Before you go thinking that this article is about a list of things to do before you die, let me set the record straight. This list is about all of those creative uses for those plastic 5-gallon buckets we see all over the place.
Each year, millions of plastic buckets end up in landfills. Again, I go back to the concept that America is the most wasteful country in the world. This list serves as a thought stimulator so you can go out and save some of these buckets from landfills and reuse them for practical, everyday tasks.
Before we look at some of these practical uses, let’s take a look at where you can get these buckets for FREE. If you go to your local home improvement center, you can buy them for nearly 5-dollars apiece. Why would anyone spend good money on something you could get for free? Some things I will never understand. You will also find some of the sources listed below will charge a dollar or two for buckets. I expect most of them will soon begin charging for their buckets as well.
When I refer to 5-gallon buckets, I use this term as a generality. You can find buckets in a variety of sizes to include 5-gallon, 3 gallon and two gallon. You can also find metal buckets which are suitable for a variety of other tasks and projects.
These days, many products come packaged in plastic buckets. Commercial painters typically buy their paint in these 5-gallon buckets. Seek out some of these painters and see if they will save some of them for you. These buckets can be used for many uses, but are not suitable for those tasks associated with any type of food products.
Restaurants are another great source of free buckets. Restaurants receive many products in bulk in these plastic buckets. Talk to local restaurant owners to see if they will save some of them for you. They typically throw them away and would most likely save them for you. These are food grade buckets and good for just about all practical uses.
Bakeries are the ole gold mine when it comes to buckets. They receive many products to include icing in the buckets. Again talk to local bakeries to have them save some of them for you. These are food grade buckets as well.
Metal buckets are becoming more difficult to find, but you can still find them by checking with businesses that use petroleum or chemicals in smaller quantities. These have a few practical purposes.
When I first started hunting for plastic buckets, I had a very difficult time in actually getting them. I went to local supermarket bakeries and asked on a regular basis. I was regularly told that they didn’t have any. On one occasion, I even saw a stack of buckets sitting behind the counter and was told they didn’t have any. I then realized that they were saving them for someone else. I had an abundance of blackberries on the property and asked the ladies if they liked wild blackberries. They said they loved them and I told them that if they saved some buckets for me, I would bring them some fresh berries. Well this worked out great and I got plenty of buckets. I have even traded fresh eggs for buckets.
OK, so know let’s take a look at some practical uses of these buckets.
BULK FOOD STORAGE—We use 5-gallon buckets for many of our long term food storage needs. We purchase 20"X30" mylar pouches, use oxygeb absorbers and seal them in the buckets. The buckets allow for stacking for better storage and add protection from rodents.
STORE ROOT CROPS—Potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc… can be stored in buckets, but be sure to cut plenty of 2 inch vent holes in the buckets to let them breath. Line the bucket with an old pillow case, fill with potatoes and put on the lid for storage.
KITCHEN COMPOST BIN—Drill several small holes in the lids of a 2-gallon bucket. Use this bucket under your kitchen sink for compostable kitchen waste. We typically shed some paper or cardboard and place this in the bottom. We then add coffee grounds and filters, crushed eggshells, vegetable scraps, peelings and clean torn up paper to the bucket. Every few days, we take it to the compost bin, rinse it out and start all over again. DO NOT add any animal fats, skins or proteins to your compost.
USED KITCHEN OIL BIN—Use a 2-gallon bucket to save and dispose of your used cooking oil. Ensure the oil has cooled before you pour it into the bucket. Used oil can be used for emergency oil lamps during power failures. Watch for our feature on making emergency oils lamps. You can also mix your used cooking oil with citronella oil for outdoor oil lanterns to extend your burn time. If you find yourself with excessive amounts of used cooking oils, talk to a local restaurant owner about adding it to their oil/grease disposal.
MOP BUCKET—Many mop ringers will attach right to a 5-gallon bucket.
RECYCLING BINS—Buckets are great for small quantities of recycling materials. Use a separate bin for crushed plastic, aluminum, metal, paper, cardboard, glass, etc… Don’t forget to compost whatever materials you can use.
LAUNDRY PRE-SOAK—Use a plastic bucket filled with warm soapy water to presoak greasy or dirty clothing.
HARVEST BUCKET—We use the smaller 2-gallon buckets as harvest buckets. Periodically and with certain items we will use 3 or 5-gallon buckets. These are great to bring your fresh produce in from the garden. Use can also tie a rope to your bucket and use them to harvest fruit from your fruit trees. If you use a ladder to harvest your fruit, the rope allows you to safely lower the bucket to the ground before climbing down the ladder.
HONEY STORAGE—If you are a beekeeper, use these free food grade buckets to store your honey prior to bottling it.
BEE FEEDER—Use a 2-gallon bucket as a top feeder for your beehives. Poke about a dozen holes in the center of the lid using a push pin. Fill the bucket with your syrup and replace the lid. Remove the outer cover of your hive and invert the bucket centered on the opening in your inner cover. Replace the outer cover and place a brick on top of it.
CHRISTMAS YARD LIGHTS—Drill a hole in the bottom for the power cord. Remove any labels. Fill the bucket with one or two strings of mini Christmas lights. Shape the lights to fill the bucket. Put the lids back on and plug in the lights. Place these along walkways, driveways, or in flower beds. Use a single color for each bucket. Red and green are naturally the most popular.
HOSE CADDY—Cut a piece of scrap 1X6 piece of wood and screw the wood though the bottom of the bucket and mount it directly on the fence or fence post about 3 feet above the ground. Wrap your hose around the bucket. Use the inside of the bucket to store your sprinklers and nozzles.
