As artists, we have all been there at one point in our artistic journey—buying more tubes of acrylic paint than we can consume within the year. Maybe, it’s for testing brands or colors or an art store sale that is too hard to resist. But, now you have a drawer or box full of unopened acrylic paints, and you’re left wondering: how long does acrylic paint last?
Unopened acrylic paints last 2 to 15 years based on storage conditions, the temperature of storage, and paint quality. Once opened, it can last up to 10 years if it is unexposed to extreme temperatures, air, molds, and mildews.
How long does acrylic paint last? Acrylic paint shelf life of 24 brands
Here is a comparison table of different paint brands and their shelf life.
|Paint brand||Shelf-life (unopened)*|
|Golden Acrylic Paint||Many years|
|Liquitex Basics||5-7 years|
|Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics||5-7 years|
|Winsor & Newton Acrylic Paint (My Review)||Up to 7 years|
|Blick Studio Paint||Up to 2 years|
|Blick Artists’ Paint||Up to 2 years|
|Utrecht Artists’ Acrylic Paint||Up to 2 years|
|Old Holland New Masters Classic Acrylic Paint||Up to 2 years|
|M. Graham Artists’ Acrylics||Many years|
|Chroma Atelier Interactive Acrylic paint||Up to 5 years|
|Holbein Acrylics||Up to 2 years|
|Matisse Acrylics||Up to 5 years|
|Daler-Rowney System 3||Up to 5 years|
|Arteza Acrylic Paint||2-5 years|
|Reeves Acrylic Paint||Up to 2 years|
|PRIMAcryl Artists’ Acrylic||Up to 5 years|
|Lascaux Artist Acrylic Paint||2-5 years|
|Pebeo Extra-Fine Artist Acrylics||5 years|
|Sennelier Acrylic Paint||2-5 years|
|Tri-Art Artist Acrylics||Up to 2 years|
|Folk Art Acrylic Paint set||Many years|
|Acrylic latex paint (in general)||2-10 years|
|Acrylic enamel paint (in general)||5-10 years|
These shelf-life dates are not set in stone. So even cheap acrylic paints (unopened) can last longer if stored properly.
Furthermore, your acrylic paint may still be usable even after 20+ years. However, the quality may not be as good as brand-new acrylic paint.
*Based on the manufacturer’s data and anecdotal reports of consumers.
How long does paint last after opening?
Once opened, acrylic paint can last for about six months to utmost 5 years, depending on several conditions. These include:
- Air exposure
Read on to understand how these factors affect the longevity of acrylic paints.
In general, all paint mediums must be kept in airtight containers. This will prevent moisture from the air in your paints, which propagates mildew and mold growth.
In acrylic paints, in particular, airtight containers help minimize the risk of your opened paint drying out and becoming unusable.
Acrylic paint is a water-based medium that can freeze in a too-cold environment. Similarly, it will dry fast if left at too hot a temperature.
The best temperature for storing opened and unopened acrylic is between 60-75 F (or 15-24 C).
Acrylic paintings, in contrast, need to be kept at room temperature, around 60-80 F (16-26 C). Putting them in too-cold rooms may cause the paint to become brittle and deteriorate.
Air carries particles that contaminate your paint. These include dust, bacteria, and fungi that promote mold and mildew growth.
Air also has water. And water causes your paint to dry fast or grow mold and mildew too.
Higher-quality acrylic paints (and even other high-quality paint mediums, generally) tend to last longer, even when already opened.
This happens because more expensive paints and brands have better preservatives than cheaper acrylic paints. However, higher quality is a higher price point too.
So, while it may be tempting to stock up with artist and professional-grade paints, it may be worthwhile to stick with student and beginner-grade paints.
You can start to upgrade slowly as you also grow your skills.
How long mixed paint and pour paint last?
Mixed acrylic paint and acrylic pouring paint can last up to 2 weeks. However, in some cases, it may have already gone bad in a week.
Mixed paint doesn’t last longer than unopened or opened tube paints because it has already been exposed to several conditions that make the paint go bad. These include other mediums, dust, moisture, air, and (more) water, which hasten their drying time.
Water easily evaporates. And once it does, your paint becomes a film and plasticky substance.
Moreover, water is also a carrier of contaminants—like fungi and bacteria—that increases the risk of mold growth.
So, if you still want to try to keep an already mixed paint, you have to make sure that it is in an airtight container. Here are some of our suggestions:
And if you have only a little paint left over in the jar, cover it with cling wrap before covering it with the lid. This can help reduce exposure to moisture and may just keep your paint last a little bit longer.
Does acrylic paint go bad or expire?
Acrylic paint does not expire, but it can go bad if stored incorrectly.
This medium does not expire because it uses an acrylic polymer as its binder, which is similar in properties to plastic. This is also why acrylic paints turn like plastic once dried out.
