How Long Does Paint Actually Last?

A recent Bank of America poll showed that more people – over 70 percent of those polled – are breaking out their toolboxes and tackling home improvement projects during COVID-19. And painting, especially reusing paint you already have, is an affordable way to improve your home and make your house more inviting (which we all need more of during this unprecedented time). Before you break out your church key and paint roller, though, let’s find out how long paint lasts.

With Paint, Time Is on Your Side

You might be surprised to find out that, when stored properly, paint shelf life can last for 10-15 years. There are some basic things to note, though.

The shelf life of your paint depends on the type of paint and the quality of the paint.

Unopened latex paints and water-based acrylic paints last for about 10 years while alkyd paints and oil-based paints can last as long as 15 years. That’s because they haven’t been exposed to as much air as an opened can, and they still have the same ratio of ingredients (semi-solids to liquids).

Storage condition plays a big role. If the paint was stored in a garage or shed, where it was exposed to temperature extremes, even unopened paint may be ruined.

How Can You Tell if Paint Has Gone Bad?

Pry open the can and stir the paint. This can take a while – five minutes or more in some cases – so keep stirring until it’s combined. Then dip in a brush and spread the paint on a piece of paper or cardboard. If it’s smooth, you’re golden. Go ahead with your paint project.

If the paint has grainy lumps you can’t stir out, or if it smells rancid, throw it out.

It’s important to dispose of paint properly. If there’s more than a little left in the can, harden the paint with sawdust, scrap paper, cat litter, or a waste paint hardener (try your hardware store). Once the paint is dry, throw away the can.

Note that oil-based paint is hazardous household waste, so contact your local government for the best way to dispose of it.

What About Open Paint?

Even if the can has been opened, there’s still hope. You may find a thick skin on top, thanks to the paint’s exposure to air. Remove that with a paint stick before stirring what’s left in the can. As with unopened cans, if the paint blends smoothly, you’re good to go.

Make the Most of Leftover Paint

Reusing leftover paint is an affordable, fun way to spruce up your house. Try one of these paint jobs with yours:

  • Paint the dining room chairs – Paint the whole chair, or paint parts of it in color-block or dip-fashion, and you’ve got a chair with a whole, new look.
  • Give an old dresser a color boost – Paint the sides (inside and outside) of the drawers, then line them with coordinating paper, so you get a happy surprise every time you open a drawer.
  • Update your backsplash – A backsplash makeover gives your kitchen an instant facelift. Instead of installing a new tile, paint the existing tile a new hue. (Your hardware store or the tile company can help you with instructions and a supply list.)
  • Give an old picture frame new life – If you’re like us, you have several outdated or unused picture frames squirreled away in the closet. Coat yours with a new color and you have the perfect piece for artwork, family photos, or the kitchen chalkboard.

Looking for more fun paint ideas? Check out our Color Tool, where you can browse trending colors like 2020’s Color of the Year, Chinese Porcelain. You can also take advantage of our free color sampling program, and order 8” x 8” paint swatches to try on colors at home.