How to Catch Expired or Bad Acrylic Paint

Let me paint a picture for you (pun intended):

There are few certainties in life, but one thing is forged in concrete: when spring arrives, my mother-in-law will be tirelessly working in her garden. My daughters and I decided to make a large, decorative tile for said-garden to add to her growing collection of shiny, garden objects.

When I opened my white paint, I thought something looked “off”; but, I was in a rush to finish this project so I used it anyway. The painting cured, my daughters embossed their names on it, and I sealed it with a coat of Polycrylic, with the intent to later seal it with resin. The girls gave the tile to their grandmother, everyone was happy, familial bliss achieved.

The very next day, almost half of the paint peeled off. It looked like something out of an artist’s worst nightmare…our beautiful, unique piece of glittering, rainbow magic had been practically destroyed. Now, before you think that my mother-in-law threw it at the ground or something, she didn’t. All she did was pick it up!

How did this happen? At first, I blamed the Polycrylic; maybe it was a bad batch? But then, it hit me…the “off” paint. I opened the jar of white paint back up and there it was, clear as crystal. The culprit had been found.


How to Know if You’ve Got Bad Paint

The reason my paint looked off was because it had separated. I’m not talking about normal separation which just requires a firm shake; I’m talking about clumps of paint suspended in a strange, semi-transparent liquid. 

This can happen for a few different reasons:

In my case, I had bought this particular white paint on sale at AC Moore about a year and a half ago, and it was a craft paint. Already, I had a few things working against me– the quality of the paint itself, and the age of it. Needless to say, I safely disposed of the paint and bought a new container!

You can also tell if you have bad paint if you open up the container and it smells rancid. Now, unless you’re working with Unicorn SPiT which is scented with jasmine, you’re used to the way paint should smell: sometimes strong, but not gross. 

Rancid paint will oftentimes smell exactly like rotten eggs; very sulfuric. You’ll know it when you open the container, and that’s a good time to close the container up and dispose of the paint. Rancid paint doesn’t always smell sulfuric, but if you notice it smells very strongly and acidic yet otherwise looks fine, test it on a small piece first to make sure it’s okay. 


Final Thoughts

Sometimes bad paint happens to you, and sometimes it happens because of you! You can avoid being the cause of wasted paint a few ways:

  • Make sure you store your paints according to the manufacturer’s instructions and think Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, just right.
  • Only buy the paint you need so that you circulate through your stock more frequently to avoid old paint

Have you had any experiences with bad paint? Tell us your stories in the comments!

For more tips on safety when paintin, please check out these articles:

7 thoughts on “How to Catch Expired or Bad Acrylic Paint”

  1. RameshPeter Krishnan

    I’m pretty new in pouring art and i’m still in the learning stage . Probably I will look out for some of the tail-sign which you have mentioned in your article. Thank u

  2. I’m very new at this but I will look out for the smell and purchase what I need I buy Arteza paints

  3. Suzanne Byerly

    I have been painting for a year now. I have noticed separation and clumps in paint that I have used earlier in year. It didn’t mix well and ended up with small clumps in art work. I will have to look out for smell and I need to start dating each to remind myself how old it might be.

  4. I have experienced that same problem and have found that before I buy, simply shaking the bottle will give me at least one tale-tale sign. If you can hear the paint move as a “gelled” or solid feeling, you know it has been on the shelf too long so put it back.

  5. A very dictactic site for those of us who are beginning to learn about the pouring technique. Greetings from Costa Rica!

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