Does Paint Expire?

Updated: Jan. 04, 2024

Have a bunch of old paint cans in your garage? Discover how long they will last or if it's time to toss them.

Every time we freshen up a room or exterior of our home with a new coat of paint, we end up with leftovers. It’s helpful to keep the extra paint for touch-ups or small projects in the future. But over the years these cans and bottles accumulated in our garage, taking up space.

During a recent move to a new home, we wondered how much of this paint was still usable. Here are some insights about whether paint expires so you can decide if it makes sense to keep or toss yours.

Does Paint Expire?

Yes. Paint can expire over time.

“While it doesn’t have a fixed expiration date like food, its quality can deteriorate, making it less effective and potentially unusable,” says David Sutter, president of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company.

“Paint cans often have a manufacturing date or batch number, which can be used to estimate the shelf life. They may also include recommended storage instructions such as temperature ranges and advice on sealing the can properly.”

Several factors play a role in how long paint lasts. According to Ashley Woodyatt, an interior designer and founder of Woodyatt Curtains, lifespan depends on the type used and its age at the point of purchase.

“You also need to look at whether the paint is oil or water-based [oil is likely to last longer] and also whether the paint has been stored in an optimal environment or not,” he says.

Additional factors include the type of container, what additives in the paint that prolong its life, finish types (higher sheen and gloss soil-based paint last long than flat or matte water-based), and whether the can was opened.

Shelf Life Of Different Types Of Paint

Each type of paint has a different shelf life to consider.

Water-based latex and acrylic paint

“When sealed properly and stored in a cool, dry place, unopened water-based paints can last up to 10 years,” says Chris Kinlaw, a interior and furniture designer and founder of the luxury furniture company Mixma. “Once opened, it’s best to use them within two to five years.”

Oil-based paint

These tend to last longer than water-based paint. “Unopened cans stored in proper conditions can last up to 15 years,” Kinlaw says. “Once opened, it’s a good idea to use them within two to five years, though they can sometimes remain viable for longer.”

Spray paint

Spray paint doesn’t last as long as regular paint. “You can expect a can of spray paint to start to expire around the three-year mark,” Woodyatt says. “But it’s always best to purchase when you intend to use rather than store long-term in the event that it does indeed expire earlier.”

Chalk paint

As one of the most eco-friendly paint options available, chalk paint only lasts about one to five years. “Chalk paint doesn’t film over like latex paint but it develops an overall thicker consistency,” says Mariya Snisar, head of interior design at Renowell. “If your old chalk paint has thickened, you can revive it by adding water.”

Milk paint

This type expires the fastest. “It only lasts one or two days because of having milk proteins,” says Snisar. “If you refrigerate it, milk paint can last up to one week.” Some milk paints feature additives that preserve them for longer.

Signs Paint Has Expired

Not sure if your paint is still OK to use? Here are some signs it may have had its day:

  • Dried out;
  • Strong, foul, sometimes sour odor;
  • Clumps, lumps or a gritty texture;
  • Separation of the liquid and solids in layers;
  • Mold or mildew growth on the surface;
  • Thick, rubbery or jelly-like consistency;
  • Changes in color;
  • Unusual film on the surface;
  • Rust or corrosion on the paint can;
  • The spray can won’t work.

Tricks To Extend The Life Of Paint

Fortunately, there are some ways to keep paint as fresh as possible.

“My biggest tip for reducing the chances of your paint prematurely expiring is to store it properly,” Woodyatt says. “Don’t just leave it somewhere that is open to the elements. Storing paint in your home in a specific drawer or cabinet is one of the better options.”

Here are some additional tips:

  • Seal cans tightly to keep air out;
  • Store in a cool, dry place away from extreme temperatures;
  • Don’t let paint freeze;
  • Keep it out of direct sunlight;
  • Keep the rim of the can clean to ensure proper resealing;
  • Avoid contaminating the paint with dirt, debris or other foreign substances;
  • If the original can is damaged, transfer the paint to a new container and label it.

What To Do With Expired Paint

It’s important to get rid of expired paint properly. You definitely don’t want to use discolored or chunky paint, or any paint fouled with bacterial or mold growth. “Always follow your local regulations and guidelines for disposing of paint, especially if it contains hazardous materials or is considered toxic waste,” Sutter says.

Check if your local recycling or hazardous waste disposal facility accepts old paint cans, via drop-off or curbside collection. You can also look into professional disposal at paint and hardware stores, or through the paint companies themselves.