Safe Use, Storage and Disposal of Paint
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
- If the paint will mix when stirred, it is probably usable. Oil-based paint can be usable for up to fifteen years. Latex paint is usable if it is less than ten years old and has not been repeatedly frozen and thawed.
- The best way to determine if latex paint is usable after it has been frozen is to brush the paint on newspaper. If there are lumps, the paint is not usable.
How to store paint so that it will remain usable