How To Dispose of Acrylic Paint Properly

Finishing your painting project doesn’t mean your work is done. Instead, it’s time for the next part: figuring out how to dispose of acrylic paint properly.

If you want to dispose of acrylic paint the right way, you might have to adjust your approach depending on the kind of paint you have. Usually, your options include:

  1. Donating excess acrylic paint to charity
  2. Recycling leftover non-toxic acrylic paint
  3. Throwing non-toxic acrylic paint away after letting it dry out
  4. Bringing toxic acrylic paint to your local hazardous waste disposal center

Which option is right for you depends on how much paint you have left and whether it’s toxic acrylic paint. If you want to make sure you dispose of your leftover acrylic paint the right way, here’s what you need to know.

How To Dispose of Acrylic Paint

Is Acrylic Paint Considered Hazardous Waste?

Many people have questions about the safety of acrylic paint. For example, you may be wondering, “Are acrylic paints toxic?” or “Is acrylic paint hazardous waste?”

Regretfully, the answer to those questions is, “It depends.” While all acrylic paint can be harmful if swallowed in large quantities, some versions contain heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. Not only are those dangerous to people, but they can also harm pets, wild animals, and the environment.

When toxic ingredients are present, acrylic paint is considered hazardous waste. You don’t want to toss it in your trash or wash it down the sink.

Now, if you’re wondering, “Is acrylic paint biodegradable?” or “Are acrylic paints eco-friendly?” the answer is a bit more definitive. Since acrylic paints contain a variety of chemicals, they aren’t considered eco-friendly even if they aren’t toxic. The paint includes a petroleum-derived polymer – making it essentially plastic-based – so it isn’t biodegradable.

Is Acrylic Paint Recyclable?

Non-toxic acrylic paint is recyclable. When you bring it to a recycling facility, they will first check it against quality standards, screening and filtering the paint. Then, they’ll match it with other paints that are a similar color and composition, creating recycled paint that others can use.

It’s important to note that not all recycling centers accept paint. You’ll need to check with your local facility to see if they have non-toxic acrylic paint recycling drop-off options available.

If you want to try another option for recycling your leftover acrylic paint, consider donating it to an organization that can use it. For example, you might be able to bring it to your local Habitat for Humanity store, donate it to your area school’s art class or drama department, or offer it to a community theatre group.

In some cases, area recycling centers will accept acrylic paint and set it aside. Then, it can be distributed to groups in need.

How to Dispose of Acrylic Paint the Right Way

Acrylic paint disposal

Generally, you have two choices for disposing of acrylic paint, depending on whether the paint is toxic. Here’s an overview of each one.

Dispose of Non-Toxic Acrylic Paint

1. Leave Canisters Open to Dry Out the Paint

You don’t want to throw out acrylic paint while it’s still a liquid. If you do, the paint could leak. That can harm the environment or local animals, even when the paint isn’t toxic.

Set your leftover paint in a safe, well-ventilated area. Then, open the lids to let the paint completely dry out.

If you have a lot of leftover paint, you can mix it with cat litter or paint hardener. Cat litter draws out the liquid, speeding the process up a bit. Paint hardener does the same thing, drying out the paint and making it trash can-ready.

2. Don’t Reseal the Containers

After the paint is completely dried out, don’t put the lid back onto the container. Just leave the lid off, or recycle it separately if it’s made of recyclable material.

3. Throw It Away in the Garbage

Once the paint is fully dry, you can place the container in your garbage can or take it to your local dump. It’s important to note that some garbage companies don’t pick up old paint curbside. If that’s the case, you’ll need to take it to your local landfill.

Dispose of Toxic Acrylic Paint

1. Secure the Lids on the Containers

Before you move toxic acrylic paint, make sure the container lids are on tight. You want to reduce the chance of spills or leaks, so it’s worth double-checking.

2. Transport the Paint to Your Local Hazardous Waste Facility

Once the lids are securely in place, bring the paint to your area hazardous waste facility. Often, the drop-off points are at the local dump. However, some municipalities keep these separate, so you’ll want to do a quick internet search to see where you need to go.

