How to store leftover paint

Paint has a way of multiplying in our basement. And not in a tidy way. In fact, finding the matching paint to touch up some woodwork or repaint a stool has often seemed a bigger task than the painting project itself. So I decided to tackle it. I organized our paint and learned how best to store it. The results aren’t Pinteresty, but they are perfect for our household.

Storing paint properly is easy. It takes minutes longer than simply putting the can on a shelf. And it really can prolong the life of the paint. 


Bottom line: Store paint in a location that’s not too hot, not too cold, not too humid. But no worries, by “too” I mean really extreme. Don’t leave your paint in a hot attic or a garage that’s close to freezing, for example. Too cold and the paint will separate and curdle. Too hot and it’ll dry. Too humid and the cans will rust. My basement meets the cool and dry bill just fine. Bet you have a place that does, too. (Keep in mind that paint won’t do well in your hot or freezing car all day, either. So if you’re buying paint for a project, make that stop towards the end of your errand run.)

Make sure, too, that you store paint out of the reach of children and up off the floor. A damp floor can damage your paint, and the paint can might leave a ring on your floor.  


There are bloggers who transfer their paints to lovely, uniform plastic or glass containers with pretty labels. I came sooooo close to doing this while tackling this project! I admit it would be satisfying to see those pretty paints all lined up on my shelves, but I would also be dealing with the guilt of having purchased all those containers. For me, it would have been expensive, wasteful, and unnecessary. 

blue, yellow, orange, red, and brown craft paint in bottles with paintbrushes on top

So most of my paint remains in its original container. Not all, though. There are some good reasons to occasionally transfer paint to something other than the can or tub it came in. You’ll want to decant the paint to something smaller (any plastic or glass container with a tight fitting lid) if:

• You destroyed the original lid taking it off (with a screwdriver or knife or some such). A crinkled lid will fight a good seal. 

• The grove around the rim of the can is full of dried-up paint. This will also make it hard to get the lid back on. 

• The can is no longer fairly full. The less contact with air the better, so paint in a can that’s mostly empty won’t fare well. That big gallon container also takes up a lot of room on the shelf for a little bit of paint (and can fool you into thinking you have more than you do). Transfer small amounts of paint into small plastic containers — or even small canning jars. 


Clearly labeling each paint container is a must. You think you’ll remember what’s in each can — especially if you, like me, have plenty of paint dripping down the outside of the can when you’re finished! But later you’ll no doubt wonder about the sheen or which of the four off-white paints is the one you used on your woodwork. 

It’s enough to take a permanent marker and mark the lid. But you can also design and print your own paint can labels. There are plenty of fun, pretty, free labels that you can download, too. These are the labels I used, from the blue I style blog. As suggested by Angela, I printed them on sticky paper, then cut them out and put them atop the, well, not-so-pretty mishmash of cans, original plastic tubs, and smaller-size containers that I transferred smaller amounts of paint into. (That top photo shows my paint shelves.) Thanks to the labels, I was able to add a touch of pretty to my practical organization of paints after all!

Here’s the info I put on the label:

• Where I used the paint (room, item)

• Brand of paint

• Color name

• Type (indoor/outdoor, latex, oil)

• Sheen/Finish

I also numbered each can to correspond with an index card with the paint formula on it (see below) to make getting more of the exact same paint in the future easy and foolproof. I keep the index card box on the paint shelf.

paint cans on white tile with labels on the lids

More tips for storing/using paint

• I like to snap a picture of the paint formula from the top of the can. These numbers can be used to duplicate the exact paint color in the future. (“Desert Oasis” might be renamed “Khaki Cool,” or even deleted, in the future.) I printed these on index cards to store as I described above, but you might prefer keeping them digitally.

• Use a paint can opener — it’s inexpensive, works perfectly, and keeps the lid in good shape, so you can put it back on and get a good seal.

• Use a pour spout on paint cans. Some plastic paint containers come with a built-in spout. If yours doesn’t, or if you’re using a can instead of a plastic tub, snap on a pour spout. Not only will the spout make it easier to pour your paint, it will also keep the rim of the lid clean — important for getting a good seal when you put the lid back on later. (Also, a spout will keep the usage info printed on the side of the can readable.)

• When you’re ready to put paint away, wipe off the outside of your container. It will look nicer and be easier to read, and it will keep dry paint from flaking into your new paint next time you open the can.

• When you put the lid back on a paint can, don’t smash it with a hammer. Yes, you want a tight seal, but you don’t want to dent up the lid. Cover the lid with a paint cloth (to prevent splatters), then tap it down with a rubber mallet. If you don’t have a mallet, put something flat on the lid (like a piece of wood), then tap the lid with your hammer. 

• For long-term storage, you can put a piece of plastic wrap under the lid before sealing up your can, for an extra airtight seal. (If your lid fits snugly, though, this isn’t necessary.)

• Wipe off the lid of a paint can thoroughly before you open it. This will prevent any dust, paint chips, or other debris from falling into your paint. 

What’s the right way to dispose of paint?

To dispose of paint that’s no longer any good, stir cat litter or sand into it and let it dry. As long as it’s latex paint, you can then put it in the garbage for regular trash removal. For oil-based paints, check with your local sanitation service. Some make special arrangements for pickup or drop off of oil-based paints and stains. At any rate, they’ll provide you with directions on proper disposal.

clean paint can and small brush

How do you know if paint is past its prime?

I’m tempted to say you can “just tell,” but I’ll try to be a little more helpful. It should smell like paint, with no weird “off” odor. It shouldn’t be clumpy or too thick, or contain texture of any kind (unless it did in the first place, like non-skid paint does). If you’re still not sure, mix it up and paint a little sample on a piece of wood. If should go on smoothly. If not, invest in new paint. Your time and project will be worth it.

Now that my paint is all organized, I’ve promised myself that I’m going to take the time to put away future paint properly. Obviously, this hasn’t been something I’ve been good at in the past. Honestly, I’m usually so happy to be finished and putting away the paint, that I give little thought to ever getting it out again. But one good thing about taking good care of things — like paint — is that it becomes a habit, a way of doing things that, eventually, becomes second nature. 

Do you do a good job labeling and storing your paint? Any tips to share?

You might also like:  Taking care of your paintbrushes.

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