Paint Can Storage Ideas | Efficient & Creative

one hybrid black paint can and three metal paint cans with paint can labels on steel shelf against blue backgroundone hybrid black paint can and three metal paint cans with paint can labels on steel shelf against blue background

Sorting, Safety & Arranging Your Space

Project creation can be messy and chaotic, but your paint can storage shouldn’t be. Dive into these practical and organizational tips for the product in your paint cans and the perfectionist in you! It’s important to note that where paint is involved, so is the conversation about flammability and fire safety. Implementing smart paint can storage ideas ensures that your supplies and everyone involved goes unharmed. No paint? No problem! There are various ways to use empty paint cans for storage purposes in your home, studio, and beyond.

What Does Paint Can Storage Involve?

How you store your paint cans will come down to your individual supplies and design choices, but there are several things to account for before adding a personal touch to your paint can storage solution. Everything– from the type of storage structure to the details with which you label your paint cans– plays a role in the effectiveness of your paint can storage.

1. Create the Perfect Environment

Successful paint can storage follows the Goldilocks Principle; spaces that are too hot or too cold are just not right. Sunlight can cause paint to separate, while extremely cold temperatures will freeze paint. The recommended temperature for paint falls between 50 F (10 C) and 80 F (27 C). Cooler, darker places– such as basements, temperature-controlled garages, and closets– offer the consistent temperatures and dry air ideal for paint can storage. It is best to select spaces that are out of reach of children and pets, to help prevent incidents. 

Not every paint can storage situation comes with the liberty of selecting the perfect room. The most important factors in making any room suitable for paint can storage are temperature and exposure to sunlight. Storing paint in cabinets with solid doors that block out the sun is a good idea for anyone intending to keep paint in a well-lit room. One might also make an effort to maintain a cool room temperature and use a dehumidifier to keep the air dry.

2. Close Your Paint Can Properly

The project process may lead to haphazard opening and closing of paint cans, which can prove detrimental in the long run. When considering how to open a paint can, it is vital that the paint can’s lid and rim do not get damaged. Damaging your paint can while opening it prevents it from achieving a proper seal when resealed. Taking the time to learn how to close a paint can keeps your paint from drying up and prevents spills. A variation of the common mallet technique involves adding a piece of plastic wrap between the lid and paint can for an air-tight seal; the plastic wrap should significantly stick out from under the lid once hammered into place.

Consider whether your situation would benefit from tools such as paint can closers or paint can clips by weighing the cost of these tools with the cost of damage and product waste that could result from improper paint can sealing. Depending on how much and what kind of paint you are storing, it may also be helpful to have spill clean up supplies on hand in the event that the paint cans have not been closed properly or an accident occurs.

four steps for closing a paint canfour steps for closing a paint can

3. Stabilize Your Shelf

It is the responsibility of every paint can owner to assess the stability of their shelves and distribute the weight of their paint supplies appropriately. The most common types of paint can storage structures are simple wooden or metal standing shelves. When working with a taller standing shelf, bolting it to the wall may help prevent tipping. Paying attention to how much the shelf sways as it is loaded with paint supplies will determine the safest weight distribution. Avoid placing the heaviest items on the highest shelf and use a step stool to remove items that are out of reach. As mentioned previously, cabinets are a wonderful option for anyone who prefers to store their paint cans behind doors. This allows them to be locked away from children, pets, and alike.

Smaller paint cans and spray paint cans are often kept on wall or door-mounted shelves with narrow rows and product-specific slots, but paint cans of all sizes can be stored on wall-mounted shelves as long as their weight is supported. Some spray paint shelves, such as the Sure-Grip® EX Wall Mount Aerosol Can Safety Cabinet, can weigh as much as 200 lbs, so proper installment is crucial. Wall-mounted storage structures keep products out of reach when installed closer to the ceiling than the floor. Adjustable, modular wall brackets are a great wall-mounted option as they offer flexible organization options.

