The Shelf-Life of Home Paint


Just Paint or Junk Paint: Telling if Your Paint is Still Good to Us

Your walls need a bit of a touch-up. Luckily, you’ve still got cans of paint lying around from when you did the walls the first time! But before you go slathering it all over your living room, take a second and check whether that leftover paint is still in good condition. Yes, cans of paint can go bad, especially when they’re not stored properly. So before you dip into that old can you’ve been saving, it’s worthwhile to test it out first.

When Paint Goes Bad….

How can you tell if your paint has gone bad? Surprisingly, Paint is a lot like milk: you can usually sense when it’s gone rotten using your sight, touch, and smell. Just don’t taste!

Things to Check Out

The Film

Cans of paint can develop a film on the surface of the product when left for long periods. A normal film will easily break apart when prodded. Some films, however, are chunky and almost rubbery to the touch. This doesn’t automatically mean that the paint underneath the film is bad, but it could be considered a ‘warning sign.’


The Texture

If it’s been in storage for a while, your paint will probably be a little bit lumpy and separated. That in itself isn’t so unusual, and you can usually reincorporate the ingredients with a bit of vigorous stirring. But if you find that the paint still looks lumpy or grainy no matter how hard you stir, it’s probably gone off. If the paint is thick, gelatinous, or contains solid chunks, those are telltale signs to throw the can away.

The Smell

Paint has a pretty strong, recognizable smell. It’s chemically and distinct, but if you find that the scent is moldy, rancid, or even sour, that’s not a good sign. You’re better off buying an entirely new can.

Even if your paint passes all these tests, it’s still a good idea to do a trial swatch on a piece of cardboard. It only takes a few minutes, and it will show you how the paint will look when it goes up on your wall. Why take a chance on an unsatisfactory final product?

Paint Shelf Life

The potential shelf life of your paint depends on a few factors: whether or not the can is open, the type of paint, and how the cans are stored.

The more paint is exposed to air, the faster it will go bad. Exposure, among other things, will ultimately change the chemical composition of your paint, so the less oxygen that touches it, the more likely it is to last. Unopened cans of latex and water-based paints can typically last up to 10 years, while alkyd and oil-based paints can last up to 15! Once you crack open that can, however, you’ll probably have a few months to a few years left to use them.

Good Conditions

So how can you make sure that your paint stays fresher longer? It’s all about the storage! Here are some tips for keeping your leftover paint in good condition.


Cans of paint are more likely to go bad when exposed to extreme temperatures. It doesn’t matter if it’s heat, cold, or cycles of both—exposure to the elements can change the chemical makeup of your paint. That’s why experts recommend storing your paint in a dry place where there are consistently cool temperatures, like in your utility cupboard or your mudroom. Garages, porches, and cold cellars are all ill-advised because of their variable and extreme temps.

Proper Sealing

Like we said before, the more your paint is in contact with the air, the shorter its lifespan will be. Ensuring your paint cans are well-sealed before storing them will keep them fresh longer. Do this by opening and closing your cans carefully. Instead of prying it open with a screwdriver – which can warp the lid and lead to a poor seal – use a dedicated paint can opener.

When you’re ready to shut the can, use a rubber mallet to tap the lid back on firmly. If you don’t have a mallet, put a piece of plywood over the can and hammer it down. This will prevent the hammer from denting the lid. Finally, when pouring the paint, use a paint spout instead of pouring directly from the can. This will ensure the paint doesn’t harden around the lip of the can, which can make it difficult to get a good seal.

Now you’re all set! You know how to separate the good paint from the bad, seal your cans, and store them properly. Use your new knowledge with pride, and go ahead and paint those walls. And remember, in paint emergencies, J.T. McDermott is always here to help. Reach out today, and let’s talk about it.


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