Reuse, Recycle, Discover new colors with old paints

Mixing 2 different house paint colorsOne of my objectives in writing The Keys To Color is to encourage people to reuse/recycle all the leftover paint that lurks in the crannies of every house in the country.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 10 percent of all paint purchased in the United States (around 64 million gallons annually) becomes leftover paint*.  That is a lot of paint just sitting around waiting to be used or thrown out.

Since the beginning of my career, I have always looked at and used the mis-tint stacks of house paint at paint stores.  I could buy premium paint for pennies on the dollar and usually get one close enough to the color I wanted to be able to easily adjust it with pigments or with other paint.   The more I understood color and paint, the more options opened up for me.   Reusing leftover paint by adjusting the color with complements and secondary colors follows the same basic rules as pointed out in The Keys to Color or in any book on color theory.  You can make beautiful light grays, beiges and taupes as well as browns, golds and drab greens with almost any combination of colors.  The only thing you generally can’t make is bright colors; but complex, de-saturated and earthy hues are what we use in homes anyway.Mixing two house paint colors together              

All latex and acrylic house paints (as of 2010) are intermixable.  Of course, only use paint that is in good condition and without mold.  You can strain out any lumps in old paint with a nylon stocking or strainer bag from the paint store.

  I mainly use paint as a base for glazes so final sheen is not too important as long as I have some sheen.  A gloss paint mixed with a flat makes a semi to satin gloss, a semi-gloss paint mixed with a flat makes a satin and so on.  All paint companies make their paint a little differently so exact ratios are impossible to give.  If a paint is a little too shiny, add a quart of flat.  If it is too flat, add a pint or more of sheened paint until you get to the right sheen.  When you have the right amount for the job at hand, then you can work on the color.

Always make sure you have enough paint to complete the entire job because it is very hard to exactly match a paint color that has eight or more pigments.  Even if you won’t have enough to complete the job, you can still use your leftover paint for a first coat that is close to the color you want.  Then buy enough of the right color to apply the second coat.

Over the years, I have found that designers were always drawn to the colors I made with a variety of paint colors, not just the simple formulas.  That is what convinced me that I am on the right track when I write about the beauty of complex and full-spectrum colors in homes rather than the simple colors foisted off on us by most paint companies.  You will have a lot of fun discovering new colors and derive satisfaction from using up all those old cans of paint.

As an added bonus, you will feel good knowing that you will be keeping gallons of paint out of the waste stream. 

When people used to see me rooting around the mistint paint bins, they called me frugile.  Now I am earth friendly and totally PC ! 


16 responses

  1. I am glad I found this site. Do you mind if I link it to my blog? I do faux finishes and painted furniture.


    I want to translate the book into Chinese,How much do you charge for the auhority,I am eager to hear from you.
    Best regard

  3. Debbie

    Dean, I have always wondered if I was the only person on earth that loved buying the mis tinted paint and making it into the color that I loved. I have a total fascination with color and I LOVE your website. Thanks again.

  4. Margaret


    I have a big tub of white paint that I’m trying to turn into beige or darker beige but its turning out to be looking more like a Grey. I’ve used Red, Yellow and Black tint and the more I put in, the greyer it gets.
    I have only Red, Black, yellow and Violet at my disposal right now. Is it possible to get some kind of light brown, beige, coffee etc; colour from these, adding them to white emulsion paint?

    Kind regards

    • Dean Sickler

      Hi Margaret,
      Red and green make brown. Yellow and the tiniest amount of black will make a dull green. Try mixing that with a little red and see what you get. Otherwise you’ll have to buy a small amount of green or blue (mix with yellow) pigment to “warm” up the mixture.

      Good luck

    • Dean Sickler

      Hi Margaret,
      You need a green to add to the red to make brown. Black and yellow will make a very dull green but only if it is lamp black. Not all black pigments are equal. Yours is probably a bone black which is just staying a neutral grey. Try adding a green (maybe blue added to the yellow) with the red to make it browner.

  5. sandra

    Mr. Stickler I am thrilled to find your web site. I am about at my wits end. I ‘think’ I like a Valspar Lynhurst Gallery Beige, but reviews say it will turn out quite purplish once on the walls. Will the addition of green as you recommend solve this problem? The furniture in the rooms is black, deep eggplant, with some muted golds and browns
    , floor teal tiles (quite subdued).
    Please advise – thank you.

    • Dean Sickler

      Hi Sandra,
      If it is too “purplish”, you want to add a touch of hansa yellow (bright yellow). You add green to reduce a pink cast.

  6. Thulie

    Need the table like if you mix yellow and Red,i want to choose the best pain

  7. Thulie

    Need to see when you mix two tinters with white paint and i want to choose the best one

  8. karen

    I have a 5 gallon bucket of Grey house paint however it has a pretty strong blueish color. What would I add to remove or greatly reduce the blue?

  9. Sandy

    Hi Dean; Thanks for all the GREAT tips and hints! Maybe you could offer some advise? I just bought a 5 gal. bucket of Valspar Soothing Aloe, convinced it was the lovely pale green I dreamed of :-) On the wall it’s much too bright; maybe too yellow? How do I knock down the yellow, or maybe just the brightness? I’ve got plenty to experiment with… :-( This is what Encycolorpedia says about Soothing Aloe: The hexadecimal color code #daf1a3 is a light shade of yellow-green. In the RGB color model #daf1a3 is comprised of 85.49% red, 94.51% green and 63.92% blue. In the HSL color space #daf1a3 has a hue of 77.69 degrees, 73.58% saturation and 79.22% lightness. This color has an approximate wavelength of 571 nm. Valspar Paint Soothing Aloe is a matching paint color.
    Does that help? Thanks in advance for your time!

    • Dean Sickler

      Hi Sandy,
      Well you’ve certainly done your research! Doesn’t that go to show you that the proof is still in the viewing? Color is a funny thing. All the verbiage doesn’t mean a thing once you’ve put it up an the wall. It is right or it isn’t. Try toning down the yellow/green with a few drops of magenta colorant. Try a 12/48th shot first, then add if you need to tone down more. Let each sample dry before you add more (with a hair dryer if you can). It takes some patience.

      Please don’t go by the RGB color model. This is paint, not light.

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