Sep 22, 2015


There is something about fall that makes me want to warm up or retouch the colors on my walls. When you're in the mood to paint, you run down to the hardware or big-box store and buy a couple of gallons right?  You change your walls, you love the results, but what do you do with the leftover? I have extra gallons in my garage for touchups. I also do quite a bit of faux finishing on Furnitiure and love to have alternate colors. However, over time, too many gallons of paint take over the garage. What to do? Avoid having leftover paint by buying the right amount, and storing it properly so you don't need to buy more when you touch up.  Of course I have a few ideas for reuse and places you can take your paint for reuse or recycle.....

BUYING. Here are five steps to take before you purchase so you don't have leftover paint.
1. Determine your room's square footage.
Most paint companies feature calculator tools on their websites that allow you to enter room dimensions to calculate an estimate of how much paint to buy.  Or you can (a) measure the width and height of each wall, (b) multiply the width times the height to get the square footage of each wall, (c) add the square footages together to get the total, (d) measure windows, doors, or other breaks in the wall and subtract their square footage from your original calculation giving you the number of square feet you need to cover. (e) Divide that number - called the area – by the paint coverage rate. If you know which brand you're using it will be on the can or the manufacturers website. If not, use an average of 350 since most paint coverage rates are between 300 and 400 ft.² per gallon. 

Here's an example:  The square footage of a 10’x10’ room with a ceiling height of 10 feet is 400 square feet. If the paint coverage rate is 400 square feet per gallon, you’d need one gallon. If the coverage rate is 300 square feet per gallon, you’d need 1.33 gallons. After subtracting windows and doors, you’ll probably need one gallon for that room. 

2. Are you making a big color change?
If your new paint color is similar to the old one, you will need fewer coats. However, if you change from a very dark color to a very light color, or from a very light to a very dark one, you may need up to 4 coats to cover the old color. See: using primer below.
3. Consider surface texture. 
Textured walls require more paint than smooth walls because there is more surface area. The greater the texture, the more paint is needed — you may need up to 50 percent more paint for rough textures.
4. What sheen are you using?
As sheen decreases, coverage increases. Flat paints require less paint to cover walls than any paint with sheen. Generally, a job that takes two coats of flat paint typically takes three or more coats of eggshell, semi-gloss or glossy paint.
5. Using primer.
New, unprimed drywall, plaster, and bare wood absorb more paint and require more coats than surfaces that have already been primed or painted with a base coat. Besides helping to achieve better adhesion, primer fills in tiny surface holes. Primer prevents the top coat from being absorbed and reduces the number of coats needed.  Consider using tinted primer for major color changes since it will reduce the number of top coats you’ll need. Even though the color below with the one gold or white, we needed two coats of paint and primer underneath.

An unopened can of paint can last for decades if it is stored in a dry, cool, dark place, out of the sun and indoors. Even if you think you will get rid of your leftovers, follow these tips to keep your paint in better condition so someone else can use it or recycle it.

OPENING: Use a paint key instead of a screwdriver to  open your can to avoid damage to the rim.  I typically don't work from the can, but put it into another container such as a quart size plastic container and, of course, the roller tray going to keep the rim clean instead of wiping my brush on it.  If you finsh the can, that won't be a problem, but if you want to reseal it you will have trouble getting the lid on tight. You can also poke holes in the rim with a medium size nail or awl so that paint drips back into the can and doesn’t accumulate in the rim.

CLOSING: When you're ready to close the can, try covering the opening with a piece of plastic wrap before putting on the lid. The plastic will act as a gasket. When putting the lid back on the can, tap it with a rubber mallet instead of pounding it with a hammer.  Alternatively, put a block of wood on top and then hit the wood with the hammer. The idea is not to hit the rim and angle, but flat on to keep it straight and close evenly.

Store your paint cans in a dry, cool location. Preferably indoors. Outside, water can accumulate in the rim and rust the can. Before you close up, indicate the level of paint and the color on every can. You can indicate level simply by putting a brush mark on the outside of the can, or using painters tape and mark the date you used it and the level inside. It also helps to identify which room the paint can came from. For example, I have six different colors of gray/blue in my home. Trying to sort out which one was the bathroom versus the hallway versus the kitchen was difficult so I use a sharpie to mark the room name on the top of the can. 


Using up what you have is a great way to reduce leftover paint.  From the Paint Counsel, come a few ideas:

More than a gallon
Use light shades as primers for other paint projects, or donate to a friend, neighbor, or local organization who can use it.

Less than a gallon
Consider painting a small room, like a bathroom or a closet, or experiment with accent walls, a wall with many windows, or a wall that flanks stairs. You can also recoat a scuffed up piece of furniture.  Indoors isn’t your style? Paint a wooden planter, an old weathered chair for your entry porch, or protect an old fence from weathering. Your front  door is always a great place to start!

A quart is perfect for updating a window frame or two, coordinating picture frames, brightening up the inside of a bookshelf, or creating a color pop inside a nightstand.

With a pint, personalize a tray, color a glass vase, dip the handles of your tool set, update a table lamp, or refresh your old chairs by dipping the legs into a can!

Sample sizes can be used to paint a bird house, coordinate door knobs, re color a candlestick, trim the edge of a mirror, stencil a tote bag, or update your dresser by painting the sides of the drawers.

Do you have some paint in good condition that someone else can use? Here are some ideas on how to find someone might be interested in your leftover paint:
1. Friends and Relatives
2. Community Groups
3. Churches
4. Schools and nonprofit organizations 
5. Artists
6. Garage Sales
7. Free Online Listings like or 
8. Habitat for Humanity will only take unused cans of paint.

In most states, you pay a recycling fee when you purchase your paint. That way, you can drop your used paint cans back at the place of purchase. Most big box and hardware stores also sell paint hardener powder that you can mix into your paint so it hardens, then can be disposed at your local waste or recycling center.  In California we have a hazardous waste recycling facility that picks up paint and handles recycling of cans and disposal of liquid paint. Search online for that kind of facility in your area