What's the best way to select and store my leftover interior latex paint?

What’s the best way to select and store my leftover interior latex paint for my Kirkland home?

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Almost any product you pick up will have a recommendation on the back “Store in a Cool, Dry Place”. It seems to apply to paint, medicine and all manner of dry food and other products. Well, it’s certainly true for latex paints and all other types of paints.

Personally, I have stopped keeping paint containers unless they are mostly full. I have found that cans with only a little on the bottom of the can tend to decay much faster. Maybe it’s the way the paint reacts with the air above it, even when the can appears to be 100% sealed. Secondly, I don’t store paint in my garage. I’ll tell you why later in this article. Nor do I store paint inside the living space of the house.

Here are my rules for paint storage:

The only cool, dry place is likely under your house

It’s probably much different in warmer parts of the country, but in the Seattle, Kirkland, Bellevue area, it rarely gets so hot that even the crawlspace under your house gets hot. It takes time for the ground to get warm, and the Puget Sound summer doesn’t get a chance to do that before the cool September weather comes to cool everything down again. And if the floor over your crawlspace is properly insulated, it will all stay cool in the crawlspace, and that’s ideal for paint storage.

Don’t leave the cans loose on the ground. Even the slightest moisture from the soil may corrode the base of a paint can over years. Then you might have leaking paint into the soil under your house. It is best to store them in a plastic bin of some kind.

Don’t keep paint containers that are not full or almost full

You might remember when TWA flight 800 crashed into the sea off the east coast many years ago. It was an aged Boeing 747. What had happened was, that day the plane with its center tank almost empty sat on the runway in the baking heat of the summer sun. The fact that there was very little in the center tank meant that the bit of fuel it did contain got warm enough – quickly enough – to turn to vapor. Hours later, on its climb to cruising altitude, a tiny spark ignited those fuel vapors and caused an explosion. The plane split in two and crashed into the sea moments later. It was a horrible accident, but the failure was caused by an almost empty container with flammable material in it being overheated.

When there’s a small amount of paint in a paint container, it can be heated quickly, and there is enough empty space for vapors to gather. When a container is full, there is no room for the vapors – and the paint takes much longer to heat up – so if it does get hot, the lid will pop quickly, before a lot of vapor can collect and present a bigger fire hazard.

Ideally, buy small, sample-size containers to store for the future

It’s easy enough to forget, but once the paint project is complete, take a trip to the store and purchase one small container of each exact paint you used on the project. Leave them perfectly sealed, put labels on them so you know which paint was used where, and store those under your house. Remember to absolutely NOT open them. Once a paint can is opened, you never know again if it is compromised in any way. Years later, when you open that box of small paint cans, you want to know that what’s written on the cans is correct.

If you are planning on selling your house, a set of exact paint cans might actually add to your chances of a good sale. At the very least, you send a clear message to the potential buyer that you are meticulous in looking after your house!

Pour leftover paint into 100% seal-able jars, if you have to

Again along the lines of not storing paint in almost empty cans, another way to store paint is in jam jars. It’s still not as effective as an original, unopened paint can, but you have the added advantage of being able to see the paint color before you open it. Just remember to label it in a way that will stick to the jar, so there’s no guesswork or mistakes later.

If you have a storage locker, keep the paint there

Many people have their own storage locker somewhere in town. In the interests of safety, that is definitely the best place to store paint, far away from your family and loved ones. Be sure to ask at the storage unit office if storing flammable liquids like paint – if it is indeed a flammable version – is allowed. You might be liable for more than the contents of your own storage locker if there is a fire, even if it wasn’t your stuff that triggered it. You can never be too sure.

If all else fails, get rid of the paint entirely

Let’s face it. Most of us never go back to those stored paints at a later date. They just take up space in a garage, and you never get to doing any touch-up work. Ever. So, do the safe thing and keep your house free of paint.


  • Best to keep unused paint far away from your home. Public storage lockers are ideal
  • Buy small containers of your paint for future use, and don’t open them
  • Label all containers to help identify which paint was applied to which room
  • Write dates on every container. Some paints don’t last forever, and you always want to know when the paint was used in the first place
  • If possible pour unused paint into jam jars, and seal them tightly!

See you all next week!

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