Can Paint Freeze and Still Be Used? Full Experiment!

Two years ago, I moved to Minnesota, land of the sub-zero winters.

And suddenly, the passing thought of “will this paint freeze if I leave it in the garage?” became more than a hypothetical question.

Latex paint is water-based, and therefore freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. While freezing often separates the paint, stirring the paint can recombine the resins and sometimes salvage the paint, however the paint is likely to be of poor quality.

I decided to put this to the test by leaving a can of paint in the garage for not one, but two full winters. I could pretend it was intentional for the writing of this post, but I’ll let you in on a secret.

It wasn’t.

Roundup, paint, cardboard box on a counter in garage.
Hidden behind the Roundup… see how easy it is to miss?

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Paint Freezing – The Experiment

To be totally authentic, I’ve got three different samples; the previously frozen garage paint, a small sample that spent the night in the freezer, and a never-frozen control.

Garage paint, freezer paint, and control paint lined up on counter

Just in case you’re unfamiliar with Minnesota – winters here are cold. Very cold. From mid-December to Mid-February, we do not see above freezing. In January, I get excited when my drive to work is above 0 F.

For two winters, this paint spent roughly two months frozen solid, and then froze and unfroze 20-ish times throughout March and April.

It should be a good sample.

Also worth noting that the control and the garage sample are the same paint purchased the same day. They were both intended for the basement walls, but it turns out I only needed 3/4 of a gallon, since I’d primed the walls first.

All three have thawed naturally.

While I was tempted to warm up the freezer sample on the stove, I resisted, since that will probably reduce the likelihood of saving the paint (as well as add another variable to my experiment.)

The Garage Paint

Can I get a drumroll? The garage paint has waited two years for this moment.

I open it…

Frozen garage paint separated into two portions

It’s separated into two distinct parts – a clear watery portion on top that’s difficult to see in the picture, and a yellowish solid portion on the bottom.

I grab my stir stick, optimistic that I can stir this into something usable… and I can maybe insert it an inch into the solid chunk.

Frozen paint slightly stirred

Stirring it is clearly hopeless, but I try for a bit longer, mostly to get you this picture that really shows the texture of the chunk:

Flakey frozen paint unable to be saved

This isn’t salvageable, friends.

Moral of the story? Don’t store your paint in the garage.

The Freezer Paint

At this point, I’m holding out hope that paint that’s just a little frozen, not, you know, two Minnesota Winters Frozen, might be savable.

I open the paint that spent a night in the freezer (and then a day defrosting on the countertop.)

And at first it doesn’t seems so bad. Like, that looks stir-able:

Freezer paint on counter

So I try to stir it.

Crumbly freezer paint

The solids in this mix quickly soaked up the water that had been sitting on top, and I was left with a crumbly mess.

But I wasn’t giving up yet! I dumped the paint into a larger container, so I had a bit more space to work with, added some water, and stirred.

Freezer paint mixed with water.

This was actually somewhat effective. I got the paint to a point where it was spreadable. Still pretty grainy, but kind of usable if you’re really desperate.

Just to say I tried my hardest, I grabbed an egg beater and stuck it in my drill, and used that to super-stir.

Egg beater in drill

The paint was still pretty grainy, but usable enough that I could spread it on some scrap plywood.

Freezer paint painted on plywood

The grainy bits are pretty obvious, and even more obvious in person than in the picture (I messed with the settings of the photo so that you could see them at all, actually. Pictures are tricky.)

After the paint was dry, you could brush them off, so if you’re really desperate to paint something that doesn’t matter, you could probably use this paint.

I threw it in the trash.

Control Paint

This paint basically proves that these results weren’t just because the paints sat around for two years. This paint also spent two years sitting in the closet.

Upon opening, it was a little seperated.

Control paint

But a little stirring made it look like normal paint. Shocker, I know.

Control paint mixed

And to the surprise of no one, it also painted like normal paint.

A Note About Other Paints

I tested latex paint, and it’s worth noting that this is different than oil-based paint. Latex paint is water-based, and therefore freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oil-based paint is, you guessed it, oil-based, and therefore has a lower freezing point. How much lower is up for debate.

The internet tells me that oil-based paint is usually made of Linseed Oil, but I suspect this is either historical or based on craft oil paint, not wall paint.

This is because I went digging in the MSDS sheets of a bunch of mainstream paint brands (Behr, Sherwin-Williams, Glidden,) and not a single one listed Linseed Oil as an ingredient.

Instead, we had “Petroleum Distillates, Hydrotreated Light,” “alkyd resin,” and Mineral Spirits (which if you’re not a woodworker, this is a real thing we use regularly and not just an unknown chemical.)

An MSDS sheet for Petroleum Distillates indicates the melting point is -49 degrees Celsius (-56 F). I couldn’t find a freezing point for mineral spirits or alkyd resin; the internet says it “doesn’t freeze,” which seems chemically impossible, but probably means it doesn’t freeze at a temperature easily reachable by humans without chemical plants.

All this to say, you probably don’t have to worry about your oil-based paints freezing.

If I ever leave oil-based paint in the garage for two years, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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