4 Fab Uses for Leftover Paint

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If you’ve bought too much paint for a project and have a ton left over, don’t worry — this isn’t like The Price is Right where if you go over, it’s a total bust and you’re out of the game. You need to get creative about ways to use it. We promise, it’s almost as much fun as playing Plinko.

The best use of leftover paint is passing it on to someone who can use it. Give extra paint to a friend or donate it to a local charity, if you know one that wants it, and recycling it is easier in some states than others (visit Earth911’s Recycling Search to find a recycling program in your area).

If you are fresh out of giveaway options, here are four ideas to get you started, from the practical to the whimsical. Finding a way to use it yourself is probably the most satisfying solution of all.

close-up of hand painting white primer over wood

Use your old paint as a primer. Photo: Adobe Stock

Use It as Base Coat or Primer

Do-It-Yourselfers tend to skip this pre-painting step.

“If you’re changing color from very dark to very light, or vice versa, and have some leftover paint hanging around that is close to the final color, use it up and you will need one less coat of the final color,” says Paul Fresina of PaintCare, a nonprofit organization that is setting up paint recycling programs in eight states and the District of Columbia.

“If you use it up, you will probably save yourself from buying more of what you’re putting on the walls, and there’s no need to bring it to a paint recycling center,” Fresina added.

(PaintCare still in operation, coverage has gone up from seven states to nine, including DC)

Add an Unexpected Pop of Color

Look around you! There are plenty of places around the home that don’t really need to be painted — but the effect when you do give them a coat or two can be transformative. What about painting each wall in your garage a different color or adding a dose of something different to the back wall of your cupboards, or making the inside of a closet a whole new space?

Don’t have the right color? Try tinting paint yourself. However, do it in small increments first to make sure you like the shade that’s produced; a little experimenting will save you from messing up the entire batch.

woman painting on a canvas

Recycle an old canvas and make new art. Photo: Adobe Stock

Paint a Canvas

Try your hand at art, even if it is your first time. A single-color canvas can set off a wall and might earn compliments from friends. Start with a canvas you already have.

We’ve all seen a few canvas paintings at the thrift shop that don’t have much hope of finding a new home — and sometimes inspire the question of how they ever found a home in the first place, bless their taste-challenged hearts. Or maybe you have a piece that’s just collecting dust in a closet because you’re no longer in love with it or it doesn’t match your current décor. In either case, you can take that old canvas and make it a blank slate — find tips on how to do that at happyhooligans.ca and www.ehow.com.

Once the slate’s been wiped clean, pull out that leftover paint you have and see what you can create. If you’re not satisfied with the results, try again. As long as you have extra paint, you have the opportunity to get it just right.

4 different colored chalkboard squares

Make chalkboard paint in any color with the instructions from A Beautiful Mess. Photo:  A Beautiful Mess

Create Chalkboard Paint

Chalkboard paint, which turns any wall into a message board or creative space, is all the rage these days, but you don’t need to go buy it in the store if you have leftover latex paint. You just need to add un-sanded grout (maybe you have some lying around from a home improvement project like tiling your bathroom, or you can get it at hardware stores) to create a surface ready to be written on with chalk.

Check out the tutorial from the ladies at A Beautiful Mess to see just how to do it. You can keep the projects small — the back of a door, a sign for the fridge, a potted plant container — or go all out and paint an entire wall.

Don’t let your leftovers turn into old unused paint. Put it to work and make your space more personal, all while helping reduce landfill waste. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: Originally published on October 7, 2013, this article was updated in September 2018.

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Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.

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