How Long Does Paint Last, and How Can You Tell If It’s Still Good?

open paint cans

Expired paint can turn your DIY project into a disaster. Not only will it not create the effect you’re looking for, but it can even pose a safety hazard. Yet, it sometimes takes work to estimate how much paint you need. So if you have leftover paint, how long will it last, and how will you tell if it’s still good? Read on.

Average Paint Lifespan

Let’s assume you follow our tips and give your open paint the best chance for survival (see “How to Make Open Paint Last Longer” below). Or, you’ve bought some extra paint you’ve never opened and are wondering when you need to discard it. 

So for approximately what period of time is paint okay to use? Here’s how long paint should last, depending on the different types of paint: 

Paint TypeEstimated Lifespan (unopened)
Latex paint10 years
Oil paintOver 15 years
Chalk paint5 years
Acrylic paintOver 10 years
Limewash paint5 to 10 years
Premixed milk paint1 to 2 years
Powdered milk paintIndefinite
  • Water-based latex paint: An unopened can of latex paint may last up to 10 years. But even open latex may last 2 to 10 years if you reseal it and store it properly.
  • Oil-based paint: Oil paint lasts the longest. It typically lasts up to 15 years and perhaps as long as 40 years. If you open it, it may last over 2 years, though.
  • Chalk paint: Unopened chalk paint may last 1 to 5 years. But if exposed to air, it will dry out quickly. If you reseal it properly, it may last over a year.
  • Acrylic paint: Acrylic paint has a shelf life of over 10 years. Sometimes it may last as long as 15 years. An open can of acrylic paint may last over 2 years.
  • Limewash paint: Limewash paint may last over 10 years. If opened, it may last over 5 years.
  • Premixed milk paint: Premixed milk paint lasts 1-2 years. If you open it, it may last a few days. Refrigerate it if you take a break.
  • Powdered milk paint: Powdered milk paint lasts until you’re ready to use it. But once you mix it, you need to use it for 1 to 7 days. Refrigerate it if you take a break.

How to Tell if Your Oil Paint Is Bad

Old paint cans
Photo Credit: Joe_Potato / Canva Pro / License

Although paint has a long lifespan, there’s no guarantee it won’t go bad before you expect it to. Therefore, you still want to watch out for signs that it has gone bad. 

Look for these clues:

  • It has become thick, clumpy, or lumpy
  • It has become separated and quickly separates again after you mix it
  • There’s any other type of odd texture
  • There’s mold or mildew
  • It smells foul

Tips For Making Opened Paint Last Longer

Several open cans of paint with drips down the sides
Photo Credit: YinYang / Canva Pro / License

Apart from time, there are other factors that make your paint go bad, such as:

  • Airflow: Airflow dries paint, shortening its lifespan. Letting air in is asking for trouble.
  • Temperature: Low and high temperatures may make paint go bad. You may not be able to save your paint once it’s been frozen, damaged, or thickened by weather.
  • Humidity: Low humidity may dry paint, while high humidity may cause excessive moisture, even leading to mold or mildew.

To extend your paint’s lifespan and use it again for touch-ups in the future, make sure you don’t open it unnecessarily. If you’ve already opened it, don’t let it become ruined by airflow or temperature. For that, you need to seal and store it properly.

What are the best storage conditions? Here’s how to store paint

A resealed can of red paint with drips on the side
Photo Credit: Vinh Dao / Canva Pro / License
  • Use a lined metal can to prevent rust, or a glass or plastic container. Even old tupperware will do. Just make sure you don’t confuse your leftover paint with your dinner leftovers! Also note that, unlike your dinner, you shouldn’t store paint in the fridge (except milk paint).
  • Seal it tightly.
  • Store it in a dry place out of direct sunlight at between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 to 60% humidity.

How to Discard Old Paint

Firstly, never flush it down the drain or throw it in the trash. Both of these methods can be harmful to the environment.

Instead, check with your local waste management facility for proper disposal instructions. They may have specific guidelines for handling and disposing of old paint safely. 

When it comes to latex paint, it may be okay to let small leftover amounts dry and then discard them. If you have more a large amount left over, you may be able to use a solidifying agent such as paint hardener (or even kitty litter) to harden the paint. Then, you may be able to throw it out, if that’s permitted in your area.

Usually, though, you’ll need to bring it to a household hazardous waste (HHW). Learn more about the safest ways to dispose of paint in our article.

FAQ

Does paint expire?

Yes, paint expires and can be unsafe to use. If you don’t find an actual expiration date on the packaging, refer to our guide above. But before you use your paint, make sure that it doesn’t show any signs that it has gone bad. 

Can old paint be toxic?

Yes. Expired paint may be toxic, as it may contain harmful chemicals that have degraded over time. Dispose of expired paint properly and use a fresh can for your projects. 

Can extreme temperatures spoil paint?

Yes, extreme temperatures can spoil paint. While freezing temperatures can cause paint to separate or become clumpy, high temperatures can cause the paint to dry out or become thick and difficult to work with. Plus, they encourage mold growth.

Is it OK to use paint that has separated?

Maybe. Stir it and see if it quickly separates again. If so, discard it.

How to clean up old paint spills?

It’s best to clean up paint spills right away. But if it’s too late, there are still ways to get rid of them. For instance, vinegar or dish soap usually works well for latex paint. For oil paint, you’ll need to use paint thinner. Check out our guide, How to Clean Up Spilled Paint, to find out more about cleaning paint spills. And while you’re at it, be sure to also take good care of your paint brushes

What color paint fades the least?

Neutral paint colors like beige, gray, and white tend to fade the least. These colors have a lower pigment content, which makes them more resistant to fading from sunlight exposure. To be clear, this applies to dried paint, not paint that you haven’t opened or have stored away.

The Next Step for Your Home Improvement Journey

Now that you know how long paint lasts, it’s important to properly store and maintain your paint to help it last as long as possible. However, make sure you discard expired paint. Try not to buy too much paint to begin with so that you don’t have to deal with disposing of it later.

However, take note that too little paint can be a nuisance, too, especially if you’re getting a custom color mixed. If the new paint doesn’t match the old, it may ruin the final look. The easiest way for homeowners to avoid worrying about paint expiration and discard dates is to leave the paint job to a pro. Hire painting services near you and watch them transform a bland space into a masterpiece.

Main Photo Credit: annastories / Canva Pro / License

Judith Gallova

Judith Gallova is a freelance writer living in Slovakia. She found her passion for writing when she created her first blog at the age of 10. Later on, she started working in marketing, and eventually combined her writing and marketing skills to become a freelance writer. In her free time, she often studies the Bible, goes to the gym, spends time with loved ones, and enjoys all things art and design.