What to do with leftover paint - 10 smart ideas to reuse paint at home

Smart DIY project for leftover paint and expert advice on what you should do with any paint you don't use

Grey living room with yellow accent stripe
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Tins of half-empty paint collecting in your shed? Then perhaps it’s time to get creative around your home and put them to good use with our ideas for what to do with leftover paint. 

If you’re looking for some inspiration, then we’ve plenty of easy DIY projects to get you started. Leftover paint can be a great way of adding a personal touch to a room scheme or piece of furniture while saving paint from ending up in a landfill.

‘If you can imagine if every household has 1litre of paint in the garage or shed that could add up to millions!’ says Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown Paints. ‘It’s difficult to reduce the size of the containers as one size doesn’t fit all, but we often buy more than what we need. Don’t forget that tester pots are ideal for touching up.'

What to do with leftover paint

Bbefore you start looking into ways to get rid of leftover paint, consider how to make use of them in your home first. Don’t leave half-empty tins to gather dust in your shed, use them to add personality to your home with our easy – yet stylish – ideas for what to do with leftover paint

1. Use to work an accent colour

Grey living room with yellow accent stripe

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Add a surprise touch of an accent colour by painting the return between a knock-through living space. Here, a flash of yellow echoes the footstool, cushions and art, framing the room – a litre of paint should be ample this, perhaps using leftover paint from a feature wall in the dining space.

Not ready to commit to a bold living room feature wall idea? This quick trick will transform a neutral room (and there’s hardly any prep or room-clearing needed).

2. Create an unexpected backdrop

Pink living room with pink chair and media unit

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Paint a large panel behind your sideboard or console, highlighting a collection of art. This is a great twist on a feature wall – and being a smaller area is perfect for leftover paint. Mask off the area, then apply two coats, allowing to dry in-between coats. 

Short of paint? There’s no rule that says you have to paint the whole area behind your console – why not try two-thirds of the area, arranging your living room wall art ideas to break up any visual line.

3. Upcycle an old ladder

Blue room with painted ladder with blankets

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Create a handy storage piece in your kitchen, painting an old wooden ladder with leftover paint. Emulsion paint won’t be as durable as eggshell or satinwood, but you can apply a coat of matt varnish or wax – or accept that you might get more of a shabby-chic look over time. Upcycling furniture  is a great way of using up leftover paint.

Use leftover paint from another room to bring in a new accent colour to your kitchen – small touches of the same colour used in each room can help create a sense of flow throughout your home. 

4. Upcycle an old chest of drawers

Pink chest of drawer with wall art

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Mahogany and yew furniture might have been popular in the Eighties, but if you’re left with a dark piece today, why not use leftover paint to give it a new lease of life? Eggshell or wood paint works best. Prime the chest first, before applying two coats to give it a luxe finish. 

Mask off the handles if keeping to the original ones, which are often quite decadent, perfect for your new-look furniture.

5. Get creative with tester pots

Painted plant pots with house number

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Found a stash of tester pots in the shed? Why not use it to add a splash of colour around your home? Paint flowerpots before stencilling with your door number – as long as they are semi-shielded from the elements – say under a porch – they should look smart for some time.

Choose testers that are either all pastel or all bright; or why not go for an ombre look, adding a touch of white to a darker shade for your second pot? 

6. Paint your own headboard

Blue painted bedroom and headboard

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Perfect for a spare room, a painted headboard can turn a divan into something special. Mask off an area slightly larger than the bed’s width, which will make it seem more luxurious, and take the colour over the skirting board. 

Pick up the colour used for your painted headboard as an accent for your bed linen, adding a cushion and throw to match.

7. Upcycle an old chair

Table with cloche and painted chair

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Add a splash of sunshine to your dining table with a painted yellow chair. For a distressed look, lightly sand back in between the coats to reveal a little of the original colour or wood underneath. 

Got a set of mismatched chairs? Painting them, with leftover paint can help them feel more of a set. If you don’t have enough of one colour, then try shades or complimentary colours.

8. Edge a room

Blue wall with trim and side console

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Bought a tin of one shade only to find it too dark? Use to border a room, adding interest to a featureless room. Mask off a border 10-15cm deep, running along the architrave and skirting, then paint in the darker shade. 

