Can watercolors go down the drain? Find out!

As a watercolor artist, you’re gonna produce tons of dirty watercolor water. Most people just pour this down the drain. Does this damage your pipes and is it environmentally friendly?

As long as they do not contain toxic ingredients, like Cadmiums or Cobalt, most watercolor paints can go down the drain. You should always check the packaging or contact the producer before disposing of them this way. If your leftover paints are hazardous, you should dispose of them at a local hazardous waste facility.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

Is it harmful to the environment to flush watercolors down the drain?

It is usually the most environmentally friendly option for disposing of watercolor water.

Paint pigments can be easily filtered through the filter system that drain water, also called gray water, passes through.

Filters like these are designed to remove even smaller pigments from water, so watercolor paint doesn’t pose a problem.

Furthermore, these facilities will dispose of all filtered pigments themselves, so you won’t have to worry about it.

Whenever you use watercolor paints, make sure they do not contain cadmium. The water containing this ingredient is toxic and should be disposed of through a hazardous waste facility.

If you’re unsure of how to remove watercolor paint from clothes, you can go ahead and check this article out.

Is it better to bring the water to a waste facility?

You may have to dispose of your paint water through a waste facility if your paint contains toxic ingredients like cadmium.

If you are using non-toxic watercolor paint, you should always be able to drain the water.

If you drive your water to such a waste facility, it will be a greater environmental burden than if you just let it run down the drain.

So, generally it is environmentally more burdensome to take your car and drive it to the nearest waste facility, instead of just flushing it down the drain. But again, check your paints for toxicity.

If you’re unsure, whether watercolor paints are toxic to dogs, you should go ahead and read this article.

woman painting with watercolor

What else can you do with watercolor water?

Some people use their watercolor water to water their plants (those were a lot of water in one sentence).

It works well, according to what I’ve heard. I couldn’t find anyone writing about it harming their plants, and some are even convinced that it helps them grow.

This might be due to the minerals in the paints. In order to grow and stay healthy, plants absorb minerals from the soil.

It isn’t a problem in nature, but it becomes a problem when you grow house plants, as the soil has a limited amount of minerals.

You could either use fresh soil now and then or keep the process going by manually adding minerals to the soil.

Therefore, using watercolor water to water your plants might be a good idea.

However, I wouldn’t recommend using it to water your vegetable garden. Please don’t harm yourself, I am not a biologist.

On another note, a lot of artists constantly try out new ways to preserve their watercolor paintings. To find out whether laminating would be a good option, check this article out.

Is acrylic paint water safe to flush down the drain?

To answer this question, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

In general, acrylic paints are water-based, just like watercolors. Therefore, they can be poured down the drain just like watercolor. 

I would still recommend filtering the water through a cloth first, in order to prevent the paint from clogging the pipes over time.

Be sure to check the packaging of your paint to ensure it is non-hazardous. It is often the case that older paints contain toxic ingredients like cadmium, so you should be aware of that beforehand.

Furthermore, acrylic paints can also be disposed of in the trash if you are concerned about your pipes clogging. Just make sure they are not hazardous before disposing of them.

watercolor brushes and paints on a table

Adding a little hot water to the acrylic water will help the pigments dissolve and move through the pipes, preventing any clogs.

It’s also a good idea to clean brushes in a larger bucket of water so that the paint isn’t so concentrated when going down the drain. Once again, I would recommend mixing the paint water with some hot water so that it doesn’t gum up the pipes.

The easiest way to dispose of non-hazardous acrylic paint is through the household trash. Use newspaper or old phone book pages to clean your palette and brushes and dispose of them in the trash.

If you’d like to use acrylic and oil paints together, but are unsure if that’s possible and how to do it, go ahead and read my guide for it.

Is oil paint water safe to flush down the drain?

On the other hand, oil paints often contain solvents such as xylene, benzene or toluene, so they must be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection facility.

If you don’t know where to find one near yourself, you can either Google it or call your local city council.

Check the packaging of your oil paints before disposing of them. If you don’t have it any more or there is no information on it, you can check the manufacturer’s website, contact them, or go to a local art store and ask for advice. These people are usually the experts.

There are even some arts and crafts stores that have paint disposal stations or programs where you can dispose of dried up paint. 

If you’d like to check out an article on watercolor outdoor sketching, click here.

If you’d like to know if you can use an easel for watercolor painting, click here.

sketch, sketchbook, plein air


Watercolor paints can go down the drain because the pigments, even though they are small, can be filtered. However, make sure your paints do not contain cadmium. There are even some people who use watercolor water to water their gardens. I wouldn’t recommend watering the vegetable garden with it, though.

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