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How to Store Leftover Paint to Preserve Freshness, According to Experts

Learn why plastic wrap or a bag is a must!

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After painting a room, fence or other household feature, many of us like to keep the leftover liquid on hand for touch-ups. But if paint isn’t stored properly in between projects, it can become useless or inadequate quality the next time you need it. This means a waste of money since you now must go out and buy a fresh can. To avoid the hassle, we got painting pros to share how to store leftover paint properly, plus what to do when you’re ready to use it again. 

How to store paint in the original can

Sometimes you buy more paint for a room than you end up needing or only require a can for a small project. In that case, most people hold onto some of what’s left for future touch-ups or other projects. Luckily, you can keep it in its original container for storage. 

One downside to storing paint in its can: It can be tricky to tell if you have enough left for a new project without having to pry it open. To sidestep this, use your paintbrush to draw a thick line on the outside of the can, level with the liquid. Then when you’re ready to repaint, you can see the amount — and the color — immediately. 

A paint can marked with paint to show how much liquid is left
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Ready to prepare the can for storage? “You do need to make sure you clean the paint out of the rim of the top of the can first — we just use a paintbrush to do this,” shares Anthony Kulikowski, owner of Five Star Painting of South Bend, a Neighborly Company. 

Next, you’ll want to add a layer of protection before you add the lid. “For an airtight seal, place a piece of plastic wrap between the lid and the opening of the can,” says Julie Fisher, product manager for Dutch BoyPaints.  

You can also opt for a plastic bag on top of the can. Either method will prevent any metal-to-metal corrosion caused by the lid touching the can. Plus, the trick helps shield the paint next time you open the can. This ensures dirt or rust doesn’t drip from the lip of the can into the once-clean paint. 

A plastic bag over a paint can to preserve freshness
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“Then place the lid on the can and a rag over the top of the lid (this is to catch any paint splattering off of the can as you tap the lid down),” says Kulikowski. “You can then use a small hammer or rubber mallet to gently tap the edges all around the can to ensure a good proper seal.”

Related: Why You Should Never Scrub Paint Off Your Skin and What To Do Instead

Storing paint in extra containers

Leftover paint stored in jars
SbytovaMN/Getty

If you’re short on space or only have a small amount of paint left, repurpose other containers to ensure it stays fresh. Kulikowski says Mason jars (with a lid) are great for this.

Another clever option: Store small amounts of leftover paint in rinsed-out shampoo bottles. When something needs a touch-up, shake and squeeze a little onto a paper plate. That way, you don’t have to keep a whole can of paint stored away for minor touch-ups.

Larger amounts of leftover paint can also be stored in clean plastic laundry detergent bottles. It guarantees the paint doesn’t dry out once you’ve screwed the lid on tightly. Then when the walls need touch-ups, simply pour the paint from the no-drip spout into a tray.

The key for any of these options? “Make sure to label your new container with the brand, finish, and paint color,” adds Kulikowski. This prevents any mix-ups or confusion later!

What not to do when storing paint

No matter what storage option you choose for your leftover paint, there are some environmental factors you should keep in mind. “Never leave paint in an area where it could freeze,” he says. “Ideally, you also want to store paint in a cool dry place away from sunlight.”

Finally, ensure you properly seal the lid of your paint can or container of choice. If it dries out when stored away, you won’t be able to use it when you need it!  

With proper storage, you can help your leftover paint last for years to come. “Most paints will have a shelf life of two – 10 years after they’ve been opened,” says Kulikowski.

How to prep stored leftover paint for use

Paint in a can about to be stirred
Jaap2/Getty

After giving your bathroom a beautiful new hue, you tucked away the extras in storage. A few months later, you decide you’d like to use the same stunning color for a piece of restored furniture.

The first thing to do once you’ve opened your container? “Smell it to ensure it hasn’t developed a foul odor, which indicates bacterial growth,” says Fisher. “It’s natural for latex paint to develop a film on top after being stored for some time; simply remove the film and check the paint underneath.”

Once you’ve checked for odors, focus on the consistency. “Before you use the paint that’s been sitting around for a while you’ll want to stir it well before use, and also make sure the color is consistent and there is no separation or chunks in the paint,” explains Kulikowski. Straining may be necessary before you can use the paint. This will likely be the case for paint that has been sitting for a long period of time, like years.

You can have the paint professionally re-mixed at a paint store too. “This service ensures thorough mixing, which is often more effective than stirring or shaking the paint yourself,” adds Fisher. Once you mix your paint back to the proper consistency, it’s time to start on your project! (Want to protect your fixtures while you paint? Learn how aluminum foil can help!)


For more helpful painting tips, keep reading!

Professional Painters Reveal the Best Ways to Clean Paint Rollers

How to Get Paint Out of Carpet — The Genius Shop-Vac Hack That Makes It So Easy

How to Get Spray Paint Out of Clothes — Genius WD-40 Trick Makes It So Easy

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