Guide to Household Paint Disposal

How to Deal with Unused or Unwanted Paint

Each year Illinoisans flush thousands of gallons of leftover or unwanted paints, solvents and thinners down their sinks and drains, and dump thousands of gallons more into their trash cans. These actions can overwhelm sewage systems, destroy septic tanks, and damage landfills’ protective barriers. The resulting contamination fouls surface and underground waters we all depend on for consumption and recreation. You can ease these threats to human health and the environment by following a few simple steps:

Use Paint Completely or Give It Away
Have your paint dealer help you estimate correct amounts for your project. Afterward, if some paint remains, apply additional coats to use it completely.
If you have useful quantities of leftover paint, ask friends, neighbors or relatives if they can use it. Otherwise, donate leftover paint to churches, animal shelters, housing authorities, theater groups or others who can use it. Recipients will appreciate your generosity even more when you give them paint in original containers having legible labels.
Partners for Waste Paint Solutions
In 1995, the Illinois EPA launched an innovative program called Partners for Waste Paint Solutions. Participating retailers accept leftover paint to help protect the environment. Some stores accept only latex (water-based) paint. Others accept both latex and oil-based paints.
Retailers reserve the right to limit quantities of leftover paint they will accept. Some may charge a small fee for this service. Others may accept paint returns only during certain hours or on certain days.
A few enterprising Partners reformulate returned paint and sell resulting blends to homeowners or painting contractors, occasionally donating some reformulated paint to charitable organizations. Paints unsuitable for blending are consolidated for collection by waste-industry professionals.
For the location of a Partners for Waste Paint Solutions store nearest you, call (217) 785-8604.
Household Hazardous Waste Collections
If you’re unable to use, donate or return leftover paint, store it safely until you can take it to an Illinois EPA household hazardous-waste collection. The Agency conducts a number of free collections statewide each spring and fall. To find out when a household hazardous-waste collection will be coming to your area, and what hazardous products besides paint are accepted, call (217) 785-8604.
If a collection has not been scheduled for your community, or for one nearby, urge your local officials to cosponsor future events. Ask them to contact the Agency’s Waste Reduction Unit by calling (217) 785-8604.
Other Disposal Options
Paints containing lead, cadmium or mercury are highly toxic and must be taken to a household hazardous-waste collection. Most other paints can be rendered safe for collection with your general refuse.
Latex Paints
Solidification is essential. Place open cans containing small amounts of latex paint in a well-ventilated area away from children and pets. Allow paint to dry thoroughly. Otherwise, mix paints with absorbants until solidified. Use kitty litter or commercial products for cleaning up oil spills. Place solidified paints with your weekly trash pickup, and recycle empty paint cans if possible.
Oil-Based Paints
Handle paints containing petroleum distillates with great care. They are ignitable and their fumes are potentially harmful. Always follow label directions.
You can solidify oil-based paints by allowing their volatile contents to evaporate in a well ventilated area. Mix remaining liquids with absorbants and allow to harden.
Alternatively, apply leftover paint to scrap lumber or cardboard. Keep children and pets away while these paints are drying. Then place these scraps with your regular trash.
Never pour paint thinners, turpentine, mineral spirits or other solvents down any drain or sewer; never dump them on land or in any waterway. Donate unused products to others.
You can “recycle” used solvents by allowing paint pigments to settle to the bottom, and later pouring the clarified liquid into a new or recycled (and accurately labeled) container. Mix the remaining solvent/paint sludge with an absorbant and dispose with your general refuse.

For more information, contact:

Illinois EPA
Bureau of Land
Solid Waste Management Section
P.O. Box 19276
springfield, IL 62794-9276
(217) 785-8604

General tips for handling and disposing of household hazardous products:

  • Buy only the quantities you need.
  • Keep products in their original containers. Store them according to label directions.
  • Avoid skin contact and vapors.
  • Never mix different products. Violent chemical reactions may occur.
  • If products exceed your needs, ask friends, neighbors, or charitable organizations if they want them.
  • Always dispose of these products in an approved manner, or take them to an Illinois EPA household hazardous-waste collection.