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Dane County Department of Waste & Renewables

Paint Disposal

Leftover paint accounts for nearly 85% of all the waste material received by the Dane County Clean Sweep program on an annual basis. Over 1/2 of all the waste material received annually is latex paint, and management of this non-hazardous material consumes nearly 1/3 of our annual budget.

Colorful paint is rolled on a wall

In order to sustain our program amidst rising disposal costs and dwindling public funds, it is necessary that we place an increased emphasis on latex paint management at the point of consumption.

Taking your latex paint to Clean Sweep for disposal should be your option of last resort. If you find you absolutely cannot solidify and dispose of latex paint waste on your own, Clean Sweep will still accept it, subject to the following conditions:

  • Latex paint must still be in a liquid state
  • Cans must be at least 1/2 full

If you have nearly full cans of latex paint in good condition, don't waste them! Clean Sweep will accept them for placement into our free Product Exchange Program.

Clean Sweep Product Exchange

How to Minimize Your Paint Waste

  • Buy only what you need to get the job done. In general, one gallon of paint will provide one coat of coverage for 300 square feet. Check coverage rates for various products, ask a store retailer to help you calculate the right amount or try one of the following online paint calculators:
  • Use it up – you can always apply another coat.
  • Give it away to someone who can use it: friends, relatives, neighbors, churches, theatrical groups, high schools, recreation departments or community organizations. Only give away paint that is in good condition and is in its original container with an intact label.
  • Store paint properly between uses: 
    • Protect from freezing
    • Place a piece of kitchen plastic wrap on the surface of the paint to keep it from drying out or forming a skin
    • Put the lid back on the can and tap firmly into place

How to Properly Dispose of Paint

First, check the label to determine what type of paint you have.

Oil or Solvent-Based Paints or Stains

Oil or solvent-based paints and stains are combustible and present different hazards. Look on the label for the words 'oil' or 'alkyd' and directions that specify to clean up or thin with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Left-over oil or solvent-based paints, whether liquid or solid, should be taken to the Dane County Clean Sweep Facility for proper disposal.

Never dispose of oil- or solvent-based paints and stains in your trash.

Latex Paints

Latex paints are non-hazardous and soluble in water. Look for the words 'latex' or 'acrylic' and directions that specify to clean up or thin with water. Because latex paint is non-hazardous, it can be disposed of with your regular trash as long as it is completely solidified.

Never dispose of liquid paints in your trash.

Several methods to properly solidify latex paint are:

  • Remove the lid and let the paint dry out in the can. Protect from freezing and rain as well as curious children and animals. This only works when an inch or less of paint is left in the can and is most effective in warmer months. 
  • Mix latex paint with an equal amount of cat litter. Stir the litter in completely and allow to dry. 
  • Mix latex paint with a latex paint hardener. Stir and allow to harden. Paint hardener can be purchased at your local hardware store. Follow the directions on the package. 
  • For larger volumes of latex paint, line a cardboard box with a plastic bag. Add an absorbing agent such as kitty litter, sawdust or shredded newspaper to the box. Pour the paint into the box so that it forms a thin layer (about 1 inch deep) and allow the paint to harden. Repeat this process until all the paint has hardened.

Once the latex paint has hardened or solidified, it can be disposed of with your regular trash. However, make sure the lids are removed from the paint cans when you set them at your curb, or when you place them in your garbage bin if you have weekly trash pickup. 

If you live in the City of Madison, dried latex materials can be brought to the east or west Streets Department full-service drop-off sites for disposal.