Buying ammo for combat sports can be a costly affair.

How much you spend on paintballs and/or airsoft pellets can soon add up – particularly if you’re a high-volume shooter.

And when it comes to paintballs, there are extra factors to take into consideration – including their shelf life.

Do paintballs expire? Yes, they do. The real question is – how do you make them last longer?

In this article, we explore all the ways you can get the best out of your balls – so you both you, and they perform to expectations, and you’re not throwing money into the gutter.

Which is where your mind probably is right now.

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Do Paintballs Go Bad? The Short Answer

In short – yes, paintballs go bad. But there are some things you can do to maximize their shelf life, including how you store and maintain them.

Read on for professional tips and tricks on how to keep your paintballs good for longer.

What are Paintballs Made From?

Modern paintballs are made from a number of materials.


person loading paintballs in gun

The spherical capsule is made from gelatin, and the contents are made from polyethylene glycol (PEG). This is a non-toxic compound that is actually used to treat constipation – in small doses.

So be careful if you ever manage to eat a paintball – and keep them well out of reach from children and animals!

Other water-soluble materials can be used, as well as a food-safe dye that gives the paintballs their distinctive color.

As you can probably tell, these materials are biodegradable and will deteriorate over time. As such, you can’t store paintballs indefinitely, and they need to be used within a time frame to get the best out of them.

Interestingly (painfully) early paintballs were made out of glass and oil, and were used, thankfully, for marking trees and cattle – rather than humans.

This article on the history of paintball offers an amazing insight into how the modern game came to be.

And you can check out this article on the different types of paintballs available, which has a fascinating video on how paintballs are actually made.

Paintball Shelf Life

How long are paintballs good for?

It depends on how they’re stored.

Stored correctly, a box of paintballs is going to have a typical shelf life of around six months, maybe even up to one year.

Stored incorrectly, and you can expect it to be significantly less – perhaps even days, depending on how and where you keep them.

Paintball manufacturers will tell you that their product lasts around three months – but, like any company offering consumable goods, it’s highly likely that’s just because they want you to purchase more paint.

Obviously, fresh balls are better, but pro and regular players have reported using paint up to a year old – if it has been stored well, and examined before use.

Read on to find out how to do that, how to transport it, and how to tell if your paint is suitable for use.

And bookmark this article on the best paintball brands to learn about some of the best paint and gear manufacturers working in the industry today.

How to Store Paintballs

The two main factors that contribute to paintball life expectancy are temperature and moisture.

coloured paintball pellets in hand

As such, along with anything that has a shelf life, they need to be stored properly in order to keep them at their best for as long as possible.

But where is that?

Yep, you’ve guessed it.

A cool, dry place – away from bright/direct sunlight.

If the paint is too hot, it’s going to melt and deform. If it’s too cold, it will become brittle and break too easily.

It’s important you get the balance just right, so aim to store the paintballs somewhere between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The room’s humidity should be no more than 50%. Consider using a dehumidifier if necessary. A properly humidified basement is an ideal storage place for paintballs, or a garage if it’s of a similarly moderate temperature.

The best paintball storage will be airtight. As soon as you open a fresh batch, the clock is ticking, and unless you’re planning on using them all immediately, you should decant them into a suitably secure, opaque container.

While a good ammo box has been designed for real steel, they can be just as good for paintball ammunition, too. And look at all the funky colors they’re available in – one for each shade of paint!

If you’re on more of a budget, you can store your paint in a thick, quality, sealable freezer bag, and then in a shoebox with lid.

And any that remain at the end of your match should be stored in a similar fashion.

Another trick is to turn them regularly. This helps ensure that the paintballs maintain their shape, and their contents don’t settle to one side and warp or disfigure the balls in any way.

Make sure you do this gently – as vigorously rattling the storage boxes could easily cause breakages, and one burst paintball can damage/impair all the surrounding others.

Simply turning the bags over a few times is fine.

Never leave paintballs in your marker, or in any pods you might use. They will deform over time and are more at risk from temperature changes and humidity.

Finally, be sure to keep them out of the reach of young fingers. Paintballs can and do look like candy, and if kids can put Tide Pods into their mouths, they’ll eat anything.

How to Transport Paintballs

When you’re heading to your game, you should maintain the same principles for transporting paintballs as you do for storing them.

But that can be a challenge – particularly in a hot vehicle, for example.

(And speaking of hot, check out this article on what to wear for paintball during the summer – full of tips and tricks to improve your loadout when the weather is warm.)

One solution is to keep your paintballs in a portable cooler of some description – but don’t put any frozen blocks or ice bags in with them, as they will slowly melt and the water will ruin the paint.

This is an excellent method for keeping your balls cool, and out of those harmful UV rays, even in a hot vehicle.

Paintball Quality – How to Tell if They’re Usable

Let’s say you’ve forgotten about a stack of paintballs, and you’re unsure when you bought them, and/or you can’t date their shelf life.

How can you tell if the paint is suitable for use?