However, while acrylic paint does not expire, it still goes bad.
In this sense, it means that it becomes unusable and unrevivable. And how soon your tube of paint will dry out depends on storage conditions, brand, and temperature.
Besides having dried out, here are other signs to watch out for to know when your acrylic paint has gone bad.
- Mold and mildew
Read on to understand how these factors show that your acrylic paint has gone bad.
The smell of new and unopened acrylic paint comes from VOCs—volatile organic compounds, the preservatives in paints. This has very faint to almost imperceptible odors.
So, the smell is the first sign to watch out for when you open an acrylic paint that has been around for a long time. But, if it is still mostly odorless, you may still be able to use the paint.
But if you notice any of these odors when the cap is off—strong rotten egg, sour, or earthy smell—immediately dispose of your acrylic paint.
The source of any of this smell is likely bacterial and may harm your health.
It may also be important to note that it can still be usable if the paint only has a slightly pungent smell. However, it may be best to check the paint to ensure no mold or mildew growth before using it.
Mold and mildew
Mildew is the main source of the sour, spoiled milk smell of “expired” acrylic paint. This is a type of fungi that may either be white or gray with a powdery appearance.
If the paint has an earthy smell, then it probably has molds. This type of fungi may appear yellowish or greenish. It also has a hairy texture that is easier to spot in light-colored paints.
While mildew is less hazardous to your health than molds, it is still best to get rid of your paint tubes if you already spot them.
Mold and mildew may grow on the paint’s surface or around the container.
While it may be tempting to just scrape the fungi off, it is not advisable. Because they spread and grow fast that when you start to notice them, it is very likely that the whole paint tube or can is already contaminated.
Furthermore, painting with moldy or mildewy paint will cause discoloration and peeling on your artwork. It may not be fully dry and become sticky.
Lumps in your acrylic paint also indicate that they have gone bad.
These appear on your medium for various reasons, including:
- Mold growth
- Dried paint
- Separation of binder and pigment
Fortunately, lumps in paint do not always mean you need to throw the paint itself. Instead, identify the cause of the lumps first.
If it is just some dried paint, use a paint strainer to remove the thickened lumps. Separated binder and pigment may be fixed with mixing (note that this does not always work!).
However, if it is mold, just get rid of your paint.
Lumps may be harder to detect in tube paints, so you may need to spread the paint on a palette to check for them.
When you squeeze the tube of your acrylic paint, does it flow smoothly or does a clear substance go out of your tube before the paint?
If it is the latter, your paint has already gone bad. Contrary to common belief, the clear water-like substance that oozes out of your tube is not water but the binding agent.
When the binding agent has already separated from your medium, your acrylic paint may already be unusable. However, some claim you can add distilled water to your paint or remix the binder and pigment.
You can give this trick a try. But it is not always guaranteed to produce positive results, especially if your paint has been with you for a long time (more than a year).
How to store acrylic paint to make it last longer?
Acrylic paints have a relatively long shelf life (compared to gouache and watercolor). So, your paint tube should last for a minimum of 2 years to almost 15 years if properly cared for.
To help make your opened or unopened acrylic paint last longer, I’m sharing some tried and tested tips and best practices below.
Storage reminders for acrylic paint
Here are some reminders for storing acrylic paints to make them last longer.
- Proper temperature
The optimal temperature for acrylic paint is 60-75 F (or 15-24 C).
A lower temperature may cause the separation of binder and pigment. Whereas higher temperature dries out your paint.
- Airtight containers
Always make sure to keep your paint tubes in airtight containers to minimize exposure to air and moisture. Here are some of our recommendations:
Likewise, keeping your large jars and paint cans in a bigger airtight container, like this storage container, is also advisable.
- Storage conditions
The best storage condition, besides airtight containers, is a cool, dry place with minimal sun exposure.
This minimizes exposure to air and moisture, which will damage your acrylic paint.
And if you always use your acrylic paint, you can put your supplies in rolling carts with metal mesh bottoms because they also prevent moisture and dust buildup.
- Container size
When keeping mixed paint, opt for a small, airtight container.
It is best if the container is just big enough for your paint because it minimizes the risk of air getting trapped inside the container.
A final tip is to write the date you bought the paint (using permanent markers) on the tube or jar. This will help you remember when you need to immediately use up paint before it even gets a chance to go bad.
Usage tips for acrylic paint
Here are the best practices for using acrylic paint (or any paint medium to make them last longer).
- Always use clean brushes and palettes when painting.
- Use distilled water instead of tap water to minimize the risk of contamination.
- Use acrylic paint mediums instead of water to thin paints.
- Do not mix acrylic paint with cheap house paint (especially if you want to keep mixed paints for later use).
- Squeeze only what you need on a palette.
- Squeeze paint tubes to release air before capping them off.
- Make sure to close your paint tin can or tube properly.
- Clean the lid or caps of paints before storing them away.
