One of the most important lessons we can learn as Scenics is how to safely discard materials after they’ve been used. Since our sinks can eventually lead to rivers, lakes, and other waterways, many states have developed regulations prohibiting the disposal of paints in this manner. (Example: CA state law) So… how should extra materials be properly tossed after you’ve finished a build?

In this article, I will tell you how to properly dispose of some common materials, and how long you can have them on your shelves before they will need to be disposed of.

Latex /Acrylic Water-Based Paint

Used paint cans in a plastic container marked "recycle"

Used paint cans in a plastic container marked “recycle”

Shelf Life: 10 years

The shelf life of latex paint changes based on; the frequency it has been opened, if it has been mixed with an additive such as water or Floetrol, and how long the lid might have been left off of the can.

(Floetrol has a shelf life of 1 year, I couldn’t find enough information about how long paint will last with floetrol in it before going bad, so you should probably stick to labeling that it is in there and disposing of it after a year to be on the safe side. When in doubt, contact the company directly to ask!)

Ways to tell if your latex paint has gone bad: the texture is off (thick, lumpy, not mixing back in with itself), and it smells like anything else but regular paint. A sweet or rotten odor is often a sign that the paint has expired.


There are a few ways to dispose of your water-based paints:

  • Sawdusting: Mix enough sawdust in your watered-down or straight paint that it becomes clumpy and hard to stir. Leave it for a day or two and see if any liquid comes to the surface, or stir it to see if it is still mushy. You can throw it away when it is dry. DO NOT THROW IT AWAY IF IT IS STILL MUSHY OR LIQUIDY: that might seem like a given, but I will remind you anyways. In some states, it is prohibited for wet paint to end up in landfills. If you are caught, you can receive a summons and could potentially incur a fine.
  • Drying Out: If you only have less than 2 inches of paint left in the can or if you have wiped out the rest of the paint from the can, you can leave it to dry and throw it out. DRIED latex paint is fine to be thrown away in your regular garbage. Any other type of paint is considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of correctly.
  • Evaporation trays: If you have small amounts of watered-down paint, paint water, or texture water, you can use an evaporation tray placed outside. Please do not leave these trays unattended, and make sure you bring them in when closing up for the day. You can make a tray out of wood, an actual tray, or a pan.


If you have useable paint that you don’t want, one of the things you can do is donate it to your local community theatre, church, community center, or Habitat for Humanity Restore.

PaintCare is a not-for-profit that operates recycling programs that let you drop off paint at a PaintCare site. Most of these are paint retailers.

Currently, this program is up and running in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, D.C., Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine

Please be aware some of the places only take a certain amount of paint: call and check or go to their website before driving over.

They accept water-based paint, primers, stains, sealers, and clear coatings (shellac and varnish).

The paint must be in its original container, no larger than 5 gallons, and must have the original label on the container with a secure lid.

For more detailed information, go to:

If you are not in a state with PaintCare, you can go to, which can tell you more about recycling and disposal in your area.


Water-based paint can be washed out of rags, brushes, rollers, or whatever tools you have used with this paint in the sink. Always put excess paint back in containers before washing out your tools.

You should never dump any paint or chemical down your sink

You can contaminate the water supply and damage your pipes. Try and get a paint trap if you do not already have one.

Oil-Based Paint

Several cans of paint stacked on top of each other

Used paint cans.

Shelf Life 15 Years

Oil-based paint will typically last you longer than your latex paint. If you open it to find a film or hardened paint at the surface, you can normally remove it, and after stirring, use it as normal.


  • Oil-based paint is considered hazardous waste and must be taken to the appropriate location.
  • PaintCare is a great first step. They take Oil-based, Alkyd, and Enamel paint at their locations
  • Earth 911, a hazardous waste collection site, or a hazardous waste community event are also ways to dispose of not just your oil paint but hazardous chemicals.
  • If your paint has hardened completely, you can throw it away in a normal trash can. Make sure the lid is off, so your garbage man knows it is dry.


You can wash your tools off with turpentine, mineral spirits, or paint thinner.

