One of my favorite movies is a comedy starring Chevy Chase, Funny Farm. I have often thought of this movie while working on our home (as well as another favorite, Money Pit). One of my favorite quotes comes from quirky Sheriff Ledbetter, “Remember Mrs. Farmer. Whenever you buy a house, whatever’s in the ground belongs to you – whether its gold or oil…or Claude Musselman.”
In our case, gold or oil or 65 cans of paint. Yes, we had 65 cans of paint, stain, polyurethane, and primer in our basement. I’ve been so angry about this paint, but I knew that it was my responsibility now and I wasn’t about to leave that around for a tenant’s child to get into or pass them off to a less environmentally responsible homeowner. As homeowners (or those who dwell in homes), we have a responsibility to our community and those who enjoy our homes after we move on. When preparing for a move, clearing your home of all debris, recyclables, and toxins is necessary. It is even more necessary to do so responsibly. Since most of us purchase paint our homes, I thought this was a process I would share.
We moved the cans to the garage long ago, I didn’t want them around our children. Since Tuesday was the last day of our dumpster, I took the time to deal with the 51 cans of paint remaining after recycling 14 empty or nearly empty cans. –As an aside, if a can is empty or just has a small amount (less than 1 inch) remaining, leave the lid off in a safe, ventilated area to dry the contents of the can, then dispose of properly in accordance with your city’s guidelines (we were able to recycle the cans).–
- absorbent material: kitty litter, shredded newspaper, etc.
- thick, strong plastic garbage bags.
- paint can opener
- several paint sticks (or old wooden spoons)
- face mask (not joking, I wish I had one)
Our absorbent material of choice, “Valu Time Cat Litter” in an awesome orange bag. I used two bags.
After putting my youngest to bed, opening the garage, and arming myself with the proper tools, I faced the cans of paint. I went in thinking we had 27 cans of paint. I was wrong. Very wrong.
Most of the mix labels were missing from these cans, but the oldest paint I could date was from February 2002. I started making a group of them on our garage floor and prying the lids off. What a mess. I use low or no VOC paint. With the exception of a couple of Olympic paints, these were not low-VOC. The variety of harsh fumes from nearly 10 year-old paint, stain, primer and poly were pretty astounding. This is when I wish I had a face mask.
These cans are actually from my third group of cans. Notice the gloppy grossness? Also, the near full cans of paint? What a waste. Sad actually.
Next, I emptied a guesstimate amount of kitty litter into each can. You will need enough to absorb the liquid in the paint. If it is really old paint, it may be solid on the bottom with liquid on the top. This makes it more difficult to mix. Some of the cans were so full, I emptied liquid into near empty cans, for mixing purposes.
Here is litter waiting for mixing in my first group of cans. It isn’t exact, but just keep mixing until you end up with all the liquid trapped in your material and it is the consistency of really thick, clumpy oatmeal or really wet sand.
Here’s a nice close up of the consistency. It should be thick enough that no liquid seeps out.
Next, if it is acceptable with your local sanitation department, empty the contents of the cans into thick, plastic bags and recycle the cans. My sanitation department did not want to accept the cans (apparently the cans I recycled before were OK since the cans were completely empty, but there was concern over contamination), so I complied and, gulp, bagged up all these cans and added six large bags of trash to the dumpster. I was left with this sad pile of lids, pretty in their own way, but really an image of waste and irresponsibility. I’m glad to have this mess behind me. I will definitely insist all toxins are removed from our next home.
How to avoid this mess? Buy enough paint for your project. Don’t overbuy and be sure you’re certain of the color before you make a purchase. If you do end up with leftover paint, store your paint correctly (cover with a film of plastic wrap, securely reattach lid, and store upside down). Also, try to think of other spaces that can use the same color (visitors to my home will recognize leftover living room paint in my bathroom). If you realize you will never use that paint, donate it to a friend, church, or other charity; they may be able to use it to repaint a room, wall, or project. In the end, make sure you do not leave paint behind, instead dispose of it properly.