Alternatively, you can wait for a local hazardous waste drop-off event. Many municipalities host these events once or twice a year, making it easy for area households to turn potentially dangerous items in for proper disposal.

3. Be Upfront About What’s in the Can

When you arrive at the hazardous waste facility, let them know exactly what’s in the containers. Explain that the containers hold toxic ingredients, ensuring that they are treated correctly after you hand them over.

Can You Pour Acrylic Paint Down the Drain?

Generally, you shouldn’t pour acrylic paint down the drain. Toxic acrylic paints contain harmful ingredients that you don’t want in the local water supply. Those should always be treated as hazardous waste, and that means not pouring them down the drain.

Even non-toxic acrylic paint shouldn’t go down the drain. Yes, acrylic paint is water-soluble. But as it moves through the pipes, the paint can stick. That’s right; acrylic paint can clog drains. Blockages can be a big hazard and might be expensive for homeowners to clear out. Additionally, paint build-up may wreak havoc at your local wastewater processing plant.

Ultimately, it’s best to never pour paint down the drain, even small amounts, or when the paint is non-toxic. Instead, use the disposal process above.

Can You Wash Acrylic Paint Brushes in the Sink?

Disposing of acrylic paint

You should never wash toxic acrylic paint down the sink, even the residue on brushes. That introduces harmful ingredients into the environment.

While you can rinse non-toxic acrylic paint brushes in the sink, it isn’t a great idea. As mentioned above, the paint can clog up pipes, potentially harming your plumbing or your city’s wastewater system.

Instead, clean your brushes by first wiping off as much excess paint as possible. You may want to use an old rag, leftover newspaper, or a spare canvas. Then, when it comes time, you can dispose of those based on whether the paint is toxic. If it’s non-toxic, wait for it to dry and then toss it in the trash. If it is toxic, bring it to a hazardous waste facility.

Once you get as much extra paint off as possible, use a spare container filled with water to rinse the brushes. After your brushes are clean, place a fine-mesh wire cover over the top. Set the container in a well-ventilated place that’s away from people and pets. Let the water evaporate, and the paint residue dry. Remove the dried paint from the container and dispose of it safely based on whether it’s toxic.

How to Dispose of Acrylic Paint Water

If you have a container filled with acrylic paint water, don’t pour it down the drain or onto the ground. Residue from toxic acrylic paints is potentially harmful and should always be treated as hazardous waste. Even non-toxic paint can harm pipes and may make area plants or animals ill if they consume it, so you don’t want to just pour it down the drain or onto the ground either.

Instead, cover the container with a fine-mesh wire cover. Set the container in a safe, well-ventilated place. Allow the water to evaporate and the paint residue to dry.

Then, remove the dried paint and dispose of it properly. If it’s toxic, bring it to your hazardous waste facility. If it’s non-toxic, throw it out in the trash.

Can You Recycle Acrylic Paint Bottles?

Yes, you can recycle acrylic paint bottles if they are made of recyclable material. You’ll need to check the number on the container to confirm whether or not your local center accepts that bottle material.

If you want to recycle the bottle, it has to be clean. You may want to let the paint residue dry out. Then, you may be able to scrape it out of the container. Otherwise, wash it in a container filled with water, not in the sink. That way, you can dispose of the acrylic paint water properly.

Can You Throw Away Empty Paint Cans?

How to get rid of acrylic paint

Yes, you can throw away empty paint cans. If the can is completely clean, it’s also recyclable.

However, if there is any paint residue, you can’t throw it away if the paint was toxic. If that’s the case, the paint can contain hazardous waste and needs to be handled accordingly.

If the paint was non-toxic, make sure any residue is completely dry first. After that, you can toss it in the garbage.


If you were wondering how to dispose of acrylic paint, you should now have all of the information you need. Yes, disposing of acrylic paint properly does take a bit of effort. However, by doing it right, you’re protecting yourself, your family, your pets, and the environment.

Plus, you don’t have to throw it away. You could donate the remaining paint instead, allowing someone else to make use of what’s there. If you have a program in your area, you may be able to recycle your leftover paint, too.