Emulsion shelf life?

I was given a 5L pot of Laura Ashley (no less) paint that's been opened but almost full.
The can says 'use within 6 months of purchase' and indeed google searches tend to repeat this. The paint is about 4 years old - as long as it's taken me to get around to think about using it ;-)
What's the worst that can happen? I don't understand how paint can degrade. Should I just chuck it and buy some more?
Thanks, Rob
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Rob wrote:

I have just been using up a huge pot of emulsion (Crown Brilliant White Matt with pink stuff). Having been half used a few years ago (at least 2, maybe more), it did have a minor area of mould up the inside of the container. I ignored that and used it. Works fine. (It has been kept indoors so has never frozen. That can be a paint killer.)
Things to look out for include "bits" - maybe strain it? (I have frequently read of people using tights/stockings for this purpose but I have never done so myself.) Also, give it a very thorough stir. When removing and replacing the lids I have often noticed lots of bits of dried paint flaking off - so I cleaned the lid.
PS Be very careful with LA paint at the top of stairs.
--
Rod

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Is this speaking from experience?
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m1ss snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.co.uk wrote:

"Laura Ashley died of a brain hemorrhage suffered ten days after she fell down the stairs of her daughter's English country home on her 60th birthday."
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Ashley>
It was a sick, tasteless, vaguely humourous comment.
--
Rod

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I've touched up with paint thats older without any hassle but i've not painted a full wall.
A painter advised me to always store cans of paint upside down as the paint kept better. ( after properly resealing of course)
Fod
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wrote:

I used an open-5-years white emulsion recently, no problem. Needed to scrape off the sides of the tin, but it came away in two or three large snot-consistency pieces.

I think that's so any degradation due to air in the tin then happens at the bottom rather than the top. OK for paint you don't stir, not so good otherwise?
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I think it's because the tin lids don't reseal perfectly, and it allows the solvent to evaporate and the paint to skin over slowly. By storing the tin upside down, the paint is in contact with the lid seal, so any small leaks cause the paint to set in the leak and seal the tin. I store mine upside down when I remember to, and they seem to keep forever. I did some touch-up with the original 20 year old emulsion a couple of years ago (which I had remembered to store upside down), and that worked fine.
--
Andrew Gabriel
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Heh, I had a tin go rusty, the paint inside set and sealed it - until I stirred it.... Wondered why the level was going down as I stirred :-(
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PM wrote:

Many thanks - I'll use it after all.
Rob
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