is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Does Oil Paint Go Bad?

does oil paint go bad

Consider the following scenario: you just got a set of really nice oil paints from an aunt of yours and the problem is that she has not used them in more than a year. She told you that they should still be good. Now, you wonder, does oil paint go bad?

How can you tell if your old oil paints can still be usable? Also, is it possible for you to revive old oil paints? All of these questions will be answered in this article.

Does Oil Paint Go Bad?

The short answer is yes. However, note that it takes a very long time. Now, how come oil paints last far longer compared to other types of paints?

What are Oil Paints?

Does oil paint expire? Oil paints, essentially, are paints where the pigments are suspended in oil, usually linseed oil. Compared to other types of paint, oil paints are much thicker in consistency.

Most of them have a similar consistency as somewhat soft butter.

One of the things that also make oil paints different from other paints is their extremely long drying time. Some brands take as much as 8 hours to become dry to the touch but most will require up to 24 hours to dry completely.

However, if you are planning to varnish the surface of the painting, you will need to wait for the oil paint to cure, which means you will need to wait up to a year.

How Long Do Oil Paints Last?

how long do oil paints last

How long do oil paints last? Oil paints are among the art materials that have the longest shelf lives. Most brands, if sealed properly, can have a shelf life of up to 40 years. Speaking of proper storage, you need to store your oil paints in an airtight container and put them in a cool and dark place.

On the other hand, if you have old oil paints, be careful when handling them as they might contain lead. Usually, the colors Flake White or Cremnitz White are the ones that contain lead.

In addition, these paints usually come with warnings. If you did receive a bunch of old oil paints recently, you should check the labels if they contained lead. For good measure, you should just discard the whites.

You can tell if oil paint has gone bad if the carrier oil has separated from the pigment. If your oil paints have a thin layer of oil on top, you could still use it, although the quality of the paint might be significantly lower.

Can You Revive Old Oil Paints?

If you have old oil paints, something where the oil has already separated from the pigment, do not throw them out yet. You can still do a few things to revive your old paints.
The most effective method is to use paint thinner or turpentine. Be warned though, turpentine has a quite noxious smell, so you should do the following steps in a well-ventilated room, or better yet, do them outside.

Although you cannot mix turpentine inside the tube of oil paint, you can just do this as needed. Squeeze out as much of the paint that you need to use, and then gradually add as much turpentine as you need to get the paint back to its original consistency. Add the turpentine drop-by-drop to prevent you from oversaturating the paint.

If your oil paint came in jars, you can put the turpentine directly into the container. You should still add the paint thinner gradually, and stir the paint slowly to incorporate the solvent into the paint. Do take note that revived oil paints will no longer last quite as long as before. The turpentine would dry up rather quickly as it is alcohol-based.

How Can You Tell If the Oil Paint is Unsalvageable?

Not all old oil paints can be revived, so you should check if the paints you have can be salvaged first before trying. The first thing to check is the level of separation that the paint is in. Essentially, if the paint is still wet, meaning there is still a bit of carrier oil holding the pigment, it can still be saved.

If the paint still has a bit of liquid on top of the pigment, it means that the paint has separated. It also indicates that you can still revive it using a bit of paint thinner. On the other hand, if the paint has gotten completely dried, that means that the paint is no longer salvageable. No amount of paint thinner will be able to revive that paint.


So, does oil paint go bad? Although oil paints dry and cures extremely slowly, it does have an expiration date. Most oil paints, when stored properly, can last up to 40 years. If someone gives you an old set of oil paints, there is an assurance that they are still usable. Even if the paints have separated, you can still revive them using a bit of paint thinner.