If you have less left-over paint, but like this idea, then frame a picture with a painted surround for a great way to draw the eye to unusual artwork.

9. Use paint to create ombre shelves

Green ombre shelves with plates and pots

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Take a tin of leftover paint and decant into paint kettles, then add varying amounts of white to create three different tints. Starting with the palest, work your way up, getting darker with each shelf. 

Style your shelves to suit the intensity of colour, adding something in the darkest variation to the top shelf, like the green fern used here. It will help tell your ombre colour story.

10. Hack a flatpack stool

blue and pink painted stools

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Use leftover eggshell or spray paint to give everyday pieces personality. Mask off bands with masking tape – even a narrow band or triangle detail on each leg can turn something plain into quirky. 

These painted stools would look great as bedside tables in a Scandi-style bedroom – if you haven’t enough leftover paint for a matching set, just choose colours with the same intensity. 

How long does opened paint last?

‘If it’s sealed correctly,’ most high-quality paint can last for up to 10 years in its original container,’ says paint brand Lick, ‘although do check for lumps or a foul smell once reopened – both signs that it’s no good.’

‘Dependant on the temperature of the room opened tins are kept in and the type of paint… 15 minutes to an hour,’ says Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown Paints. ‘Make sure you keep the lid on when the pot is not in use. It is good practice to pour out only what you need and to cover the tin with the lid once the tin is finished with.’

‘Store paint in a cool, frost-free area, away from sunlight,’ adds Ruth Motterhead, creative director at Little Greene

Can you use leftover wall paint on wood?

‘Leftover wall paint can technically be used on wood however, wood is often used as a trim on our walls, which means it is subjected to more wear and tear,’ says Justyna.

 You can protect with a coat of matt varnish or embrace a shabby-chic vibe. Check the tin, advises Ruth; ‘Our Intelligent Matt finish can be used on both walls and woodwork, however, our Intelligent Satinwood is a hard-wearing, satin-finish paint formulated for interior woodwork.’

How do I save paint for the next day?

‘Cleaning out tools and equipment is always the best policy,’ says Justyna, ‘but this is often not practical. To save paint for the next day, cover any pots or roller trays with cling film or black bags (you can do the same with roller sleeves and brushes) to reduce the chance of evaporation.’

‘Make sure the lid is firmly secured back on the tin too,’ says Ruth. 

What is the best way to dispose of leftover paint?

Leftover paint needs to be disposed of properly. If you’ve more than a litre left or even an unopened tin, then try FreeCycle.com or your local Facebook Marketplace Group. Otherwise, ask at your local recycling centre or tip to see how you can dispose of it correctly. For large amounts, you may need to add sawdust or soil to the tins and leave to dry out in the sun and solidify first.

Smaller amounts can be poured onto cardboard or newspaper and left to dry, before being taken to the tip. For pots and tins, you’ll need to check the label first to see if it can be recycled.

‘Crown Paints will also take its cans back through our Crown Decorating Centres for recycling (including tester pots),’ says Justyna.

One exciting idea, from Little Greene, is a collection that uses left-over, unwanted and returned paints, reformulating them into a beautiful, matt finish for interior walls and ceilings. The Re:mix collection prevents as much as 60,000 litres of high-quality mineral and organic raw materials from going to waste each year. The Little Greene chemists have developed intelligent blending techniques to produce upcycled paints in individual batches launched as an initial, limited collection of 20 colours.

Jennifer Morgan

Jennifer Morgan is an award-winning editor, writer and stylist, with over 25 years’ experience writing, styling and editing home interest magazines. Jennifer was the deputy editor of Ideal Home from 2008-2010, before launching Ideal Home’s sister title, Style at Home in 2010. Jennifer went on to launch several craft magazines and websites, before going freelance in 2016, with a client list that includes John Lewis, Dunlem and Nordic House. Today, she writes for Ideal Home, Real Homes, Waitrose, Woman & Home, Sainsbury’s Magazine and Homes & Gardens. But it was during lockdown that Jennifer realised her dream of publishing her own magazine – Simply Scandi.