- Cover paint in cans or jars with plastic wrap before putting the lid on to minimize air exposure.
Lastly, if possible, opt for acrylic paint in metal tubes like Grumbacher and M. Graham. Plastic tubes trap air inside, and large jars or cans can trap air inside, reducing the life span of your paint.
How long does acrylic paint last on canvas?
Acrylic paints last on canvas for years and decades with proper varnishing!
It is evident in the plethora of acrylic paintings that we still have today, like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can (1962) and David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970).
Since acrylic paint is basically plastic, acrylic paintings are believed to last for years if properly cared for and stored.
Still not convinced? Read Should I Varnish My Acrylic Painting? 8 Solid Reasons
Generally, artwork that has been primed properly, varnished, and kept behind a glass frame can last long.
The durability of acrylic paint on different surfaces
Acrylic is most favored for its durability. And it is also beloved because it adheres to almost every (primed) surface!
But, when doing artwork, you must consider that different surfaces have different adherence.
For example, smoother surfaces like plastics can be painted on acrylic, but it is not guaranteed to last long compared to a well-primed wood.
So, how long will acrylic paint last on different surfaces? Continue reading to know which surfaces are best paired with your paint medium.
How long does acrylic paint last on clothes?
Acrylic paint can stay permanently on clothes, depending on how you paint them on the fabric.
For starters, using a fabric paint medium when painting your shirt helps make the paint stick better to the fabric. It will also help if you let your surface fully dry (at least 4 days) before using or washing.
As a side note, permanence is not equal to being not prone to fading. For example, paint on fabric may easily fade through overuse or constant exposure to sunlight and washing.
The best acrylic paint to try for fabric is Arteza Fabric Paint.
How long does acrylic paint last for shoes?
Acrylic paint can last for years on shoes but will not stay on permanently.
This impermanence happens because shoes are often worn and used to walk around, which may fold and crease the fabric of your shoes. Over time, this will lead to flaking, cracking, and fading.
But you can still try to make the acrylic paint on shoes last longer.
To fully waterproof your painted shoes, apply a special repellant and reapply when necessary for longevity.
How long does acrylic paint last on wood?
Properly primed wood is a great surface for acrylic paints. If sealed properly, the acrylic paint will stay permanently on this surface.
To ensure the durability of acrylic paint on wood, sand your wood first. This will even out the surface and prevent unnecessary bumps. Then thoroughly apply primer.
After your painting, use varnish or furniture wax to keep the paint sealed. And as much as possible, do not expose your artwork to places with high temperatures (either too cold or too hot).
How long does acrylic paint last on glass?
Acrylic paint will stick long or permanently on glass, depending on how you sealed the paint and the acrylic paint used.
Acrylic enamels are acrylic paints that are generally used to decorate glass. So, with proper curing and sealing, this will stay on permanently.
However, if you only use normal acrylic paint (regardless of grade), the paint will last long, but not permanently.
Regardless of the paint used, always clean your glass thoroughly before painting to make the paint stick better.
And before you bake your glass, check whether your medium and surface are oven-safe.
How long does acrylic paint last on plastic?
Acrylic paint lasts on plastic permanently.
But to make sure that the paint stays on the plastic, make sure to prep the surface by sanding and applying primer.
Also, wait for the paint to fully dry and cure (it will take about a week) before sealing with a clear coating.
How long does acrylic paint last outside?
Acrylic paint outside may last long, but it will fade over time.
How fast the acrylic paint will fade depends on the lightfastness of the color you used. Generally, red paints lighten quicker than white and other light neutrals which are the most fade-resistant.
Acrylic paint will not last permanently outside because it is constantly exposed to extreme weather conditions, sunlight, and water.
Can I use expired acrylic paint?
Technically, yes. You can continue using “expired” acrylic paint as long as it still has not dried out. But this will not spread as smoothly as new paints.
And also always watch out for molds or mildew because these fungi are dangerous to your health.
They may cause short- and long-term effects, headaches, and eye and nose irritation.
How long does acrylic paint last in a tin?
Unopened acrylic paint in tin cans will last 2-10 years, depending on storage conditions, temperature, and brand.
In contrast, already used and opened acrylic in paint cans may only last for one to 5 years, depending on the same conditions above.
How you store the paint after use can also affect paint longevity and quality.
How do you fix old paint?
Not all dried-out or lumpy acrylic paint has to be thrown out. In some cases, there are still ways to revive them and make them usable again, like rehydrating them with an acrylic medium.
To learn more about how to fix that old, expensive paint, read How to rehydrate acrylic paint?
We are all guilty of sometimes having too much paint medium than we can use at home.
Fortunately, some mediums like oil and acrylic last for years. So, before you throw away a drawer of acrylic paints that you forgot you have, do the test for smell, lumps, and consistency. You may have just found a new set to play with in your art!