t wind up where it shouldn’t.

Is Dried Paint Considered to be Hazardous Waste?

As long as the paint cans are completely dry with nothing inside, you’re able to safely and legally dispose of the cans in the trash. As a general precaution, it’s always a good idea to remove the lids from the paint cans so the garbage removers can easily see that the paint can is dry.

If there’s any amount of paint left in the can that isn’t completely dried, it’s considered to be hazardous waste and must be disposed of accordingly. If you’re in any kind of doubt at all as to whether the paint left is completely dried, you should err on the side of caution and treat it as hazardous waste.

As a side note, it’s also important to note that you cannot legally transport anything more than 15 gallons or 125 pounds of hazardous waste per trip. If you have a lot of oil-based paint to get rid of, this is very important to keep in mind.