We have all been there. Rummaging around in the chaos of all our old art supplies that have been tucked away for years, looking for that one tube of acrylic paint you need to finish off your piece of artwork.
Bingo. You find it. It’s covered in a multitude of colorful fingerprints, bent, and dented, but you’re in luck. There is still some paint in the tube.
You notice the lid isn’t on properly and some old paint has crusted around the top. You hesitantly remove the lid.
The color looks good, but the paint comes out thick and lumpy, and it smells a bit funny, but you don’t have a choice; you need this color so you persist.
With a crunch you twist off the lid, trying to ignore the smell and asking yourself if it always smelled that way.
You squeeze out lumps of paint and struggle to mix it with the water. It has a horrible consistency, and your head slumps as you think about giving up.
So what’s the bottom line?
Does acrylic paint have an expiration date? Acrylic paint technically can’t expire. However, a variety of factors can degrade the paint over time: extreme hot/cold temperatures can cause it to separate, bacterial contamination can cause mold to grow, and lids not fastened correctly and any holes will cause the paint to dry out.
Don’t panic. All is not lost.
We will cover what you can do to prevent your paints from going bad in the first place, how to store them correctly, and what to do if your favorite color has split.
Also find out how to correctly dispose of any old or used paint safely if it is beyond redemption.
Acrylic Paint Shelf Life
You should hope to get anywhere from 2-5 years of shelf life from your opened paints if they are stored correctly with the lids on tightly.
However, there are many variables that could shorten that time. Contaminants from the tap water, dirty paintbrushes, and any other tools you use could adversely affect the paint.
Many different factors, like extreme heat or cold can affect the paint’s shelf life, causing it to split giving it a horrible consistency or drying it out totally, rendering it useless.
Contaminants can also make it inside your paint from your dirty, old brushes or water and can cause mold to grow, making it smell bad.
How Long is Opened Acrylic Paint Good For?
An opened tube of acrylic paint that has been looked after and stored correctly has a shelf life of about 2-5 years, and unopened tubes can last anywhere up to 10 years and more.
Can You Use Old/Expired Acrylic Paint?
Some people do use old acrylic paint. It can be given some semblance of life again with some water, a palette knife, and a little bit of elbow grease.
However, if you find that it smells bad then it’s probably best to throw it away as it is likely contaminated with bacteria.
How Do You Tell If Paint Is Bad?
You can tell when acrylic paint has gone bad because it will give off an aged moldy smell, usually caused by contamination and mold affecting the paint.
If the paint has been exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures, there is a chance it will separate in the tube, becoming lumpy and inconsistent.
At the other end of the scale, if it has been allowed to dry out it will have completely solidified into a hard and brittle clump.
Should Acrylic Paint Have An Odor?
Old acrylic paint tends to give off a moldy, sour smell, which could be from contamination from old brushes or as a result of being stored incorrectly and allowing moisture to seep into the paint.
If it smells aged and like sour milk, it is probably best to throw it away.
Can You Restore Acrylic Paint?
If the paint has not completely dried out and solidified in the tube and you can still remove some of the paint, you will be able to mix the paint with some water and a palette knife to bring it back to a better consistency.
Be careful as too much water will reduce the paint’s coverage and color. You’ll find complete instructions of how to restore dried out paint in my article here.
Where & How To Store Acrylic Paint
To help prolong the life of your acrylic paints, they should be stored in a cool and dry place inside an airtight container.
Make sure to check that all of the lids are secured and in place properly, and check for any splits or cracks in the tubes.
Don’t store the paints outside in a garage if you live in a place with extreme hot or cold weather as this will degrade your paints over time.
Keeping paints away from any excessive moisture while stored will help lengthen the lifespan of your paints.
Where Should You Throw Out Acrylic Paint?
Water based and acrylic paints can be disposed of with your usual garbage.
They should be left with their lids off to dry out completely before being thrown out as wet paint can leak, making a horrible mess and potentially having a damaging effect on the environment and local wildlife.
What Can You Do With Leftover Acrylic Paint?
If you have leftover paint that you want to keep, you can transfer it to a small container with an airtight lid that will help keep the paint wet and usable for a time.
If the paint is left too long, though, it will eventually dry out and need to be discarded.
Another alternative is to use your acrylic paint to tie-dye some old t-shirts; the colors won’t be as vivid as traditional methods, but it does work.
What Is The Best Container To Store Paint In?
Any airtight container will do a good job of helping to keep your acrylic paints fresh for longer.
Mason jars are particularly useful.
You can store and clearly see all of the different paint colors you have, or you can arrange them by their different colors into separate jars, making for easy access when you are looking for a specific color.
Check that the lids of your paints are on properly before storing them, and make sure there are no splits in the paint tubes that would allow the paint to dry out.
Clean off any excess paint as this can cause cracking in the paint tube as it dries and can also prevent the lid from going on tightly.
Store in an airtight container in a cool and dry place. Protect your paints from both extreme hot and cold temperatures, and keep them away from any potential sources of moisture.
Following these steps should allow your favorite acrylic paints to last for many years and many more paintings.