Painting Tips by a Professional

Brad the Painter is reader-supported. As an Amazon Associate I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. This costs you nothing extra.

Can You Use Old Paint? Yes, If You Pass This 3-Question Test

Using old paint is fine if the paint has not ruined in storage. Can you use old paint if it has frozen or ‘turned’? No but sometimes we do resurrect paint.

Does paint go bad?

A reader wrote in and asked, “Can you use old paint?” In general yes if it is still in a good state.

Three Questions. You can use it if…

  • Has the paint ever frozen? (Most attached garages do not freeze—more below.)
  • Inside the paint can, is there any mold/mildew? (You’ll know from that funky smell).
  • Has the paint begun to dry up? (If it sloshes like liquid, it might be ok, but might not).

Your paint did not expire if the answer to ALL of the questions is all “no”.

Did you fail the test? Then read how to get rid of expired paint, below.

Did you pass? Next, we show you how to strain paint for use. Usually, you will need a strainer to strain the chips out.

Related posts:

Be sure to read our complete list of every painting tool you could ever need.


Can You Use Old Paint?

If you made it this far, yes, use your old paint! Ready? Here is a post just on straining paint.

How to use old paint: We are going to make it like new.

Without shaking, open the paint can. What is it like inside? If it’s just some dried chips around the edges it’s generally ok. These chips will get into your new project…but simply use a strainer to strain the chips out.

To strain paint without buying anything, you can use an old nylon sock or ladies’ stockings. These strain very slowly but do work. We buy the large bag paint strainers (they do 5-gallons or less) and if we only used them for latex, we wash them and re-use many times. They are not expensive. Just don’t let them dry up.

Once you strain your paint, you can have a paint store shake it for free, as long as your old can isn’t rusty. If it is, just get a new empty can. The same is true if you have a mangled lid (see photo below).
Tip: Use a marker to label the can in several places, not just the lid!

Can I use old paint if it has mold growing in it?

If you do, you will grow toxic mold wherever you apply it, so again, the answer is no if it’s a moldy oldie. Sorry to be so negative. Mold is unworkable: see below how to dispose of a can of paint legally, or add this powder to harden it.

Paint storage and saving old paint:

The shelf life of paint can be very long and using old paint is a money-smart idea. The key is to protect from freezing. Old paints had an antifreeze with VOC added that is unhealthy so it was removed. So modern paints freeze more quickly. Your garage probably is ok if it’s attached to your house.

Closing the can properly for next time:

One big tip for not splattering paint all over: if you have paint in the lid gullet (the valley the lid wedges into), place a rag over the lid before you hammer it closed. The splatter will go into the rag.

How to get rid of unwanted paint properly:

Most laws forbid liquid paints to be placed into the garbage, for good reason. Don’t get a ticket! Dump a packet of this powder into a gallon and it dries right up.


Paint can be good for years and years. The bigger question is: what is stored properly and protected from freezing? Older paints stay liquid for a few hours below freezing (they have the old toxic VOC glycol anti-freeze). Modern paints freeze easily, but most attached garages don’t freeze.

  • How can I tell if my paint has frozen? It will look like cottage cheese, only it will be Navy Blue cheese. Read below how to dispose of it legally. Remember, Big Brother is going through your trash.
  • Does paint go bad? Yes, because mold can grow inside. Some paints such as the better bathroom paints have mildewcides in the mix, which retards this.
  • How do I know if the paint is bad? You’ll know, believe me. If your nose does not work, find a nose that does. If the it doesn’t smell like paint, it’s the mold talking. (Most towns give tickets if you put any liquid paint int he trash! Use the hardener shown above.
using old paint
This lid would not come off so we’ll make a hole and drain it into a new can!

So there is nothing wrong with using old paint because the shelf life of paint is extremely long if you stored it properly. Note: some paints today are sold in plastic cans. Plastic is not air-tight. They slowly allow evaporation. You can see this in the reduced shelf life of paint in these cans.

Read about why you should not use old exterior paints inside your home (there is a big difference between interior and exterior paint for reasons of temperature: exterior paints must flex).