Looking for something more mobile? Paint can storage carts allow for easy transportation with a minimized risk of spills. Since they are easy to access and movable, storage carts are best suited for supervised creation spaces. 

wall mount aerosol can safety cabinetwall mount aerosol can safety cabinet

4. Consider Alternatives to Upright Paint Can Placement

The majority of paint can shelves require upright paint can placement, but what can be made of alternative, creative storage methods? Traditional paint cans are almost always stored upright, although they can be stored on their side or at an angle if sealed properly. Stacking paint cans is acceptable and common, but stacking too high on too shaky of a surface may lead to falling cans.

Variety of placement primarily applies to spray paint cans, which are often seen stored on their side or inserted into slots. The internal mechanism of spray paint cans can be affected by the position in which they rest. Some professionals suggest avoiding storing spray paint cans on their side as this causes the aerosol to expand and escape faster. Others propose storing spray paint cans on the side or upside down in between projects to keep the nozzle moist, prevent solids from plugging the intake, and avoid shaking the can before every use. However, storing spray paint cans upside down regularly can compromise their shelf-life. When possible, it is a good idea to consult any statements about can placement that have been released by the brand of your spray paint, or any specific directions on the can itself.

5. Label & Organize

Most paint cans already have some type of identifier describing the type and color of paint they hold, so additional labeling might seem unnecessary and excessive. However, tracking certain details makes revisiting your paint cans easier. Tracking the rooms and places where certain paints were used makes fixing damage and scuff marks simple. Likewise, maintaining an index of used paint is recommended for homeowners who may want to sell their home and provide the new owners with paint color context.

You might benefit from keeping record of the:

  • Room/Use. Taking note of what room, part of the room, or item, your paint was used on allows you to comfortably return to the color. Want to cover a mark on the cabinets in your child’s bathroom? Look for the paint can you conveniently labeled, “(name)’s bathroom, cabinets”.
  • Color. Swatch your paint on the paint can lid or on a designated area of the label. Additionally, jot down the name of the paint color and collection as specifically as possible. You might write down “Azure Mist, Blue Color Family” instead of “light blue” in order to purchase the shade again with ease.
  • Brand. Writing down the exact color name will only take you so far without a record of the brand of paint you are storing.
  • Date. This attribute is often tracked more specifically as “date mixed” or “date of purchase”. However you choose to interpret this portion of the label, the most important part is that you know how old your paint is.
  • Qualities. What is the paint’s base? The paint’s base is the substance that composes the paint’s body. Paint can be oil-based, water-based, or latex-based. What is the paint’s finish or sheen? This refers to how much light the paint reflects once it has dried. Some common examples of finishes are eggshell, satin, matte, and various types of gloss. Is the paint interior or exterior paint? You may decide to write down something along the lines of “water-based, matte, interior” on this line.
  • Notes. The notes section can be used for any helpful memos, such as additional locations where the paint was used.

Another benefit of labeling paint cans is getting a better idea of the paint inventory at hand, which allows for meaningful organization. All of the trackable elements above– room, color, date– can help sort your paint supply depending on your needs. Aside from classic color-coding, you may prefer to organize paint by “use” in order to make quick and easy touch ups to rooms, or separate by “finish” if your paint is similar in color. Spatially, smaller paint cans may be placed in containers or boxes, which can also be labeled.

6. Download Our Label Template

Developing the habit of labeling your paint right after use eliminates the need to rely on memory later. It is wise to keep printed labels and markers on hand at all times. Take advantage of these free, downloadable label templates courtesy of The Cary Company and the Cary Design team! If you have the tools to do so, you may wish to print these labels on sticker paper. Otherwise, printer paper and tape works well.

paint can label template created by The Cary Companypaint can label template created by The Cary Company

7. Transfer Leftover Paint into Smaller Containers

Reducing clutter by transferring leftover paint into smaller paint cans, glass jars, or pinch grip jars frees up space for more product! When using jars, make sure they are clean and have an airtight seal. You may also choose to reuse empty, smaller paint cans for a more stackable alternative to jars. If this is the case, make sure the smaller paint cans have been thoroughly cleaned and dried to avoid altering the leftover paint’s color or formula. Transferring paint is only unadvised if the paint itself is toxic.

