Tips & Techniques


May 30, 2017

Your Guide to Safe Paint Disposal

When it comes to safe paint disposal, it is critical that it is done in a way that won't cause pollution to drinking water or soil. Paint can become an environmental hazard if incorrectly disposed of.

The problem is that in South Africa, paint is mixed with general waste stream (rubbish bins) or chemicals from paint equipment and gets washed into storm water drains and ends up finding its way into natural waterways.

It is thus recommended that anyone working with paint develops a cleaning system and are mindful of the environment when disposing of paint.

Here is some advice on the safest ways to clean up and dispose of paint.

Solvent-based paint has a shelf life of more or less 15 years. However, we do advise that you use paint within a year after purchase. If you can stir the paint, it is probably still good to use. If paint has been standing for a long time, test it first to see if it is still usable. Stir paint and brush some onto a newspaper. If there are lumps, the paint can no longer be used and should be disposed of properly.

Dirty Paintbrush

Cleaning System

A good cleaning system is based on using 2 containers in which brushes, rollers and other equipment is first washed and then rinsed. Developing a cleaning system and being mindful of the environment when disposing of paint can offset the damage that has already be done.

Water-based Paint

Once you have finished with a painting project, wipe or squeeze off excess paint from your brushes / rollers onto an absorbent material like old rags, newspapers or cardboard.
Allow the absorbent material to dry and dispose of it with normal waste.

Wash paint equipment in a disposable container, i.e. 20 litre or similar container, rather than under a running tap, to save water. Cover the container with a lid and let it stand overnight.

Put the washed equipment in a second container filled with water, for a second rinse.

By the next morning the paint solids would have settled at the bottom of the first container and the clear water can be used to water the garden, plants or grass areas where it can be absorbed into the ground.

Avoid areas near rivers and lakes

To safely dispose of the residue of the paint solids, scrape out the bottom of the container onto absorbent material. Allow it to dry and then place it in a plastic bag and dispose of it with normal waste. Alternatively you could take it to the nearest council landfill. Pikitup can be contacted for details about waste disposal and council landfill areas.

Solvent-based Paint

When using solvent-based paint, it is recommended that you also use the 2 container system as explained for the water-based paints. However, instead of using water you would use mineral turpentine or Polycell Brush Cleaner.

Once you have cleaned and rinsed the paint equipment, allow the first container to stand for at least 24 hours. Because it is solvent-based paint, it will take longer for the paint solids to settle and to give a clear solvent base.


Use the clear solvent to top up the second container or decant it and keep it for future use.

Safely Disposing of Paint

Often, after a paint project, there is left over paint; too little to re-use and most of the times the container is thrown in with normal waste.

When dealing with water-based paint, one should solidify the paint before disposing of it.

Pour dry concrete or sand into the paint and stir. Let the paint stand outside for all solvents to evaporate. Once the paint is dry, peel the paint out with your hand and throw away with normal waste. The container can be kept for other purposes.

After solidifying, paint will be a thick dough ready for disposal.

Solvent-based paints are the most harmful to our environment and when left in containers on landfills it can eventually poison groundwater. Left over solvent-based paint can be returned to any retail paint store and the store will send it to Plascon for safe disposal.

EnviroServe is a waste management company that can assist with the removal of large quantities of left over paint. Large paint contractors often arrange waste containers from EnviroServe for paint disposal.

Alternative uses for left over paint

There are plenty of ways to reuse left over paint. You can either store it for future use or donate it to a school or charity.

How to Store Paint

When storing paint one should always first mark each paint-can by writing down the colour, name and code if the label is not clear anymore. Also write down the room or surface it was used for.

Tips for Safely Storing Paint:

  • Dab a bit of paint onto each can to show the colour inside for easy identification.
  • Keep it out of direct sunlight or other heat sources that will speed up the paint’s deterioration.
  • Store your paint in a cool and dry place – off the ground or concrete floors to keep metal cans from rusting.
  • Use a rubber mallet or place a block of wood on top of the lid and hammer the wood block to close the lid firmly.
  • To create an even tighter air seal, use a plastic bag – cut into a circle larger than the opening of the paint container and use it under the lid.
  • To save space, store small amounts of left over paint in jars or smaller containers. Paint lasts longer in full containers where it gets in contact with less air.
  • Wipe all paint residue from the groove or rim of the container before closing it. This will make it easier to open the lid when you need it again. It will also prevent the air from coming in as the lid will fit tighter.