How Long Do Oil Paint Tubes Last?

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If you frequently use oil paints, you might worry about how long they (and the tubes they come in) last. So how long should you use oil paint tubes before you replace them? 

Oil paint tubes will last for several decades when cared for properly and stored in a cool, dry place. A few signs that oil paint has expired include hardening, changes in scent, and mold on the canvas after application.

In this article, I’ll list the signs your oil paint has gone bad. I’ll also dive into tips on preventing your oil paints from becoming unusable, and we will be answering the question How Long Do Oil Paint Tubes Last?

Signs That Your Oil Paint Has Gone Bad

Before going into the signs you need to throw away your oil paint, it’s important to know what oil paint is made of. 

In the Renaissance era, oil paint was mixed by hand. Pigments were ground with oilOpens in a new tab. or animal fat to create consistency. 

Today, oil paint consists of: 

  • microscopic pigments 
  • linseed oil 

Although linseed oil is a common ingredient for them, oil paints can also be made of synthetic or natural oils. These oils bind the pigments and prevent the paint from drying too quickly on the canvas and inside the tube. 

Generally, oil paint lasts a long time. But if you see the following signs, chances are the paint has gone bad. 

  • The color has hardened. When the linseed oil in your paint is exposed to oxygen, it will harden. This will make it difficult (if not impossible) to squeeze the paint out of its tube. 
  • The paint is moldy. If your oil paint has organic ingredients, it’ll likely have mold and mildew — especially if it was stored in a humid and moist environment. 
  • The paint smells funny. Oil paints have various ingredientsOpens in a new tab. that cause them to smell a certain way. However, if you notice a significant difference in how your paint smells now versus how it smelled before, you should probably throw it away.  

How Long Until Oil Paint Goes Bad?

Oil paint lasts an exceptionally long time when stored correctly and taken care of. You can expect a single paint tube to last between 15 and 40 years without going bad. So if you don’t paint very often, you won’t need to buy more paint for decades.

Not our case as we haven’t been painting with oil painting for that long! César CórdovaOpens in a new tab.

However, that’s only if you haven’t opened the paint tube yet. Once you open it, the paint’s shelf-life may decrease slightly. Since it lasts such a long time naturally, it probably won’t have much of an impact on its expiration date.

Properly sealing your paint and keeping it out of the heat can drastically increase how long it lasts. Many artists believe their paint tubes can last 30 years or more in the right conditions. You’ll want to know how you can achieve the same, especially since oil paints can be very pricey.

What Lasts Longer: Oil or Acrylic Paint?

Oil paint lasts much longer than acrylic paint, whether they are still in the tubes or part of a painting. Oil paints are the longest-lasting type since it can take decades for them to go bad. Acrylics can last up to ten years, but only if they are unopened and have a good seal.

Once the oil paint sets on a canvas, it should last forever as long as the painting is taken care of. You can make your acrylic works last longer if you apply a varnish finish. The varnish prevents cracking, yellowing, and damage from dust. Your oil paintings should naturally resist those forms of damage without needing a seal.

Overall, oil paints last an extremely long time, but you’ll need to store them correctly.

How To Keep Oil Paint From Going Bad

Oil paint can last for at least a few decades if cared for properly. So how do you care for your oil paint?

  • Store your paint in a cool location. Ideally, your paint should be stored at 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C)Opens in a new tab..
  • Store your oil paint tubes with the caps firmly closed. It’s important that your oil paint tubes are as tightly sealed as possible to prevent oxygen from ruining their integrity.
  • Put plastic or saran wrap over your palette. Again, make sure you store your paint in a cool location. 
  • Add clove oil or linseed oil to your paint. This way, your paint won’t dry too quickly. 
  • Store your oil paint tubes with the cap side down. This will make it easier to squeeze the paint out, even if it’s partially dried. 

Can You Use Old Oil-Based Paint?

You can use old oil-based paint as long as it does not show signs of being expired. For instance, you would not want to use mold paint or paint that smelled bad. If you open the tube and the paint looks fine, you can use it without issue.

If you’ve had an old tube of oil paint sitting around for a long time, you’ll want to inspect it before you try painting with it. Open it and squeeze a small amount out onto your palette. You can use a palette knife to check for chunky bits and other signs the paint has expired. 

You’ll want to ensure you’re in a well-ventilated area so you don’t accidentally breathe in paint fumes or mold if the paint is past its shelf life. However, the paint shouldn’t be dangerous otherwise.

If the paint’s a little dry but seems fine, you can always bring it back to life using a few drops of turpentine. It thins the paint somewhat but makes it usable again. Since it’s now thinner, you may have to use more of it to get the same results, though.

Final Words

Oil paints can last decades, provided you store them in the right conditions. Ideally, they should be stored in tightly sealed containers in a cool (but not freezing) location. Otherwise, they’ll harden, attract mold and mildew, and become unusable. 

These paints last much longer than many other types of paint, making them a favorite among artists. You’ll want to consider them if you need reliable paint tubes that won’t expire any time soon.

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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