This post is about old latex paints, but a note on oil-based paints: they last a very long time even if air gets into the can. They form a ‘skin’ on the top of the liquid which actually tends to protect the liquid below (but the formula is altered by this). Pull the skin aside, and pour!

Always wear a respirator when working around oils: they contain cancer-causing agents.

Did we leave anything out? I always check the comment section.

Video of how to shake and deal with old paint:
Would you like us to create a post on paint storage? We’ve been asked how long does paint last, and does paint go bad? If you understand the storage tips above,  how long does paint last in a can depends on the details?
One reader replied with his method of extending the life of old paint. I have never tried it but it’s intriguing.
Does paint go bad in a bucket such as the 5-gallon pails you see in stores? Again, plastic does breathe. We have purchased these pails from long-term paint storage at low cost and they all had to be strained as they had coagulated somewhat.
I reply to all comments, please feel free.

38 thoughts on “Can You Use Old Paint? Yes, If You Pass This 3-Question Test”

  1. My old paint looks good except for one thing. The colors have started to separate out. There is no clear fluid on the top of the paint. The texture is good. Can I still use this paint?

    Reply
    • You mean in the can the ‘vehicle’ and the heavier pigments and resins have separated. Even if you have no clear liquid on top, it’s still perfectly normal. Any paint store will shake it up for you: it will need a couple of minutes in a real shaker. …that is asl long as the can is not rusty. They could refuse out of danger of the can tearing open. If so, just stir very very well.
      Does the paint smell bad or normal. I use smell as my main measure.
      Good luck,
      b

      Reply
  2. I got some paint fro work that they were giving away from a recycling program. I didn’t smell anything at 1st, but then as i was painting around the toilet…it smelled…sewer-y?? So I started freaking out that the paint was bad. But when I held the brush to my nose…smelled the walls…the paint in the can…nothing. Am I worrying for nothing? Is it all in my head?

    Reply
    • I always smell an old can first. Take it outside or in a place far, far away, in a different galaxy maybe. Smell it there and ask someone else also.
      If it smells bad, trash it.
      Then smell the walls after some ventilation. Get really close. Any smell could be mold. If so, search my site for the mold paint article.
      Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Many websites say that unopened latex has a 10 year shelf life. Is this just a standard industry line? Last year I used some leftover15 year old latex on basement walls and it looks perfect. Now I’m thinking of using some 20 year old paint which doesn’t smell and looks okay in the can.

    Reply
    • Two things. As long as it has not been opened and has not frozen, it will have decent properties, maybe not as godd as when new, but fine. If frozen at some pint, it will look like cottage chees and maybe smell.
      Smell in general is a good way to know. Moldy paint stinks. It’s not like food that’s boiled so some bacteria will be in every can. But if not openend, it’s not going to have much chance to grow.

      Secondly, I’ve bought paint from a paint store that had stringy lumps. This is how I found out that paint sits around for a long time before it’s shipped.
      So when spraying, always strain, even new paint. You are rolling so no need, but just check it out.
      Good luck!
      b

      Reply
  4. My wife painted with old paint. Now room smells and we can’t get rid of smell. What can do we now on the 2 walls to get rid of that possible old/moldy paint?

    Reply
    • Can you reply? How long since you painted? Smell may only last a month.
      You can keep room warm which will accelerate the curing time.
      If it’s been a long time, you should cover the walls with PRime Lock, and oil based primer that will block most or all of the smell. Then paint normall.
      I’d wait after Prime Lock dries well to see if it worked before spending more on new paint.
      Let me know?
      B

      Reply
      • It was only yesterday. It does smell mildewy which makes me think possible mold in paint since it was over 2 years old. 10/2017

        Reply
        • Ok, good. Yes, it was probably moldy. So eventually, that mold will grow again, but if your room is not damp, you should be ok for a while.
          My advice before would be best: seal it off with PrimeLock. Other than that, just wait and see about the smell, short and long term.
          Good luck,
          B

          Reply
  5. Hi Brad,
    I’d love to get your insight into this:
    A year ago, we purchased our home, which was newly remodeled (flipped). Shortly thereafter there were some faulty electrical issues in one of the walls In our office room downstairs. The electrician had to make several holes in the wall and after he was done, he patched and repainted that wall. Ever since there’s been a strong odor emanating from the room and it’s been almost a year. I’ve tried putting inside heaters for a few days because maybe the paint didn’t dry , ive tried airing it out with fans for weeks, but nothing helps. I’m beginning to think that maybe I need to scrape off al of that paint on that wall and redo it? I would love your advice. Thanks in Advance!

