Old Acrylic Paint: What to do With Dry and Expired Paint

Acrylic paint is probably the most used paint in the crafts world. It is easy to use, water-soluble, and water-resistant when dry, which makes it a very versatile paint for a lot of different projects. But how long can acrylic paint actually be stored away, what do you have to look out for when storing acrylic paint, and what can be done with dried out or expired acrylic paint. In this article, I will go over every single one of these questions to help you better store your acrylic paints and how to work with older Acrylic Paints properly.

Generally, acrylic paints can´t expire in the traditional sense but they can dry out at which point it will be a little difficult to make them usable again. Dried out Acrylic paints can sometimes be revived by diluting the dried paint in some warm water.

If you can revive old dried out acrylic paint depends entirely on the kind of acrylic paint and on how old the paint is. If you want to know exactly how to revive old dried out acrylic paints and when it is possible to do so, then read on down below.

I will explain exactly what you have to look out for and how you can save most of your acrylic paints with ease.

Can Acrylic Paint Expire?

I personally have quite a huge supply of acrylic paints sitting in my workshop. I usually bought them for a specific project and then didn´t use them for sometimes years until I suddenly need them again for another project at which point I often asked myself if I can still use them just like that or if they can actually go bad or not.

So acrylic paints can´t expire in the traditional sense. Acrylic paint is a synthetic-based paint which means it can´t expire like organic matter. But, if stored incorrectly, acrylic paints can dry out at which point it can be very hard to revive them properly. So store your acrylic paints away from sunlight at room temperature or colder.

Because acrylic paints are synthetic paints it is not possible for them to mold or to go bad in any other way.

Acrylic paints can, however, dry out really fast if you don´t store them properly. I personally used to keep my acrylic paint is a regular shelf inside a black box. But because the sun hit that black box about five hours a day through the window it actually got so hot inside the box for so many weeks, that all of my acrylic paints ended up drying out completely.

So don´t make the same mistakes I made and don´t store your acrylic paints at a location, that gets hot or is being hit directly by the sun.

Nowadays I store my acrylic paints in my workshop where its consistently four to six degrees colder than outside.

Over the years I accumulated a lot of acrylic paints and primers in my workshop and non of them has dried out ever since I stored them properly.

As you can see down below it has actually become a little bit messy and I have to tidy up my paint storing area a little bit. But every single one of these paints is more than three years old and none of them has dried out so far!

These acrylic paints are also very high quality. So low-quality acrylic paints may not survive that long even when properly stored.

How Long Can You Keep Acrylic Paint?

As I mentioned above, I have accumulated a lot of acrylic paint over the years and I don´t usually use all of it for the projects, that I bought it for. So I just store the leftover paint in my workshop until I need it for another project. None of these paints has dried out so far and I am personally quite surprised how long acrylic paints can last for if stored correctly.

Acrylic paint can be kept for multiple years if stored correctly. The only way acrylic paints can go bad is if they dry out, so the paint must be stored away from direct sunlight and should not be exposed to extreme temperatures. If they are stored properly acrylic paints can be kept for five or more years.

As I mentioned above I have acrylic paints, that are stored away in my workshop for over three years now and I think I still have the very first tube of acrylic paint, that I ever bought for my workshop which is probably about seven years old now. And the acrylic paint in that tube is still usable today!

So as long as you store your acrylic paints away from direct sunlight and as long as your paints are not exposed to extreme heat, then you should be fine.

Just remember, acrylic paint can´t go bad it can only dry out! So if it isn´t dried out, then it is still good to use.

Can You Fix Dried Out Acrylic Paint?

Now, that I have explained why acrylic paint can´t go bad and can only dry out let´s have a look at how to fix dried out acrylic paint. Before I had my workshop I actually stored my acrylic paint inside a black box which got hit by sunlight regularly and thus all my acrylic paints dried out over time. So I tried a few different things to see if I could still use them even when they were dry.

You can fix dried out acrylic paint by mixing them with some warm water. Only a small amount should be added at a time to avoid thinning down the paint too much. This only works if the paint has been sealed inside the container, so that the paint was not exposed to fresh air when it dried out.

Before we start with actually reviving old acrylic paint let´s first have a look at when it is possible and when not.

Damaged Paint Container or Tube

Generally, when the acrylic paint was exposed to fresh air when it dried out chances are, that you won´t be able to revive the paint. Acrylic paint reacts with the air when it dries resulting in the paint becoming water-resistant.

So when the container or tube of the acrylic paint was damaged or not properly closed then chances are, that enough fresh air got inside the container reacting with the paint and making it impossible to fix it with water.

If the container is properly shut and not damaged, however, then you are good to go.

Low-Quality Acrylic Paint

If you tried to fix your acrylic paint but it just didn´t work at all then chances are, that your acrylic paint is of low-quality.

Usually, there is nothing wrong with not using the high-end stuff but if your acrylic paint is of too low quality, then you may not be able to revive it with water at all.

Low-quality acrylic paint usually doesn´t have as many pigments in it and instead more water and synthetic material. This makes them a little more reactive and they usually dry a little faster.

Normally, that isn´t a problem at all but once these paints are dry they usually dry through to the core and harden quite thoroughly. This will make it almost impossible to get them back to a workable state after they dried completely.

So if your paint just won´t revive after mixing it with water, then this might be the reason for it.

How to Revive Dried Acrylic Paint Step by Step

Now, that we have all the possible problems that could occur or hinder the proper revival of your dried acrylic paints, it´s time to look at how to properly fix dried out acrylic paints.

You will need:

  • Some warm tab water (it should not be boiling)
  • The dried-out acrylic paint
  • An old Brush
  • A small container to mix the paint in

It is important to note, that if you plan on reviving your acrylic paint then you should use it right away and not put it back inside a container or tube for storing!

Mix the Water with the Acrylic Paint

Put some of the dried out acrylic paint in the little container.

Then add a little bit of the warm water to the container and use the brush to cover the acrylic paint with the water.

Let it sit for a few minutes.

The paint should start to color the water. You can now add a little more water. Don´t add too much water at once or you may end up diluting the paint too much. A few drops at a time are enough.

You should end up with a mixing ratio of about one part acrylic paint and one part water.

Use the Brush to Mix the Paint With the Water

Now you can use the brush to carefully mix the acrylic paint with the water. Slowly but surely the paint should start to get softer and softer until it reaches its original consistency.

If you feel like there are still too many hard parts of the dried up paint in the mixture then feel free to add a little bit more water and let it sit for another minute or so before mixing it again.

Do this until the paint has its original consistency.

Filter Out Parts of the Paint, that Have Reacted with Air

You probably already saw a few latex-like acrylic paint parts in your mixture that just won´t go away no matter how much you mix it with warm water.

These parts have reacted with the air caught inside the paint tube or paint container. Its usually just a small film on top of the paint and it will not react with water anymore. This latex-like film has to be filtered out of the paint. YOu can simply pick it out with your fingers or with your paintbrush and throw it away.

Apply the Acrylic Paint to Your Project

The final step is to simply apply the paint to your project. It will work exactly like regular acrylic paint. It will dry without any issues and without changing its color in any way.

You have to use the paint right away though because storing it may not work anymore. So make sure to use it all up!