  • Be sure to treat your rags like hazardous waste material and put them in a bag of water, and take them to a hazardous waste facility. Tools left with any oil or solvent based on them can and will combust. Handle appropriately and with care.
  • 3 Bucket Method: When washing out the tools you have used with oil-based paint, you can use the three-bucket washing system. Whichever solvent you have on hand, fill 3 METAL buckets and use the first and second for washing and your third as a clean rinse bucket. Then wipe off the tool on a clean rag you will later dispose of correctly. Use Murphy’s Oil soap wash with water in your sink (only when completely clean, be very careful there is no oil or solvent-based material still on your tool or brush)

When you are done with your project or your cleaning solvent is too dirty for your taste, dump them all in a Metal container and take them to a hazardous waste facility.

Aerosol Cans 

Cans of different spray paints on white background

Cans of different spray paints on white background

Shelf Life Between 2-10 years.

Some brands narrow it down to 2-5 years, like Rustoleum, Krylon, and Ironlak. When disposing of an aerosol can, always research the specific brand that you’re using.


If there is nothing left in the can, you can throw it in the trash can, or you can put them with your recycling.  However, if there is any amount of liquid in the container, it is considered a hazardous material. They are highly pressurized and, if punctured or heated, can explode in a landfill.

PaintCare does not take these cans, but your local hazardous waste collection site will.


Caulk Gun with a line of caulking coming out

Caulk Gun with a line of caulking on a concrete surface

Shelf Life 2 months opened and one year unopened.

You can tell the caulk is expired because it won’t cure and harden


Water-based caulk can be thrown away in your regular garbage. Solvent-based, however, needs to go to a hazardous waste site.

Do not throw away a tube of caulk with material still in it! You can cut open the tube and let the material dry, or you can grab some cardboard or wood and apply it to the surface, use a paintbrush to spread it out and let it dry, then throw that away.


Did you know you can recycle caulk tubes for future use? And with whatever you want to put in that tube?? Well, now you do!

  •  Step 1: Get out as much of the caulk as possible
  • Step 2: Using an air compressor and an air nozzle, point the air into the tip and blow out the plunger in the back
  • Step 3: Clean out the remainder of the tube
  • Step 4: Refill the tube with whatever makes your little heart happy
  • Step 5: Reinsert the plunger back into the tube

Mineral Spirits, Paint Thinner, Turpentine:

Cans of paint. Red, yellow and orange paint.

Cans of paint. Red, yellow, and orange paint.

Shelf Life Indefinite

Mineral spirits will never loose their effectiveness as a solvent, but there is potential for them to evaporate over time.


Never throw rags that have been used with mineral spirits in the trash – this solvent has a very low flash point and is a potential fire hazard. Beyond that, mineral spirits are considered hazardous waste and should go to a hazardous waste collection site.


You are able to recycle a metal container that once had solvent in it. You have to make sure it is completely empty and that you have left the lid off so that anything remaining is evaporated before you can recycle the container.

Tiling trowel and joint compound bucket

Tiling trowel and joint compound bucket

Joint Compound


Shelf Life 9 months to 1 year

Anytime you mix joint compound with water, you put a timer on it. It will rot, turn interesting colors and smell very bad. When mixing textures, ensure you have a recipe and only mix what you need for your project.


DO NOT put joint compound down your sink!!! Joint compound will clog your pipes and it will not break down in your septic tank. To dispose of excess joint compound, make sure that you have buckets that are 2/3 full of water and use this bucket to wash off JC from your brushes and tools.

You can then let your bucket dry out and throw it away in your regular trash

Use an evaporation tray to dispose of the water you use to clean your tools. Use a spatula or putty knife to get all the clumpies out of the bucket and let it dry. 


You can recycle your joint compound buckets… but I’m sure, as painters, we all agree reusing the bucket is where it’s at.


Joint compound will cause metal tools to rust. This also includes the ferrule on your brushes. After you have washed off your tools in your designated joint compound washing bucket, wipe off your metal tools with a rag and spray with WD40 to ensure rusting doesn’t happen. You can then wipe off your tool with a clean rag when you’re ready to use it again.

* You can use this cleaning method with all textures you create, do not put any kind of texture down the sink, ever. (That includes and is not limited to Jaxsan and your favorite scenic dope!)

Emily Yoder
Scenic Artist
South Coast Repertory

Emily Yoder is a Cobalt Studios alum and is currently working as the Assistant Charge Artist at South Coast Repertory in Orange County, California

1 Comment
  1. Katie 7 months ago

    So helpful! I would also wonder what a good disposal practice would be for white/flex glue.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



©2023 Guild of Scenic Artists

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account