    Reply
    • Well, I guess we don’t know if that smell was there before they renovated, right?
      Yes, try some scraping. Pull off the paper layer of the sheet rock and take it away to a closed room and smell it. Then you will know if the smell is int he wall. If no smell, you’ll have to knock a hole into the wall and put your nose in there to smell.
      At worst, if you cannot take the smell which will probably eventually go away, you’ll have to take down the rock and re-do it. It’s not the end of the world, and you can learn all about drywall etc on youtube.
      Good luck.
      B
      PS, when you pull off paint and paper, get a lot and consider several samples.

      Reply
  6. Is my paint old if it doesn’t stick to the metal door? If not old, what would cause this? I did sand prior to painting.

    Reply
    • Some metals need a primer and paint won’t stick. That’s my first thought.
      Pick up a metal primer. Wipe the metal well with alcohol first: just to make sure no oils are on the surface.
      Good luck.
      B

      Reply
  7. hi brad
    during this uncertain time im looking to do a fun activity with my kids is there anything that i can make out of paint like maybe a candle out of dry paint turn it into a cubr and put a wick in it or any other creative idea you may have ?

    Reply
    • With the paints we deal with, they would make a catastrophe only. Look into wax. Paint will not function in a candle. Dried paint is just a toxic waste. But also do look into non-toxic paints for kids and let them paint chairs etc. That’s fun.
      Good luck.
      b

      Reply
      • What about a small wall/area/board of chalk paint for them? You could help them create it, and the paint is actually a “chalk paint”- that is/can be used as one would use a chalk board. My daughter is older now, but, if I still had littles…I would love to do a project like this! ❤

        Reply
  8. Used painters tape. When i removed it the new paint came off. Came off like a bubble also removed paint from a jub done a year ago, was there something wrong with the new paint .it made bubbles on the wall.

    Reply
    • That happens when you have a lot of moisture in the wall. Give it time and see if it flattens out. Or srape, spackle and paint 3x if not. (prime+2).
      The green tape should not do that so you are right, there is a problem in your bonding. I suspect the prep between coats, or before the first coat of the old job. Best to remove, use STIX or a good bonging primer and repaint. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the good news is that it’s fixable. As horror stories go, this one is PG.

      Good luck,
      b

      Reply
  9. What an ironic and timely article. The search “15 year old latex primer” brought me here, and I have a very similar situation as the last question posted, not even a day ago.
    In 2006 (!!!) I was two-toning a room and when I pulled the tape in the corners, the primer came with. I used Gripper primer and after the failure I had the paint rep take a look and he said my walls were too smooth. That was the point. I was attempting a level 4-5 finish. I spent a ton of time and money working on this room with j-beads, l-bead, No-Coat, and there was a lot of rework to do. I had success taping corners for different colors on previous projects with arguably lesser quality materials with no problems, and I was so angry about this, I just let the room sit.
    Looking for light projects shortly after rotator cuff/bicep surgery, I started back in this room. A few corners of drywall taped ripped out and fixed, a lot of sanding, and I was ready to make progress. I researched primers about a week ago and couldn’t find Kilz Adhesion High-Bonding primer locally, but I saw STIX. I picked a gallon up last week and was finally ready to give it try.
    I painted three walls earlier tonight. Two had a dark blue semi-gloss that had been sanded very well, new corners on one wall and the ceiling, and various spackled touch-ups and some screw-pops. The other wall had the Gripper primer as well as some spackle touch ups, and that wall although still very smooth, was sanded for adhesion.
    The STIX stuck, but it looked like I had no clue what I was doing. And that may be true! 😄 I wasn’t expecting the STIX to completely hide the dark blue, but there are some spots where I can see each final roll with a lot of blue showing.
    The old primered wall looked much better. But I couldn’t keep a wet edge at all. I was thinking instead of another expensive coat of STIX, I could just get some regular Benny primer, cause hopefully the STIX will do the job of bonding the the old surface and a regular primer will give me the hide factor as well as a smoother finish. ANNNNd…I remembered that I have some Fresh Start primer that I bought after this fiasco in 2006. Curiosity got me and I opened the aged brand new can. Not much smell at all. About 3-5 minutes of mixing and it looked good. I rolled about a one square foot section on freshly sanded blue wall. Not even three hours later, I tried blue tape and then tried some really sticky duct tape that I had been using to test other areas for adhesion, and ripped both off without issue.
    And as luck would have it…I was using a light to check the new prime job, pulled the cord and knocked that can over and there was paint all over the bottom. The can isn’t rusty, but there is now a hole on the bottom. What luck. It’s in the paint tray with plastic on the bottom holding steady 😄
    So….if read all that 😂 What is your opinion on this vintage Fresh Start (216) ?
    Thank you,
    mike

