If you bought yourself a case of paintballs last year and never got the chance to use them, it might be tempting to take them into the backyard and use them up. But, you should be careful: these rounds have probably expired. Like food, paintballs are usually good past their expiration date, but you should still exercise caution.
How to Tell if Paint Has Expired
Different brands and types of paint have different shelf life lengths. Unfortunately, these lengths are all very short. I have never seen paintballs with an advertised shelf life longer than six months. High-quality paintballs like Valken Graffiti have even less time – usually only three months. The manufacturer’s expiration date is usually displayed prominently on one side of the packaging. Still, in reality, this is only a recommendation.
Paintballs past their prime may not perform as well as fresh ones but may still work well enough. Your main concern should be whether or not the paint continues to reliably break on impact. From what I have seen, paintballs will start to decrease in accuracy soon after their expiration date. Still, they may take months to seriously hurt my play.
My test is to take about 20 rounds out to my backyard and fire them at a softer target like a plastic barrel. If all the paint breaks, I know that my rounds are still good. If any of the shots bounce, then it may be time to throw away that batch.
How Paintballs Degrade Over Time
As I said before, impact reliability is not my only concern with old paintballs. Depending on the specific brand, product, and storage conditions, several other issues can occur.
One of the most common problems is swelling. Paintball shells slowly absorb moisture, causing them to expand. This can weaken them and cause them to shoot with less accuracy, but the main drawback to this side effect is the paint’s reliability. A marker’s barrel is made with precision tools to create an exact diameter for paintballs to pass through. What happens when you try shoving something through the barrel that is wider than its interior diameter? The swelled paintballs jam, of course.
Sometimes, especially when they get wet during storage, old paintballs may shrink rather than expand. Shooting shrunken paint can be much less reliable than older paint that is still at a normal size. If they have shrunk too much, your marker may be unable to pressurize air behind them, meaning they will have much lower velocity and range. Shrunken paint also tends to bounce more often. I always store my paint in a dry, indoor location to stop shrinkages.
Other issues can also occur, such as dimpling on the shell exterior or even rotting of biodegradable paint. Over time, the general trend is that first, the paintballs will decrease in accuracy before eventually becoming unreliable. Because drops in accuracy can be hard to measure quickly, I never use out-of-date paint for any competitive events.
Increasing the Shelf Life of Your Paint
Proper storage is vital if you want to keep a bulk pack of paint viable for more than a few months. The first thing you should do is set aside a dry, little-used space for your paint somewhere inside your house. This spot should also be temperature-controlled and shielded from the sun. I use a shelf in my pantry.
Your paintballs should be stored in an airtight plastic container. Using an airtight container prevents moisture from seeping into the package. Most people use zippered plastic bags, but I prefer to use Tupperware containers to provide some protection against accidental bumps. You should not store paintballs inside of tubes and loaders that are not airtight and designed for short-term storage.
Every month or two, flip the container upside-down. This small change can stop the rounds’ filling from separating. Without this crucial step, your paintballs may swell even though they are being stored under ideal conditions.
When to Throw Away Bad Paint
Eventually, you will reach a point where your paintballs become unusable. A number of things can indicate when you should finally throw your old paint away, including:
- Rounds bouncing off-targets
- Accuracy or reliability drops sharply
- Some rounds have cracked and spilled onto others
- The surfaces of the shells show dimpling or other marks
Although it hurts to throw away rounds that you paid for less than a year ago, doing that is much better than showing up to the field with an unusable setup.
Paint goes bad, and in my opinion, the few dollars you save by stretching the lifespan of your ammo is never worth the bad experiences that this practice can lead to on the field. However, with the right precautions, you might be able to eke a few more months out of your thousand-round bulk pack.