First, take a look at the bag they’re stored in. Sometimes, moisture or an oily residue can form, which will seriously damage the usability of your paintballs.

If that’s the case, you might be able to clean them – more on that topic, below.

Examine your balls, closely. If dimples have formed, you spot any abnormal imperfections, or they’re out of shape in any way, then there’s a good chance they’re past the point of no return.

Balls that have joined together are done. Time to throw them away.

Your balls should be clean, perfectly spherical, and smooth – without any evidence of dirt or debris of any kind.

Next, try the drop test. Drop a paintball from waist height onto a hard surface. Contrary to popular belief, fresh paint should not actually bounce at all – but break (or at least crack) on impact.

The video below will show you how to do a drop test properly.

Alternatively, you can do a couple of test fires at a card or paper target, and the paint should break cleanly the first time.

That’s what you need it to do in the field, after all.

A paintball that bounces will likely have hardened from lengthy storage and should be considered unsuitable for firing at even your worst enemy.

Sure, you can use paintballs that bounce – but the older the paintball, the less likely it is to break cleanly.

Not only will you not score hits, but you’ll risk the ire of the opposition with some potentially painful shots.

Using Out-of-Date Paintballs

Surely using expired paintballs isn’t going to be that bad, right?

What if you’ve just missed the use-by-date by a couple of days?

If you follow the steps above, you might be able to risk it – but risk is what it will be.

Perishable paintballs will start to lose their shape over time, become soft, and lose their form. Attempting to fire mushy paint from a marker will be like trying to pick a lock with a fish.

paintball stains on clothes and mask

And there’s a very strong chance they will gum up the insides of your gun. Even if you’re using one of the best paintball markers on the market.

Old paintballs might not burst as well, which means you’ll have more bounces and ricochets. Not only do bounced paintballs not count as a hit, but they can also hurt more.

And while we’re on the subject of pain, why not read this article to settle the airsoft vs paintball pain debate?

So, what can you do with expired paintballs?

Thankfully, as paintballs are biodegradable, you can simply throw them out. Over time, there will be no trace they ever existed.

Alternatively, if you’re particularly bummed that you’ve wasted a load of cash, you could try creating some abstract art.

Extra Tips and Tricks

Not all paintballs are the same. Be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions of the particular brand you’ve purchased.

Keeping your gear and equipment in order will help everything last longer in general. Stick to a good paintball marker maintenance regimen – and you can follow that link for advice on how to do so.

Don’t run with cheap paint. Sure, you might save some money, but it’s going to ruin your overall experience – cost you more in the long run, and possibly damage your marker in the process.

But you can certainly find a good list of budget-friendly paintball guns if you’re looking to keep your start-up costs down. Affordable guns – yes, cheap paint – no.

Using good quality paint can make the difference between defeat and victory – particularly in tournament conditions. And you can read this article for more tips, tricks, and tactics for staying alive.


How do you clean paintballs?

Not with water! That’s a start!

As soon as paintballs come into contact with any liquids, they will start to deteriorate, so unlike airsoft pellets, you can’t give them a rinse in the sink.

Instead, use paper towels to gently remove any dirt or residue that might have been left as the result of a burst paintball.

A pro-tip is to empty the paintballs into a cardboard box, and use a clean, lint-free cloth to gently move them around, allowing the cardboard and the cloth to soak up any liquid or oil residue that might have formed on the balls.

Remember, if you’ve dropped paint on the floor, and it’s become dirty as a result, then it’s highly recommended that you don’t attempt to salvage it.

Can you freeze paintballs?

No! Bad idea!

Extremes of temperature will cause paintballs to fail. Too hot – they lose shape, too cold (in a freezer) they become brittle.

Although they’re made with non-toxic, food-safe ingredients, you might think that freezing them will prolong their shelf life, and, like food, you can simply thaw and use as if they were fresh.

This isn’t the case with paintballs, and even if you have stored them in freezer bags, they should never actually be placed in a freezer.

Can you reuse paintballs?

While there are reusable paintballs available (they’re not cheap), for the most part you should never be reusing any paint that has already been fired.

That’s because each shot can alter the shape of the paintball, and it won’t ever provide a clean fire again. Firing reused paintballs can harm your marker, as well as accuracy, speed, and distance.

And I know it’s utterly heartbreaking to see someone spill a canister of fresh paintballs onto the floor – but you really need to resist the temptation to pick them up and use them.

They are done – it’s over. Man down. Give them the Purple Heart, and move on.

Does paintball paint wash out?

Yes, it does. Paintballs are water-soluble, and we’ve written a full article on this very subject. Check out how to wash paintball gear at that link.


Do paintballs expire? They most certainly do, and using out-of-date paintballs can affect accuracy, distance, and firing rate, not to mention the possibility of clogging your gun.

And in the heat of battle, it’s vital you stay in the fight.

Let me know if you have any experience shooting expired or inferior paintballs, and/or any tips or tricks you use to make them last longer.

Stay safe out there, and happy paintballing!