One of my neighbors complained that another neighbor killed a tree in front of her home by dumping paint in the soil. (Never mind that his trees are fine and there seems no way the paint could be transported from in front of his house to the soil under her tree. She's one of those neighbors.)

At any rate, I've "dumped" leftover paint (from cleaning water-based paint off of brushes and such) near trees from time to time and this got me wondering what sort of damage I might be doing to my trees.

Q. I know it's probably a bad idea, but will it kill my trees over time?

Note: Normally I send the runoff down the drain. My solvents and oil-based waste go directly to the recycling center.

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    A read a statistic somewhere recently that said a tin of paint can contaminate something like an Olympic swimming pool's volume of water. If anyone knows the precise details I'd be interested to know. Jun 10, 2011 at 14:53
  • @StephenPaulger: I also would be interested in those statistics and more importantly what they mean for paint dumped in the soil. Jun 10, 2011 at 16:50
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    With ever increasing legislation on contaminated land, it is not advisable to empty, bury or burn ANYTHING (even garden waste) in your gardens, as you may have trouble selling your property in the future! You also need to be aware that it is illegal in most of the world to pollute the environment, and in theory you can be prosecuted. Then there is also your family and pets health to consider. Even though you cant see the contaminates, Lead can reduce a child's IQ by up to 7% and hydrocarbons are widely carcinogenic! I would advise anyone who utilises their garden to get the soil tested!
    – user594
    Aug 29, 2011 at 8:06

2 Answers 2


I'd say it depends on how much paint and what type.

Water-based paint such as latex shouldn't hurt anything if it's sufficiently diluted and in small quantities. I've repainted every room in my house since moving in last year, and I washed out all my brushes, paint trays, etc. in the same spot in my backyard. The grass there hasn't shown any ill effects, and the tree that's about 15' away is completely healthy and unaffected.

However, if you're dumping a half-gallon or so of left-over paint, I'd advise against it. Why not keep the paint in case you have to touch-up your project in the future? Even if you're moving, I'm sure the next owners of your house would appreciate having the matching paint for any touch-ups they may need to make.

  • I should have made it clear that my practice matches yours: cleaning paint off of brushes and such. And I always use water-based paint. At any rate: good points. Jun 10, 2011 at 16:49

Trees might survive it, but unless you are sure what is in the paint (solvent, pigment, fixative, etc) then dumping paint on top soil is generally a bad thing to do. Even relatively simple solvents which you think would break down or evaporate in a matter of days/weeks/months, can contaminate the water table for years.

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    @jon ericson Yes, please don't dump paint, in the soil or in the drain; there's a reason recycling centers exist. Check with whomever hauls your trash as they're likely to have a center close to you. Jun 10, 2011 at 2:25
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    @Michael: I didn't make clear that my practice is limited to cleaning water-based paint off of brushes and such. Normally I send the runoff down the drain. My solvents and oil-based waste go directly to the recycling center. Jun 10, 2011 at 16:49

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