The Painting Hack That'll Save Old Paint For Tiny Touchups

If you've been making a mental checklist of multiple areas around your home that just need a small touch-up, now's a good time to go into the garage, basement, or wherever you store leftover paint and pull it out from under the cobwebs. Once you've made sure it's the right color, you may open it and find that, though there's a bit of paint left, it's a dried, globby mess. You don't want to have to buy a whole new can, and if it still has some moisture, you won't have to. If your paint is latex, the way to revive it for a tiny series of touch-ups is to add water.

Water-based latex paint doesn't always dry out, but it may. No matter what, when paint sits still for a long time, gravity will do its job and separate the water from the solids. If the lid doesn't happen to be completely secured and airtight, then over the months and years, that water will evaporate. When you pop the lid off your paint can for the first time in a while, you may find it's no longer a liquid but has become a kind of paste. To prevent your paint from drying in the future and to keep the lid from sticking to your paint can, use a piece of plastic wrap between the two. 

Reviving your dried latex paint into liquid color

Once you've identified all the places in your home that need a touch-up, bring your paint back into its proper texture. It's best if you can step outdoors and wear a mask to protect yourself from paint fumes. Bring a thick paint stick, a flathead screwdriver to remove the lid, room-temperature water, and a measuring cup.

As a loose rule of thumb, a half cup of water per gallon of paint is a good starting place. We recommend adding very little at a time — you can always add more water, but if you thin the paint too much, the color and finish will also change, and you can't go back. Add small amounts and stir with the paint stick. If the paint is falling off the stick in globules, it's too thick to use. You want to add just enough to create the consistency of heavy cream. Remember to stir not just in circles but up and down, too. Do not add paint thinner to latex paint; only use water. Thinner is a solvent only meant for oil-based paints. If your old paint is rancid, moldy, frozen, or cracked dry, it's time to buy a new can.  But if you're able to thin your own paint and ready to go, then in true DIY fashion, go ahead and reuse an empty milk jug to make your touch-ups easier.