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I live in Bellevue. Should I keep my leftover paint in my garage or inside the house?

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People keep leftover paint because they may need some later, to remove scuff marks, or simply touch up the place after the kids move out. Another reason is, to have some exact record of the paint you used so you can run down to Home Depot or Lowes ten years from now and buy some more. Unfortunately, though, there are a few problems with leftover paint, but there are things you can do to mitigate those problems:

Paint does not keep forever

The last time I picked up my prescription for high blood pressure, the label on it said “keep in a cool, dry place”. So I moved to Santa Fe. Just kidding, of course, but the same advice goes for storing paint. A lot of garage spaces can get very hot on summer days, having closed windows and little ventilation. After all, who needs that in a garage. And in the winter, the same garage can freeze solid on some days, because it doesn’t have heating or good insulation. Paint does not do well under either circumstances. Cooling is OK, as long as the paint’s temperature is not allowed to go much below freezing. Water-based paints don’t do well when they are frozen and thawed successively. Their active paint quality breaks down under that pressure, eventually to the point where the paint is useless and needs to be thrown away.

Paint lasts a bit longer than that half-eaten sandwich you left in the fridge the day after last Thanksgiving, but not forever, and storing it in your garage simply accelerates that aging process.

Your crawl space is the third best place to store paint

Most houses in Bellevue have some kind of crawl space. It’s usually not the kind of place I would like to “crawl” in, but it’s usually accessible for the purposes of rodent removal or exclusion. Your crawl space is the ideal place to store paint for three reasons. (1) It’s usually cool in the summer, (2) it’s mild in the winter (because it lies between the more consistent ground temperature under your house and the heated rooms of your home and (3) it is not exposed to direct sunlight.

Why I don’t store paint inside the house

Many paints, before they dry out in the final resting pace on your wall, are highly flammable. It’s not as bad as decades ago when paint could have been described as veritably explosive, but it’s not the kind of stuff I like to see in a living space. If there is a fire, you will have enough problems dealing with that not to have the potential of gallon cans of paint also exploding while the brave fire department people are trying to save your home and your family members’ lives perhaps.

The second reason I don’t like to see paint inside a living space is that it is more likely to get disturbed, and even the tiniest vapor can become a health hazard over time. You don’t want that problem.
Make sure the containers are firmly closed and sealed!

My rule-of-thumb is, once a paint can is opened, it never becomes a long term storage container again. To me, it’s like breaking a seal on a bottle of wine or something. You can never get it properly sealed – and the paint has begun to change – once you prise open the lid even once. If you really must use the old containers, thoroughly clean the lid so that there is no dried out paint (or not so dried out paint) along the seal joint, and also on the can itself. That way, you can make sure there is no residue or paint, dust, threads of cloth or anything that might interfere with a perfect seal when you close that tin for long term storage.
A storage locker, far away from humans, is the second best place to store paint

Many families have their own storage locker somewhere in town. For purely safety reasons, a storage locker is a good place to store paint. It might not be regulated in temperature s much as your crawl space is, but if there’s a fire you do not have to worry about it.

If you have a family, especially with young children, paint can be a hazard. I remember as I child, a can of paint was an inviting object to paint with if I were ever left alone.

Still, storage lockers cost money, and it would be easier if you could simply visit your crawl space when you’re looking for a lick of paint.
In never-opened, never used paint cans, in your crawl space, is the best place to store paint

Assuming your crawl space does, it fact, stay cool – but not freezing – all year long, you have the ideal place to store paint. But here’s an alternative to storing paint using the cans you used for the paint project: Purchase a small container of the same paint when you are finished the project. Leave it unopened, and place it in a zip lock bag with notes on where it was used, for example “Dining room west wall – February 2016”. That way, there is no confusion as to which paint was used where, and you get a record of when and what was painted. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

There is always a good chance you can go buy the exact same paint years from now, but it is not always certain. Paint manufacturers do swap out their paint colors over the years to make way for new, perhaps trendier colors, but also to introduce new paint manufacturing techniques. You might be able to find the exact same color – at least in name – but the paint might have been made using different ingredients. That might result in a slightly different color, or effect or even texture, but you are very likely at least to be able to match your original color very closely. Just keep a solid record of all paint names and manufacturer for reference. In any case, paint on a wall does in fact change color over time. To the naked, conscious eye, it’s hard enough to spot a difference, and the paint provider or painting contractor will be able to help you out with the details.

Leftover paint storage presents safety, cost and quality issues. The best thing to do with left over paint, unless there’s a lot of it, is to get rid of it. In all likelihood you’ll never need it again, and all it does it take up space and bring a potential hazard into your home.

Be safe out there, and I’ll see you next week!

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