How to Dispose of Paint Cans Safely

Discarding old paint cans in the regular trash can create an environmental hazard and cause problems for sanitation workers if the cans rupture or leak. Proper disposal is becoming easier as more municipalities move to provide options for people looking to discard or recycle old paint cans.

  1. Get rid of any extra paint in the cans before disposing of them. Throwing away paint along with your cans causes ecological degradation, so recycle your paint whenever possible. Cities large and small have reuse programs in place that allow residents to drop off excess paint and old paint cans, with this paint sometimes earmarked for distribution to community groups or lower-income families. These drop-off facilities may also take your extra cans, making it simple for you to get rid of the paint and the can all at once.

  2. Fill a paper bag or disposable container with litter, sawdust, sand or a similarly absorbent material. Do this only if you cannot locate a local recycling facility that accepts paint. Pour the extra paint into the bag or bucket and let it dry completely before throwing the bag or container in the trash.

  3. Remove the lid from the paint can; place the lid and the open can in a well-ventilated area. Once you've poured out the extra paint for recycling or trashing, let the can fully dry before disposing. Making sure the drying area has proper airflow is important for your safety, as the paint fumes can be hazardous.

  4. Wait at least 24 hours to ensure thorough drying. Even if the paint appears dry after a few hours, wait at least a full day; paint that appears dry may just be coated with a semi-dry "skin" that still houses wet paint underneath. Waste management personnel will not accept cans that still have wet paint residue inside.

  5. Dispose of the dried paint can in your regular trash.


  • The above instructions apply to water-based paints. Oil-based paints cannot be disposed of in the normal trash. Every municipality has different procedures for oil-based paint disposal; typically, you'll need to seal the can and take it to a local hazardous-waste facility for proper disposal.
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