Safe disposal or recycling of paint, primer, and other surface coatings depends on the primary base ingredient, which is usually either water or an oil-based solvent. Paint can labels usually give some indication, typically in large font on the front, of the primary ingredient.
Understanding Paint and Coating Types
Latex paint, by far the most popular type of house paint today, and acrylic paint, used for art projects and also as a home surface paint, are both water based paints, which means there are more safe disposal options available. Oil-based house paint and fine art paint are still on the market, as are many solvent-based lacquers and finishes. Traditional nail polish is technically a solvent-based lacquer! A flammability warning on the container label is an indication of one of these products. The brush washing instructions can be another important clue - if it says to clean brushes or any spills using mineral spirits, it's an oil-based product. Spray paint and other coatings in aerosol containers should be assumed to be oil-based unless the label clearly says otherwise.
Disposal Options by Product Type
Oil-based Paints, Primers, Stains, Varnishes, Enamels and Lacquers
These products should be disposed of as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW). Due to the costs and challenges associated with HHW disposal and the increased health hazards associated with their application, we recommend that homeowners starting a new project consider using water-based products instead where feasible. Please see the map below for drop-off locations for these products and also see the HHW pages. There are a few additional options for spray paint at the bottom of the page.
Water-based Paints, Primers and Finishes
Latex and acrylic paints are water-based and have a very low levels of toxicity. Disposing of these paint types as hazardous waste is unnecessary and very expensive. State-funded collection sites such as the Naperville HHW facility do not accept water-based paint. Residents with unwanted latex or acrylic paint are encouraged to explore the following options:
Reduce first - Buy only what you need! The best way to reduce waste is by buying only as much paint as needed for your project. Measure the surface area of your walls or other painting project. Once you have the total square footage, divide by 400 square feet per gallon. This will give you the approximate number of gallons needed to complete one coat. Two coats is usually sufficient for painting over a light shade of existing paint. Painting fresh drywall or replacing a dark shade with a lighter one may require additional coats.
Save leftover paint for touch-ups by transferring leftovers to a smaller container (unless your can is more then half full - then it can be left as is), cleaning the can and lid rims and replacing the lid firmly. Store in a climate-controlled area (e.g., in a basement, closet or utility room instead of an unheated garage). Paint may need to be re-agitated before use.
See this page for some lighthearted tips on successful paint storage.
- Add an extra coat to your project or paint something else to avoid leftovers. Once the can is empty, let the residue dry out and recycle the can. Both the can in your curbside bin or at a metal recycler.
- Find a friend or neighbor who needs to paint a small area.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations may take unopened cans of paint for use or resale.
Recycle Liquid Latex Paint (dried up paint cannot be recycled - see trash disposal below)
Leave your liquid paint for recycling in its original can. Cans should not be combined/mixed.
Recycle liquid latex paint at an event: In 2022, Kane County will be recycling liquid latex paint on May 14, July 9, and October 8, working with our recycling partner ePaint. See our events page for more details. There is a per-container recycling fee for latex paint at Kane County events payable upon drop-off with cash or card as follows: Quart cans and smaller are $1 each, gallon cans are $3 each, two-gallon cans are $5 each and 5 gallon buckets are $15 each.
Use a local drop-off: In August of 2022 we made a new map of locations in and near Kane County that accept various paint types for recycling. Note, the map points contain information about acceptance and pricing that is subject to change without notice. It's always best to call ahead before dropping off. Click on the "four corners" icon in the top right of the map to pop out into a new browser window. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any additions or updates for the map.
Remember to recycle any empty paint cans and lids: A thin coating of dried paint on the inside walls and bottom is ok. Put them in with your household recycling; throw open cans and loose lids into bins/carts separately.
Throwing Latex Paint in the Trash: Dried up latex paint can be disposed of in regular household trash. If the above reuse and recycling options are not viable and you have liquid paint to get rid of, set your cans outside with the lids off on a warm, clear day to facilitate drying. Adding an absorbent material like kitty litter, sawdust, or shredded paper will help the paint dry more quickly. Once solidified, place one or two cans per week in trash, with the lids off. If you have large quantities that you need to get rid of all at once, call your waste hauler for guidance.