After all the fun and hard work you put into your painting, now comes the cleaning up part, and you may be wondering, how do I clean up the leftover paint? Well, here is a quick guide to show you how to dispose of your acrylic paint easily and environmentally safe.
There are a few ways to dispose acrylic paint. If you have a large amount of cans or tubs that you know you won’t be using anymore, you can start by donating them to many charities or groups in your area. A simpler way of disposing your acrylic paint is to simply let is dry and throw it out.
If you decide to dispose of paint in the trash, it must be dried out or hardened. What I usually do is rinse my brushes out and if it’s close to nothing left on the palette, I will rinse it out in the sink as well, but usually I will let it dry before throwing anything away. I reuse a palette with dried up paint until there’s no more room, and then I will replace my palette. It all depends on how much paint you need to dispose of really.
If it’s just tubes and small cans, then I suggest letting it dry out. If you have tons and tons of cans, then a paint hardener might be a better option.
To dry out a can of water-based paint that’s less than a quarter full, simply remove the lid and leave it in a well-ventilated place for a few days. Speed drying of fuller paint containers by adding mulch, kitty litter, shredded paper or a commercial paint hardener. I have used this Homax Paint Hardener in the past, and it worked quite well.
Can You Pour Acrylic Paint Down the Drain?
Acrylics are a great alternative to traditional oil paint because they are water based, and so there aren’t any fumes, and you can clean up with soap and water. However, at the end of a studio session, the jar or container that you use to rinse off your brushes between colors will have quite a bit of paint in it, and you should not pour this rinse water down drains because many professional-grade paint pigments are toxic, such as the cadmium oxides used for reds, oranges and yellows.
Even if you use “non-toxic” student-grade paints, the pigments and acrylic polymers are still problematic for the waste-water treatment processes, and so these shouldn’t go down the drain either.
Overall, it is better to dispose of acrylic paint in solid, rather than liquid, form. Here are some tips for getting rid of your acrylic paints:
• Use only what you need, and store leftovers in airtight containers. If you know you won’t be painting again for a long time, let the excess dry before disposing of it in your solid waste rather than pouring it down the drain.
• Wipe your paint off your brushes before rinsing by squeezing out as much paint as you can into an old rag or newspaper (allow these to dry before tossing out). This will keep your rinsing water cleaner for longer periods.
• Alternatively, keep an unwanted canvas aside specifically for wiping off that extra paint. You’ll have a painting that evolves along with you.
• Keep a large open container, like a 5 gallon bucket, where you can dump your dirty water. Cover with a wire cover to keep out kids and pets, and leave the bucket out to evaporate, after which you can peel out the dried paint.
• If you have room, keep a series of buckets going. Let the fullest one settle, then decant the clearer water off the top. Let the remainder evaporate, while using another bucket for your more recent dirty water.
• If you can’t let your water dry, at least strain out what you can before disposing of the water. Pour the dirty water into a bucket lined with pantyhose. Holes in the bucket will let the filtered water through; alternatively, fill the bucket with the dirty water and then pull out the pantyhose.
• Be extra careful when handling and disposing of toxic pigments. Never pour these down the drain. (This applies to oil paints too.)
Is Acrylic Paint Recyclable?
Yes, you can recycle all paint, especially water based paint like acrylics. Acrylic paint is the most commonly donated or recycled type of paint.
The first step to paint recycling is proper storage. If you have an open can of paint, make sure to keep it covered so the paint doesn’t dry up. Store it in a cool, dry place between uses. If you have no more use for half-empty paint cans, see if you can donate them first. Many school drama clubs, community theaters and other nonprofits will accept used paint.
Oil-based paint can’t be recycled, which means you’ll need to use a household hazardous waste (HHW) program. If your community doesn’t offer HHW collection, you’ll want to dry out the paint using kitty litter and/or newspaper and throw it in the trash.
For water-based paint, recycling may be an option where you live by taking it to a transfer station. In many cities, latex paint is excluded from HHW collection and special collection events or programs are available.
Over the years I have disposed of tons of acrylic paints. For the ones I didn’t dispose of, I recycled and donated in my city. There are always programs that are accepting donations near you, so make sure to check that out before you dispose of them in the trash.
Used or Unused Solvent
Solvents such as paint thinners, turpentine, mineral spirits and citrus solvents
Rinse water from acrylic and water color paint can contain plastic agents from the acrylics, or toxic elements found in pigments, which should not get in to our waterways. Store it to a closed container till you dispose of it.
Paints and Pigments
Paints (oil based and water based) contain oils, heavy metals or preservatives that are not safe to pour down the drain
Rags and Tarps
Never put used rags in the landfill, compost or recycling bin. You can store them for disposal immersed in water in a closed container. Do not pile or stack used rags. Do not store in plastic containers, since most solvents will dissolve the plastic. Rags and tarps soaked with solvents are highly flammable and should be put in a metal, flame-proof container or allowed to dry in an open well ventilated space. Even when dry, these rags should be considered hazardous.
Items with Prop 65 Labels
Artist supplies with Prop 65 labels contain chemical(s) known to the State of California to cause cancer. Note: There is no “standardized” Prop 65 label, so read labels closely.
Full or Partly Full Aerosol Cans
Full or partly full aerosol cans contain substances that are hazardous and must NOT go in any landfill, recycling, or composting bin. Remember that they can be donated for reuse.