8. Maximize Storage by Disposing of Old Paint

Not all leftover paint is worth storing. Old paint may have a spoiled, sour smell or mildew scent due to bacterial growth in the paint. Even if your paint does not have a foul smell, if you notice a significant difference in application it is possible that your paint has changed viscosity under extreme hot or cold temperatures. If your paint has developed a skin– a thin layer of hardened paint– on its surface, you may notice flakes when using it. Not all texture changes mean your paint is unusable; old paint may need to be shaken or stirred if the ingredients have separated. Yet, there is no reason to prolong throwing out unusable paint. It is vital to understand how to dispose of paint cans in order to properly handle leftover paint and recycle paint cans without harming the environment.

9. Use Empty Paint Cans for Storage

Empty, clean paint cans can also be upcycled into storage solutions. Use paint cans to store brushes, paint brush cleaners, rags, painters clothes (an apron, t-shirt, etc.), sanding sponges, painters tape, and even paint samples! Using recycled paint cans to store consumable items is discouraged to avoid contamination from paint remains or the can itself. If you'd like to use new, empty paint cans for consumables, make sure that the can is FDA-approved and has an FDA-approved lining. For aesthetic, transparent storage you can see inside of, use clear art-style paint cans

For more ideas on how to utilize empty paint cans for storage as well as visual depictions of the paint can storage ideas discussed in this article, explore our Pinterest boards.

10. Know When Flammable Safety Cabinets Are the Only Option

Safety is non-negotiable. Improper handling of paint cans that still have product in them may lead to hazardous spills and even fires. Hazardous spills primarily refer to paint contaiminating waterways as well as the presence of an uncontrolled flammable substance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Regulations on Flammable Liquids govern the presence of flammable liquids in workspaces. Although OSHA regulations do not apply to residential properties, homeowners should adhere to their local municipality’s fire codes; they might also benefit from following OSHA guidelines, specifically those related to safe amounts of flammable paint.

According to OSHA, flammable safety cabinets are only required when storing more than 25 gallons of flammable paint. This roughly translates to approximately 600 spray paint cans, although the flammability of aerosol makes a good case for storing spray paint in flammable safety cabinets whenever possible. Cabinets should be labeled as flammable and warn about keeping open flames away. No more than 3 cabinets of 60 gallon capacity are allowed in a single room.

Am I Storing Flammable Paint?

Flammable paint is identified by a fire symbol, often accompanied by a red, orange, or yellow background or border. Reference the chart below to identify flammable paint types. Some paint is combustible but not flammable. Flammable paint ignites easily, but combustible paint can still burn with some effort. Shop our safety cabinets for combustibles to combat these risks.

flammable safety symbolflammable safety symbol

Flammability by Paint Type

Type of Paint

Flammable When Wet? Flammable When Dry?

Spray Paint

Yes No


Yes No


No Yes


No Combustible, not flammable

Acrylic Enamel

No Yes 

Acrylic Latex

No No

Liquitex Acrylic

No Combustible, not flammable

Chalk Paint

No No

Paint Thinners

Combustible, not flammable Combustible, not flammable

Solutions for All of Your Needs

Here at The Cary Company, we take pride in our ability to guide you to finding the solutions for all of your storage and container needs. Efficient and creative paint can storage ideas are both a matter of safety and functionality, which are some of our highest priorities. 

Shop and compare the largest collection of paint cans online! Looking for a certain paint can style or size? We can help! The Cary Product Sourcing Team will help you find the best solution for your problem. In addition, The Cary Design Team can help you with all your design needs from label design to label application. -- Call 630.629.6600 or email us at!

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