How to Dispose of Spray Paint Cans

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When you are finished with a can of spray paint, the last thing you want to do is toss it in the trash. Not only this is bad for the environment, but it is also illegal in some areas. The United States produces 3.5 billion spray paint cans yearly, as Recycling International stated. Not everyone who uses them knows how to dispose of these cans once they’re finished properly.

The good news is that since most of these cans are made from steel or aluminum, they are 100% recyclable! However, the bad news is that only 30 percent of people recycle these products.

EPA considers most spray paint cans hazardous waste due to the unstable propellants used to pressurize them. Additionally, the product inside the cans, such as brake cleaning fluids, paints, sealants, and cleaning solvents, could be dangerous and have properties like ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

It may not seem like it, but throwing away just one spray paint can harm the environment. When people don’t properly dispose of these cans, they end up in landfills, taking up space and releasing toxic chemicals into the ground. Improper waste disposal is also against the law and poses a safety risk to people and animals.

This blog post will teach you how to dispose of spray paint cans properly.

How to Dispose of Spray Paint Cans?

girl holding Spray Paint
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1. Ventilate the Area

The first step is ensuring the area you are working in is well-ventilated. This is important because you don’t want to breathe in any fumes from the spray paint. Once you are in a well-ventilated area, open up the can of spray paint and point it away from your face. Press down on the nozzle to release any pressure that might be built up inside the can.

2. Remove the Lid

The next step is to remove the lid from the can. You can do this by prying it off with a screwdriver or using a can opener. Once the lid is removed, throw it away in a trash can.

3. Depress The Nozzle

Now that the lid is off, you can start releasing the can’s contents. Make sure you are pointing the can away from your face and body before you start to depress the nozzle. Taking this precaution will help prevent any injuries resulting from explosions.

4. Allow the Paint to Flow Out Until It is Empty

Once you start depressing the nozzle, the paint will flow out. Keep depressing the nozzle until the can is empty. If you are having trouble getting all the paint out, try tipping the can on its side or upside down.

5. Replace The Lid

Once the can is empty, replace the lid and dispose of it in a trash can. If you live in an area where recycling is available, you can recycle the can instead. Spray paint cans are made from steel or aluminum, which means they are recyclable. However, before you recycle your spray paint can, you must ensure it’s empty.

The best way to do this is to ventilate the area you are working in, remove the lid from the can, and depress the nozzle until the can is empty. Once the can is empty, replace the lid and dispose of it in a trash can. If you live in an area where recycling is available, you can recycle the can instead.

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6. Clean Up Any Spills

Once you are finished disposing of the spray paint can, you need to clean up any spills. If there is any paint drips on the ground, clean them with a paper towel. You should also wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

The last step is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This will help remove any paint or chemicals on your skin. Following these steps, you can properly dispose of your spray paint cans and help keep the environment clean.

Mistakes to Avoid While Disposing of Spray Paint

1. Leaving the Cap On

Spray paint cans usually have a plastic cap, while the can is metal. Even though both materials are recyclable, they cannot be recycled together. Most of these plastic caps are made from polypropylene which falls under #5 plastic. Check if your local recycling program accepts #5 plastics before adding the cap to your bin. If you are using a spray can with a small, targeted straw attached, please throw away the straw after use.

2. Not Making Sure the Can is Empty 

If any substance remains in a paint can, you must dispose of it through your household hazardous waste program. This is because aerosol cans that still have substances inside them are pressurized. If they get punctured or crushed, they could explode or catch on fire, posing a danger to trash compactors or recycling sorters.

Completely emptying a can before recycling is essential for the safety of waste and recycling workers. The best way to ensure it is empty is to hold the can close to a rag and spray until nothing else comes out.

3. Trying to Depressurize the Can Yourself

Never attempt to puncture, crush, or flatten an empty can yourself, as pressure may still be in the can. This could result in severe injury. There are also government regulations regarding the safe depressurization of cans because they may contain chemicals or air pollutants that could be harmful if released.

Household hazardous waste programs and recycling facilities have processes to safely depressurize and recycle cans without requiring residents to do so themselves.

4. Attempting to Remove the Nozzle

Do not remove the nozzle from the spray mechanism, even though it is plastic. You might think separating it would enable you to recycle it, but that wouldn’t work because the piece is too small to go through a recycling sorter.

Never try to remove the nozzle of a spray can by yourself–it’s incredibly dangerous. The process may depressurize the container and cause it to explode. Remember, household hazardous waste programs are always available to recycle these cans safely.

5. Assuming which Bin It Goes In

The most confusing and important part is that every location has different regulations for disposing of cans. The one solid rule, however, is that if any substance is left in the can, you must dispose of it through your household hazardous waste program. What you do with your empty cans will vary based on where you live and the specific recycling program. 

The best way to find out how to properly dispose of them is by using the Recycle Coach app’s What Goes Where search tool or contacting your local household hazardous waste disposal program. Do not assume they can go one place or another without checking first. This could lead to contamination of the recycling process.

The Bottom Line

There is nothing worse than having to deal with spray paint cans. If you are like most people, you probably want to eliminate them as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that is not always the best option. You need to keep the above-mentioned things in mind when disposing of spray paint cans.


Is aerosol recyclable?

Most local recycling programs will accept empty aerosol spray cans from paint, hair spray, shaving cream, and cooking spray. Aerosol spray cans that are full or partly full must be dropped off at a hazardous waste location.

Can you put empty paint tins in the recycling bin?

If you have empty paint cans made of metal, recycling them is easy and can be done with the rest of your household recyclables.

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