Most of us store our paints in garages, sheds, basements, and other areas where temperature regulation is less than ideal—or non-existent. Can paint freeze when left in extremely cold temperatures?
The bad news is that, yes, paint will freeze in the winter if it gets too cold. However, the good news is that paint can often be thawed and used again without any issues.
In this guide, learn how and why paint freezes, signs your paint is still usable, how to properly thaw frozen paint, and ways to store paints in the future so freezing doesn’t reoccur.
During freezing, the liquid parts of your paint solidify, and the solids—such as pigments—separate from the mixture and form clumps. As a result, it's sometimes impossible to re-mix the formula back to its proper state, rendering it unusable.
Paint freezes when the temperature drops to or below its main component’s freezing point. Water-based paint freezes at 32°F (0°C), since that’s the freezing point for water itself.
Oil-based paints will freeze at about -4°F (-20°C). This means water-based paints, like latex, will freeze more often and more quickly in most climates.
Theoretically, the lowest temperature you can store paint to avoid this would be a single degree above its freezing point. The ideal storage conditions, however, are usually somewhere between 60 to 80°F, or 15 to 26°C.
Some professional painters recommend cooler temperatures, but still well above freezing.
Keep in mind that these temp guidelines are for liquid paints in cans. Spray paints do freeze, but because most of them are oil-based, it is not as common.
A far more likely scenario is that the can will burst if it becomes too cold. For this reason, it’s recommended to store spray paint cans in climate-controlled spaces.
If Paint Freezes, Is It Still Good?
Fortunately, frozen paint can often be salvaged and used again, even after a particularly harsh winter.
You’ll have to let the frozen paint thaw before inspecting it, and check for a few key factors to determine if it’s still usable.
How To Thaw Frozen Paint: The Fastest & Easiest Way
- 1Bring the paint inside
Even if your garage or shed is warming up thanks to a seasonal change, it’s best to thaw paint indoors. You don’t just want a warm space: you want a temperature-controlled room where the heat will be steady.
- 2Gradually raise the paint’s temperature
Don’t try to thaw your paint too quickly. Bringing it inside from the outdoors is enough of a temp jump.
- 3Avoid heat guns or space heaters
Thawing paint too quickly can ruin it. The liquid components will melt before you can stir the paint, which can then encourage the solid components to remain clumped.
- 4Stir during and after the thaw
Every now and then, give your paint a good stir with a wooden dowel or paint stirring stick. This will help the solid components (the clumpy parts) break up and gradually integrate themselves back into the liquids.
- 5If needed, shake the paint
Sometimes a stirrer just won’t do the trick. Many hardware stores will seal and re-shake your paint for you. This might suffice to break up the clumps and get the formula back to the right consistency.
- 6Store the paint properly going forward
Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Each additional freeze adds more and more risk that your paint will become unusable, so it’s wise to start storing your paints in a climate-controlled space.
Preventing Paint From Freezing: Professional Storage Tips
Store Paint At The Proper Temperature And Humidity Levels
While any temp above freezing will work, the ideal temperature for storing paint is between 60 to 80°F, or 15 to 26°C. Many professionals argue that cool is better than warm, so feel free to go below this range if you know the area won’t dip too low.
Another factor to consider is humidity. A dry room will ensure no condensation enters the paint cans.
Keep Ventilation In Mind
Not only does improper ventilation encourage moisture, but it can also affect your health. Paints give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation or, in extreme cases, dizziness or difficulty breathing.
Seal Your Cans Well
When you’re finished with your paint, clean up any wet drips around the rim or outside of the can, then hammer the lid completely closed with a rubber mallet.
This will protect the paint from moisture or evaporation, guard against fumes releasing into the air, and prevent spills.
Don’t Stack Paint Cans Upside-Down
While nothing will happen to your paint’s consistency if you decide to store it upside-down, you won’t see any benefit, either—just the potential for more spills.
A common misconception is that this increases airtightness and keeps your paint fresh, but ensuring a good seal is more than enough to accomplish this.
Keep Away From Heaters, Appliances, And Chemicals
Wherever you decide to store your paint, make sure it’s far away from grates, space heaters, dryers, gas cans, cleaning chemicals, or anything else that generates heat or might prove caustic or harmful in the event of a leak.
Paint Freezing FAQs
Can paint be stored outside in winter?
It’s always better to store paint in climate-controlled spaces, even if your area isn’t due to freeze over any time soon.
Outdoor temps constantly fluctuate, and that’s not ideal for paint. However, you won’t automatically ruin paint if you store it outdoors, provided the temperature stays above freezing.
Do light colors thaw better or worse than dark colors?
There are anecdotal reports that dark colors thaw better after freezing than light ones. This isn’t true, however. A paint’s behavior post-thaw is dictated by how many times it’s already frozen, its age, and the formula base—not its pigment.
One reason it might appear that dark colors survive freezing better is simply because the person couldn’t notice the texture changes after application. Graininess, for example, is easier to spot in light colors.
Will paint freeze overnight?
Yes, paint can freeze overnight if the temperature is at or below its base component’s freezing point.
Can paint thinner freeze?
Paint thinner is a solvent usually made from mineral spirits, DMF, turpentine, or similar chemicals. These will not freeze until they reach incredibly cold temperatures far below 0°F. Paint thinner will not freeze in your garage, shed, or home.
What happens if paint freezes before it dries?
If you’ve painted an outdoor project and notice the temperature dropping, bring it inside so you can keep the paint warm enough while it dries.
In cases where that isn’t possible (like painting a house), you’ll notice water spotting, slow dry times, or inconsistencies in your paint’s finish. Sadly, all you can do is sand and reapply when the weather warms back up.
What is the best container to store paint?
It’s best to store paint in its original container, with the lid firmly sealed. You can also store leftover paint in storage containers made of light-blocking polypropylene. Do not store paint in glass or plastic containers, as these let in light and diminish its quality.
While it’s frustrating dealing with frozen paint, the right thawing methods can salvage what’s left so that it’s still usable. Throw out any paint that remains clumped, stringy, or grainy after thawing.
Storing paint properly in a temperature-controlled environment will prevent paint from freezing in the future.