    Reply
    • Yes, now that you see adhesion from the Stix, you’re good to go with your top coat. I doubt you need fresh start after all that. Do a test with 2 lightly brushed coats of your top coat color and see if it’s good coverage. I bet it will be fine…if you use a good quality paint.
      Reply here and by email so I don’t miss any follow up, if you need to.
      GOod luck,
      b

      Reply
  10. Thank you so much for looking at that small novel!
    My update this this it that the STIX didn’t bond to the joint compound as well. I even bought a new roll of the pink light adhesive tape…which honestly feels stronger than my old blue, and that pulls it off as well. Bonding in the field was pretty decent, but not in the corners. I have since used paint stripper on about 30′ foot of corners and have been gouging out old joint compound. I have been doing more reading on this and many pros don’t even think that dust is a problem before painting, but I do. I read a comprehensive article last night about a university that had paint adhesion problems. It was very long but the major take-away was that thinning the JC left too little binders in the mix, causing the failure to occur at the compound. I really don’t think that was the case, cause that would be twice now that primer didn’t adhere to joint compound, but I am now trying the DAP pink. It’s different, too early to tell how I like it. I also bought a spray can of oil-based BIN and that seemed to work in a small area that I had reworked. I can still remove it with duct tape, but the painter’s tape was fine. My only thought now it that I should either back roll that or just get a can of it instead of spraying, so I can mash it in there😄
    After this room failed in 2006, I actually used the oil BIN hi-hide for my bathroom and had zero issues with bonding and that has been finished for 10 years. With my new research I found STIX and figured to give that a shot. So right now I am just thinking that the compound has some issues. It has been a real nightmare project for sure. I have taped corners and ceilings in the past without even thinking of tape lift off, but for this room, it is impossible.
    Thank you again for reading.
    mike

    Reply
    • Yes, thinning any product, paint or mud can cause problems. They say not to do it and we usually think it’s to save thier legal behinds…but it sometimes is really true.
      Good luck!
      Stick with Bin…pun intended…if it works best for you.
      b

      Reply
  11. Brad, I fear that I purchased bad/contaminated paint from Home Depot. It was PPG paint. I hired a pro to apply to walls and ceiling. As he was painting, no smell except for wet pain. As it began to dry, the room smelled like sour milk or dill pickles. It was a new gallon of paint, just purchased the day before. Research suggests that pain may have had mold or bacteria in it. PPG is trying to tell me how to “cover up” the smell. It has been two weeks and room still smells like sour pickles. I’ve air exchanged and had fans in the room constantly. I’m at my wits end as PPG keeps telling me how to cover up or redo the room completely which will cost hundreds of dollars. Is there any suggestion you can offer? I’ve had to back up carpet install and new furniture for 3 weeks now.

