Paint problems & solutions: Cracking

Definition: Splitting of the paint film through at least one coat, leading to failure of the paint. Hairline cracks appear initially, but progress to paint chips falling off the surface – or flaking – and severe cracks in the surface will appear. Complete failure of the paint can occur if left untreated.


  • Over-thinning of the paint or spreading it too thin
  • Poor surface preparation, especially when paint is applied to bare wood without priming
  • Painting under cool or windy conditions where the paint dries too fast
  • On surfaces that have been painted many times, the bottom layers of paint lose their flexibility and are unable to expand and contract with the surface as it responds to temperature and humidity change

Determine if cracking goes all the way to the surface.

If cracking does not go all the way down to the surface, then:

  • Remove loose and flaking paint with a scraper or wire brush.
  • Sand the area and feather the edges.
  • Repaint, using a high-quality paint.

If cracking does go to the surface:

  • Remove all of the paint by scraping, sanding and/or use paint remover.
  • Prime wood and masonry surfaces with an appropriate, high-quality primer.
  • Repaint using a high-quality paint


  • If the cracking occurs over plywood, only periodic scraping, repriming and recoating will solve the problem. Latex paints fill plywood cracks better than oil-based paints.
  • Pressed composition boards should be primed immediately after installation. An adequate coating should be kept on the surface at all times to seal out moisture.

Proper waste disposal

Liquid wastes of all kinds can be a problem for painting contractors – especially hazardous liquid, such as waste solvents or even leftover paint. The first thing everyone needs to know is: Don’t dump! Spilling, pouring, pumping or discharging any liquid waste intentionally or by accident, is illegal. It cannot be put onto or into the ground, any body of water or a storm drain. Doing so may result in large fines, perhaps even jail time.


Waste Solvents and Oil-based Paints

Combustible or flammable liquid wastes, including waste solvents and oil-based paints, are always considered hazardous. The handling, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes are strictly regulated under both federal and state laws. Typically, a painting contractor qualifies as a Small Quantity Generator (SQG) of hazardous wastes. In some respects, an SQG is subject to fewer requirements than large businesses. General regulations demand that an SQG:

  • Obtain an Identification Number from the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Store hazardous liquid wastes only in appropriate containers.
  • Properly label containers and keep them closed when not in use.
  • Observe time limits on waste accumulation and storage.
  • Dispose of wastes only through a licensed hazardous waste hauler.
  • Ensure that waste disposal is documented on a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest, a form required by the EPA.
  • Follow requirements for employee training and record keeping.

For more information on these requirements, check your state’s website, as well as the Cal/EPA Department of Toxic Substances Control Website: Click on “Managing Hazardous Waste Publications”  and look for keyword “Generator Requirements” to access the “Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements” document.


Washwater Containing Only Latex Paint Residue

Washwater that contains only latex paint residue from the clean-up of brushes, rollers, spray equipment or minor spills is generally regarded as non-hazardous. This washwater may be poured down a sink or drain that is connected to a sanitary sewer leading to a water-treatment plant. Although not considered hazardous, washwater cannot be poured into the ground, a body of water or a storm drain. Any of these actions may be considered illegal industrial discharges and are subject to stiff fines and penalties.

Empty Containers

Completely dry, empty paint containers of five gallons or less in capacity are exempt from regulation when recycled or disposed of at an appropriate solid-waste facility. “Empty” means that the paint container is drained to the point where no material streams from the opening when the container is held in any position. “Dry” means that any paint residue in or on the container is hardened throughout.

Some solid waste facilities and municipal waste haulers do not accepts empty hazardous materials containers, so it’s best to check with local authorities before placing such containers in the trash. For more information, check your state website, as well as the CAL/EPA Department of Toxic Substances Control website: Click on “Managing Hazardous Waste Publications” and look for keyword “Container” to access the “Managing Empty Containers” document.


Leftover Paint

Unopened containers of stock color paints and primers are generally returnable to the retailer within a reasonable time after purchase. If a paint container has been opened but still contains paint, proper storage makes it more likely that the paint may be used in the future. This means making sure the container is tightly sealed and does not leak.


You may be able to use leftover paint for future jobs or, if your customer is willing to take it, leave some paint behind at a jobsite for future touch-up and possible side projects. Many community groups (such as religious or charitable institutions, community theaters, volunteer groups, anti-graffiti programs, etc.) accept leftover paint donations, while some local recyclers may accept unwanted leftover latex paints. Be sure to check with your local recycler to see if there is a fee involved.

Some county or city Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection programs accept small amounts of liquid wastes or unwanted, leftover paint from painting contractors. However, most HHW programs only take waste from local residents.