View Full Version : Old tubes with lids stuck on

Ellen E
01-27-2019, 05:38 PM
I'm positive there are threads about this but I tried to use the search feature and couldn't seem to come up with what I was looking for.

My daughter gave me a lot of old tube oil paints but the lids are stuck on. I don't want to risk breaking the tubes by wrenching the lids real hard, but I do want to be able to get the tubes open so I can use the paint. I'd be heartbroken if I ruined the tubes and wasted all this paint. My daughter has switched to the oil paint that's water soluble but I don't care for those. I love just regular oil paint.

Should I pour some turpentine or mineral spirits in a dish and stand the tubes in it upside down for a day or two??

01-27-2019, 05:53 PM
Here's a thread on the subject that had some good answers I believe:


Used some of those tricks myself not long ago.

01-27-2019, 07:03 PM
I get the caps softened up with hot water and then open them a small pair of pliers.

Ellen E
01-27-2019, 08:15 PM
Thank you!

I'm surprised to see that hot water works since it's oil paint. I think I once saw someone here say to put a little vaseline on the threads of the tubes to prevent them from getting stuck in the first place but I haven't tried that.

01-27-2019, 10:24 PM
I do the hot water, too. I get the water pretty hot, then pour it into a sardine can and set the tube in on it's lid for a minute or two. Using a pair of pliers on the shoulder and one to turn the lid usually does it for me. If not, back into hot water again for a bit longer. I don't use Vaseline, I don't want to risk the none drying petroleum on my tubes.

01-28-2019, 12:02 AM
Ellen, vaseline is basically mineral oils and waxes that make up a jelly like substance, as a lubricant it is nearly unparalleled. It would indeed provide a very good thread protectant, but I would personally find myself always worried it'd get into my paint and affect the film somehow... it's probably so little as to be a foolish concern, but one that plagues me anyhow.

Ellen E
01-28-2019, 12:50 AM
I don't have any vaseline anyway. lol I was wondering if there might be a spontaneous combustion possiblity between the vaseline and oil paints. I don't have much technical knowledge so I don't know if that would be a concern.

You thought of something I didn't---that the combination might affect the paint and the painting. I'll just stick with trying to get the lids off for now.

I was going through what she gave me and there are some pretty big tubes of Daler Rowney paint. They have the pigment numbers on the tubes so I'm wondering if these are artist quality. I don't know where she got them but she had a friend who used to send her tons of art supplies he got on eBay so that's probably where he got them.

All the paints are obviously years old. I just don't want to waste so much paint so I want to get them open and use them if I can.

Then there are the smaller tubes of Royal and Langnickle (sp?) and some Grumbacher.

Seaside Artist
01-28-2019, 01:15 AM
Hot water and pliers. Be sure to wipe excess paint of the threads before putting the lid back on.

Sometimes older tubes of paint have oil that has separated in the tube. It depends on how bad that is and if it will mix. Dick Blick sells empty tubes that you can re-tube paint in if it needs remixing and then put in a fresh tube. There isn't a way to know what can be salvaged from your paints without actually seeing them. Once open make a small swatch on a piece of inexpensive canvas of each tube...keep an eye on how and if it drys. Given the right storage condition oil paints can be good for a decade or longer. Since you don't know that history it will help to make the swatches. Many brands have a student grade and a professional grade. You can research that online. Good luck with your paints.

01-28-2019, 02:38 AM
I don't have any vaseline anyway. lol I was wondering if there might be a spontaneous combustion possiblity between the vaseline and oil paints.
For fire to happen, it needs a fuel, an oxidizer and a heat source.
In the spontaneous combustion of oils in a studio, the fuel is oil and old rags or oil-impregnated paper towels. The oxidizer is oxygen from ambient air. The heat source is the chemical "drying" of your oily rags. The oil naturally self-oxidizes (it is even this very phenomenon which makes your oil becoming a solid layer by modifying its molecular structure). If this oxidization is too fast, it can produce heat. And in certain cases, this heat becomes intense enough to get fire, which is still an oxidization process, but a bit more violent.
As vaseline is non siccative, i-e non able to self-oxidize, adding this substance can only lower the reaction. Therefore the mix Vaseline + oil is less prone to self-induced burning.

01-28-2019, 12:50 PM
A while ago, I bought quite a few very old tubes of oil paint (probably 40 or so of them) and use hot water from the tap on those with stuck caps. But one of the other things I've found is very useful is to loosen as much as possible of the dried paint just under the rim of the cap. I do so with a ceramics tool that has a thin, long pointed metal piece on one end and a small metal claw-like piece on the other, which is the one I use most often and because the curve allows me to reach under the cap a little more than the straight piece. This approach generally works very effectively. But if you don't want to bother with finding this ceramics tool, I think a large safety pin might also work fairly well. Just go slow and be careful not to pierce the tube itself.

Apparently, most of the difficulty in removing the caps stems from paint dried in the gap between the edge of the cap and the top of the threads, rather than the threads themselves. I work back and forth between removing dried paint with the tool, running it under more hot water, and trying to gently remove the cap, repeating the process until the cap finally comes off - which it frequently does - or I give up on getting it off. Gently gripping the tube at the top where there's an often-exposed round piece of metal seems to help prevent twisting of the tube, which you want to avoid. I like the idea of using duct tape that was in the thread linked to earlier.

Of course, if the tube itself appears to be damaged or if it has compromised areas, this approach won't work because the paint will squeeze out of those areas when you apply any pressure to the tube. So if the above process doesn't work in your case, you can buy empty replacement tubes at many art supply stores, and cut off the bottom of the old tube in order to gently squeeze the paint into the new one. The extra effort seems well worth it if the paint is an expensive one.

Ellen E
01-28-2019, 04:45 PM
There's so much good information here! Thank you to everyone who has given me information, tips, and your own experiences. Once I've tried some of these methods I'll come back and update.