    Reply
    • Yikes what a bad situation. Well, PPG and HD clearly do not want you to sue them. I would contact a lawyer and try to get them to pay for the removal and replacement of the wall boards, or at least removing the paint and “skim coating” the old wall boards. (removing paint will really rip up the wall boards)
      Don’t think you can cover this: that is a dream. They want you to think it’s going to go away, but it’s not.
      It’s bacteria allright.
      This is why I only recommend Ben Moore and S. Williams. It’s more up front but less in the long run and they fade less and are more cleanable.
      Anyway, you don’t need to hear that now! Good luck. Talk to a lawyer. Record any calls you make to PPG etc. They are misleading you about covering it up. They should rectify this.
      Brad

      Reply
  12. Brad, We had two plastic buckets of old oil based exterior paint left over so I decided to refresh my exterior. The first can had been opened but my husband stirred it with a drill and it was perfect. I used it all so we opened the second can which was never opened. It was watery but my husband stirred it with the drill and it finally looked like the last can until I painted the wall. Red pigments came through and gray. So my husband mixed it again but the same thing happened. We mixed one more time still the same. Is there a way to fix this problem? I only have one side of the house left to do. I don’t even know the brand or color of this paint. Hoping you can help. S.

    Reply
    • This is why paint stores use a shaker. The drill is fine for new paints but old ones have pigment really settled out. Just stir longer and harder. Split a gallon into two cans and shake like I show in the video at the bottom of the post. Shake long and hard and then check if pigment is mixed. If not, paint stores will shake for free.
      You’ll find that the walls with unmixed fully paint will not have the same color. You might just need to re-do. I guess it may mean new paint. Hope this helps. B

      Reply
      • Brad,
        Thanks so much for the tip. I will split the mix. The color looks perfect in the pan so I think more mixing and shaking will do the trick. I’ll let you know if that works. Thanks for your prompt reply!

        Reply
  13. Hey Brad, Good stuff! I discovered your site today and gotten all the answers I needed about old paint and its properties. As I was reading thru the posts, I did wonder about the compatibility of painting latex on enamel or enamel on latex (oil and acrylic). What’s the rule of thumb here? Does time between application play a role?

    PS. Because of a head trauma 20 years ago I lost my sense of smell (and I happen to have a lot of old paint), so I will have to have someone do the smell test for me. Is old paint recyclable?
    Your insight is most appreciated.

    Reply
    • Oil of latex is fine: just a light sanding to knock off the ticks.
      Latex over oil is a recipe for disaster if not done right.
      Oil is not porous. It must be deglossed or sanded very well for latex to stick. I always prime after de gloss with high bonding primer like Stix from Ben Moore.
      There are other good bonding primers.
      Time is not important here.
      Yes, let someone smell it. If mouldy, discard it. Otherwise, just filter with an old ladies’ stocking… could be a young lady… ha ha… just a fine mesh stocking or professionally made paint strainer. Old paint must be stirred/shaken very well Mr. Bond.
      Yes they recycle if you can find a place. Do try!
      b

      Reply
  14. Can I use an opened 3-4 year old mold killing primer ? I have Zinsser mold killing primer that I used on the bathroom ceiling around 3 or 4 years ago and rather than buying a new can am wondering if it’s still safe to use?

    Reply
  15. Hi Brad, I have various old cans of acrylic white paint that are still good but cans have no label so I do not know if they are undercoat or top coat. How can I work out what they are.

    Reply
    • No way to tell if they are primer or paint.
      Smell to see if all water-based. Latex paint smells of ammonia. Oil smells like oil.
      Just don’t mix those!
      So all latex could be combined and be passable for some cottage maybe. But interior paint cracks if frozen (I mean on the wall). Exterior is softer and moves with temp.
      So you’re taking a big risk if you mix.
      Good luck.

      Reply
  16. i have a plastic tub of Bulls Eye primer that is about 2 years old and has been setting in a closer of my heated basement. WhenI oppened it today it was water on the top and a thick mass on the bottom. I tried to stir it but was the consistency of refrigerated butter. I was able to scrape it and with effort get it to kind of mix. would putting it in a large bucket, and using a potato masher to break it up then using a paint mixer on a drill to mix un till smooth work? I do not give up without a good try. Thanks for being willing to share wirh us.

    Reply
    • I’d not give up either. I suspect it’s fine. If you have a drill attachment mixer in a large bucket (cover partially with a cloth when you mix and protect the floor), that’s going to be the best way. Elbow grease would be fine, but slow.
      If it was never frozen and only 2 years old? It’s fine most likely. If it does not smell bad…like mold.. I’d use it.
      B

      Reply

Leave a Comment