What do I do with


Paint is a common household product and can become a big problem if it is not handled properly.

  • Paint cansDO NOT pour down the drain. Many of the chemicals in it may not be treated by sewage treatment plants or septic systems. The untreated chemicals may be discharged to rivers and streams and contaminate these waters. Fish, wildlife, plants, and animals can be adversely affected.
  • DO NOT throw in the trash in LIQUID form. When household trash is compacted in a garbage truck, it is released from the can. This causes problems in sanitary disposal trucks and may spill out onto the street. Additionally, Iowa regulations prohibit the landfill disposal of any liquids. Liquids seep down through the garbage, mixing with rainwater and other liquids to form a leachate (which could contaminate groundwater). Groundwater is Iowa’s major source of drinking water.


Plan ahead:

  • Make Eco-friendly choices, such as using low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and primers.
  • Choose water-based (latex) instead of oil-based whenever possible.
  • Choose non-aerosol paints instead of spray paints.
  • Buy only the amount you need for a project. An online calculator can help you figure out what you need.


Share usable paint:

Properly store it. Seal the lid on tightly and store the container upside down. This creates an air-proof seal, so it remains usable longer.

  • Give unwanted amounts to someone else to use (a neighbor, community or school theater group, low income agency, etc.).
  • Don’t like the color when you get it home? Unopened/full cans of *usable* paint may be accepted by the Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity ReStore.


How to dispose of unusable paint:

Dry it out in an area with adequate ventilation (preferably outside). Do not have children or pets in the area. Be very careful not to inhale fumes. Dried paint is acceptable in city garbage trucks and can be taken to the Black Hawk County Sanitary Landfill.

  • Smaller quantities can be dried by removing the lid and allowing the liquids in the can to evaporate. Stir occasionally to hasten the evaporation.
  • waste paint hardenersWaste paint hardener (found in the paint department at local home improvement stores) can speed up the drying process. Pour this absorbent material directly into the bucket or can, then mix it in with a stir stick.
  • When drying in the original can, leave the lid off so disposal workers will know the paint is dried out. Put in the trash when completely dried and hardened.
  • Larger quantities can also be poured in layers (about one-half inch thick) in a cardboard box lined with plastic or newspaper. Repeat as necessary.
  • For paint that has separated and cannot be mixed, pour off the clear liquids on top, leaving a semi-solid paint sludge in the can to dry. Pour the liquid into a cardboard box lined with plastic and mix with an equal amount of absorbent materials (such as clay-based cat litter or floor-dry). The end product should be similar in texture to the absorbent.

Aerosol spray paint:

  • Spray (until empty) into a cardboard box or on newspapers. Throw away the empty spray can and dried paint.
  • Spray paint cans that cannot be emptied (due to a clogged or broken nozzle) can be brought to a Commission-sponsored spring or fall drop-off event.

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