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.

Does paint expire? YES 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?

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.
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.

16 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?

    • 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,

  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?

    • 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!

  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.

    • 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!

  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?

    • 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?

      • 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

        • 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,

  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!

    • 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.
      PS, when you pull off paint and paper, get a lot and consider several samples.

  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.

    • 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.

  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 ?

    • 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.


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