University of Missouri Extension

WM6001, Reviewed October 1993

Safe Use, Storage and Disposal of Paint

Marie Steinwachs
Office of Waste Management

Paint is a common product we all have in our homes that can become a household hazardous waste when it is not properly stored or disposed.

The following information will help you make decisions on how to avoid health and environmental hazards from using, storing and disposing of paint.

Composition of paints and their hazards

Most paint has four components: resin, solvent, pigment and additives. To determine the hazardous ingredients of paint, request a Material Safety Data Sheet from the retailer when you buy it.

The resin is the main ingredient and forms a coating or film on the surface being painted. This typically non-hazardous component includes linseed, acrylic or other synthetic resins.

The solvent keeps the paint in a liquid form until the solvent evaporates after the paint is applied. The solvent in oil-based paint is derived from a petroleum distillate and can include such hazardous ingredients as mineral spirits, toluene and xylene. The solvent in latex paint is water.

Pigments provide the color and opacity or covering power. The major pigments used presently are titanium oxide, iron oxide, calcium sulfate, clay or silicates. These pigments are relatively nontoxic. Some highly colored pigments may contain heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium or arsenic.

Paints purchased before 1977 may contain lead in the pigment. Lead, also a heavy metal, is poisonous. Do not use paint purchased prior to 1977. To determine if the painted surfaces in your home contain lead, contact your local health department or a lead paint removal contractor.

Paint may also have additives. Some types of additives include stabilizers that prevent paint deterioration in the can, dryers that assist in the formation of the paint coating, thickeners that aid in application, and preservatives that inhibit the growth of molds. The additives can range in composition, including both hazardous and non-hazardous ingredients.

Some latex paints contain a mercury-based fungicide preservative. Mercury is a heavy metal that is highly toxic. Paints containing mercury produced since August 1990 had to be labeled exclusively for exterior use.

As of August 1991, the United States Environmental Protection Agency prohibits mercury in all newly manufactured paints. The National Paint and Coatings Association has voluntarily complied with these guidelines.

To determine if your latex paint contains mercury, call the National Pesticide Telecommunication Network at 800-858-7378

How to determine if stored paint is usable

How to store paint so that it will remain usable

What to do with usable, leftover paint

What to do with unusable paint

How to solidify paint

This management option can cause harm to human health and the environment if the described procedures are not followed carefully.

Materials needed

Do not use a paper-based product as an absorbent because it could spontaneously ignite.

Safety precautions



How to dispose of spray paint cans (aerosols)

How to dispose of empty paint cans

Other sources of information

The Guide to Hazardous Products Around the Home is a personal action manual for protecting your health and the environment. This comprehensive, 178-page handbook explains product ingredients, safety issues, disposal, recycling outlets, safer product alternatives, and more! Promoted by Greenpeace, the United Nations Environmental Programme, 50 Simple Things You can do to Save the Earth and The Green Consumer. The Guide was written by the Household Hazardous Waste Project, winner of the 1991 President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award.
The Household Hazardous Waste Project assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage resulting from the use or effect of any product or information specified in this publication.
Copyright 1994 by the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority. Published by the MU Extension Household Hazardous Waste Project in cooperation with EIERA.
WM6001 Safe Use, Storage and Disposal of Paint | University of Missouri Extension

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