If you’ve gone head over heels for acrylic painting, specifically acrylic pour painting in my case, you most likely have a problem with paint containers being everywhere. I probably have a hundred small bottles and tubes of paint that I have accumulated over this past year. I’ve done a little research to figure out how to store them to help lengthen their shelf life.
How to store acrylic paint? Acrylic paint should be stored in an airtight container, away from wet or damp locations, and in a place where the temperature will remain around 65° – 75° F.
While these are the basics of storing acrylic paint, here are a few more things you should consider before putting your paints away.
Note: Acrylic paints on a palette or otherwise removed from a proper container have special storage needs not covered in this article.
Shelf Life of Acrylic Paint
Every manufacturer of acrylic paint gives a different shelf life estimate for their products. Each of these estimates depend on a number of different factors which will be discussed later in this blog. Unfortunately, only a few of the acrylic paint manufacturers actually print expiration dates on their product or mention them on their website.
Of the major manufacturers, I only found one reference to the shelf life of acrylic paint. On their website, Liquitex says:
“you can expect a 5-7 year shelf life from Liquitex acrylic products, provided the materials are stored properly at room temperature, kept tightly capped and kept free of contaminants.“Liquitex
There is some anecdotal evidence, based on my research into acrylic shelf life, that some acrylic paints have been known to last well past a decade. Many artists claim they have successful used paints, either from their own collection or paint that has been donated to them, that have been sitting for 10, 15, and even 30 years.
Storage Location Considerations
When making the decision on where to store your paints there are a few things for you to consider. You’ll want to select a place that has a relatively constant average temperature and somewhere where there isn’t a lot of moisture accumulation.
Why Temperature Matters
Acrylic paints are water-based paints that dry much more quickly than oil-based paint. Being water based, these paints are especially sensitive to extreme temperatures. Too much cold and the water and other components of the paints will freeze. With excessive heat the paint will dry out and become unusable.
It is recommended that you keep your paints in a location that remains between 65° and 75° all year round. When the temperatures vary 10° or more outside of this range there is a chance that the natural separation of the emulsion (mixing of two materials that in normal circumstances don’t mix) of which the acrylic based paints are made.
Moisture and Paint Storage Don’t Mix
When actually painting with acrylic paints, you would generally want some moisture in the air to help keep the paints from drying out quickly. In the case of paint storage, however, moisture can be your worst enemy.
As was mentioned previously, paints need to be kept at a constant average temperate. Unfortunately, that recommended temperature range is also an optimal temperature range for many things to grow, including mold and mildew.
To prevent mold and mildew from growing on paints in storage, you need to reduce that amount of moisture in the air around the paints. Here is a quick checklist of places where you should NOT store paint.
- Near running water like in a bathroom or kitchen.
- In an area where clothes are washed or dried.
- Next to exposed wood or concrete as these both can retain moisture.
- In a utility closet with furnace or air conditioner where there is excess airflow and water in the air.
- Near a door to the outside where contaminates are abundant.
Special Considerations for Pour Paint Mixes
When doing acrylic paint pouring, you are more than likely adding a pouring medium to your paint. This medium can include anything from water to glue to professional pouring mediums.
Because this acrylic pour mixture is made up of even different types of materials, the shelf life of paint with pouring mediums included becomes a bit more complicated.
Anytime mixing is happening, additional contaminates from the air, from the different additive bottles, from the items the paint is stirred in, and the container used for mixing itself are introduced into the newly created compound.
This variability makes the shelf life of pouring paint mixtures to be drastically reduced. Many artists recommendations I found advocated that you only keep a paint pouring mixture for a few weeks at most before throwing it out. I have personally had a few of my pouring mediums concoctions go bad in a matter of 10-12 days.
How Long Will the Paint be Stored?
Another major consideration to keep in mind is the length of time you expect the paint to be stored. If you are a frequent painter, you might only have paint on hand for a few days or weeks before you will have used it all up. If you are like me, all of your paint gets stored together and some of it gets used quickly, and others get used less frequently.
When paint is used up quickly, it is less likely that variability of temperatures or moisture levels will affect the lifespan of the paint. The longer the duration of storage, the more important these considerations become.
You should always keep in mind the amount of time you plan on storing your paints and plan your repository accordingly.
Containers for Paint Storage
Every artist has their personal methods for their paint organization and storage. Some like them throw together and others like them all laid out and color coded. Whichever your personal affectations are, here are a few choices you have on different containers to store your paint.
Original Container from the Manufacturer
Acrylic paint come prepackaged in some pretty durable containers. Craft paints commonly come in plastic bottles in a range of sizes. Student quality paints generally ship in plastic tubes. Artist or professional quality acrylic paints usually come in more robust canisters or metal tubes.
With any of these containers, the most important thing to look for when storing paints are that the lid closes and seals, and that the container doesn’t have any holes or cracks. Since acrylic paints are made of water and other volatiles, exposure to the air is a two-fold problem. Paint can dry out and it can breed mold and mildew. Both of these problems are reduced drastically when paint is sealed in an air tight container.
Short term storage of paints in their manufacturer packaging will most likely be the default way paints are store. There are a plethora of different options for arranging your paint for short term storage and I recommend you review our resources pages for ideas.
Common Household Items for Paint Storage
If the original containers are not usable or compromised for any reason here are a few common household items that you could use to store your acrylic paints in. In every case, the container must be washed thoroughly, and the lid must either screw on or seal completely or the paint will not last as long as you might expect.
- Mason Jars with new lid (long)
- Condiment squeeze bottles (short)
- Tupperware (short)
- Used pop/water bottles (average)
- Used butter/soup/sour cream containers (short)
- Coffee tin (short)
- Any bowl/container with saran wrap or press n’ seal (very short)
Long Term Storage
Long term storage of acrylics, while not hugely different than short term storage, does require a bit more foresight. Here are a few tips and tricks to use for long term storage or for short term storage in locations where humidity is very high.
Tips & Tricks
- Add mold & mildew inhibitor directly to the paint
- Put the paint containers in a larger air tight container
- Put a disposable diaper in the location where paints are stored
- Add silicone moisture absorbing packets where the paints are stored
- Use plumbers’ tape on screw on lids to tighten the seal
Acrylic paint can definitely go bad. For additional information on some of the most common issues that cause acrylic paints to go bad see our blog post here.
PRO TIP: Write the date you purchase your paint on the original paint container in a black permanent marker. I usually do this on the lid.
Can I add glycerin to acrylic paint? Most acrylic paints probably have a small amount of glycerin already in them which acts as a conditioner and drying retarder. Adding more may affect the properties of the paint. Small quantities in relation to the paint quantity will retard (slow down) drying times.
How do I preserve acrylic paint? Preservation of acrylics rely on the same basic tenants of acrylic storage mentioned in this article. Make sure the paint stays at a consistent average temperature (65° – 75° F) and limit the exposure to excessive moisture.