CHARCOAL STORAGE—Use 5-gallon buckets as water proof storage bins for your charcoal. In our case, we make our own charcoal for grilling in bulk and use the buckets to store our charcoal. See my feature on how to make your own lump charcoal.
PET FOOD STORAGE—Plastic buckets are ideal for storing dry pet foods. If you typically buy dry food in large quantities, multiple plastic buckets will keep the food dry and critter proof. We use buckets to store cracked corn, oats and feed for our chickens as well.
EGG BASKET—We use 2-gallon buckets to collect eggs from our chickens each day.
DRIP BUCKET—We drilled two 1/16th inch holes in the bottom of 5-gallon buckets to use as drip irrigation buckets. These are great for raised beds, small patch veggies, fruit trees, berry bushes and flower beds. We have found it takes in excess of 30 minutes to deliver 5 gallons of water to our target area.
STEPPING STONE MOLD—Cut 2 inches from the bottom of a bucket. Ensure this cut is as level as possible. Fill the bottom with a single layer of pea gravel. Mix a small batch of ready mix concrete and fill to the top. Pat the mixture down with a 2x4 to remove any bubbles and level. Cover the mold with a damp cloth and allow to set for at least 24 hours. Flip the mold over and brush away excess concrete from the stones. You will need to experiment with timing due to temperature and humidity conditions. Once you perfect your timing, you can cut multiple molds to make many stepping stones at a time.
PIPE CADDY—Cut the bottom out of two 2-gallon buckets and remove the handles. Screw the buckets so the openings are parallel with the ground and spaced between 4-6 feet apart. Slide metal and PVC pipes into your new pipe caddy for easy storage.
BUCKET GARDEN—Buckets are perfect to grow vegetables for those of you without adequate garden space. This includes folks with small backyards or only a balcony. Drill several small holes in the bottom to allow for adequate drainage. Fill the bottom with 2 or 3 inches of gravel or small stones. Fill the bucket with good potting soil up to about 2 inches from the top. Add your seed or plants, water and watch them grow.
GARDEN TOOL CADDY—Cut the bottom out of a 2-gallon bucket and remove the handle. Screw the bucket to a fence post about four feet above ground level with the openings facing up and down. Insert your rakes, shovels, hoes, etc… to keep them in one place. You can also use this caddy in your shed, garage or workshop.
WEEDING BUCKETS—we use two buckets to weed the garden and flower beds. One bucket is used to sit on and the other as a weed receptacle.
COMPOST TEA DISPENSER— Drill a hole in the bottom side of the bucket and attach a female hose connector in this hole. Drill a hole in the top side wall on the opposite end of the bucket and attach a male hose connector. Seal around the connectors with silicone. Add compost to a mesh bag and place inside the bucket. Place lid on the top. Connect hoses and fill bucket with water. Let compost steep for about 15 minutes and turn water back on and water your plants and vegetables with your compost tea.
HOMEMADE STAIN—We collect black walnuts that are over ripe. After the husk has turned black, we put them in a five gallon bucket and fill it with water. We let this sit for about a week. We remove the walnuts and have a homemade stain for a variety of simple wood projects. Note: wear rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands.
CHICKEN FEEDING SYSTEM— Cut or drill four one inch holes around the base of a 5-gallon bucket. After cutting or drilling these holes, cut the top of the hole to form a triangle shaped hole. Place an 18 inch plastic planter base on a cinder block. Place the bucket on top of the planter base and fill with chicken feed. Snap on the lid and you have an automatic chicken feeder. When the feed is low in the planter base, they will peck at the hole and release more food.
ANIMAL WATER STATION— We use ours primarily for our chickens, but also use them to provide our bees water. You could use these for dogs or cats as well. Drill four ½ inch holes as close to the top rim of the bucket as possible. Place an 18 inch planter base on a LEVEL cinder block. Fill the bucket with water and snap on the lid. Invert the bucket and place on the planter base. The water level in the planter base will level out with the drain holes and create a vacuum in the bucket. As the water is drawn from the planter base, water will flow to the fill line again. You will periodically need to wash the bucket and planter base to prevent bacteria and disease.
CHICKEN NESTING BOXES— Cut a 1x6 piece of scrap board to fit in the bottom of the bucket. Screw the board through the bucket to the wall of your coop at a height of about 18 inches above the ground. The bucket will be mounted sideways on the wall. Screw a piece of scrap 1x4 board to the front of the bucket. Fill the bucket will some straw and wait for the chicks to start laying.
OUTDOOR BUTT CAN—Fill a 2-gallon bucket with sand and use as an outdoor butt can or ashtray. Empty as needed.
GARDEN MOOD LIGHTS—Remove label and handle from a 2-gallon bucket. Procure a garden solar light. Remove the stake from the solar light. Trace the diameter of the light below the top of the light onto the lid of the bucket. Cut the lines you traced on the lid with a utility knife. Wear gloves when cutting the lid. Place the solar light in the cut opening and seal with chalking or silicone. Place the lid back on the bucket. Place the bucket in a sunny spot in the garden and enjoy. For additional effect, you can fill the bucket half way with water colored by food coloring. Be sure the water level is well below the bottom of the solar light when the lid is put back on. These lanterns are also great for camping. You can also make a jack-o-lantern using the same concept. Simply paint the bucket orange and cut out your jack-o-lantern.
CAR WASH—I use two buckets for washing cars. One bucket is used as my actual washing bucket and the other is used upside down as a step stool to reach the top of the car.
TRASH BIN—Keep one in your shed, shop or garage for small trash and debris collection.
SHOP RAG BINS—Use one bucket for clean shop rags and one for dirty rags.
EXTENSION CORD STORAGE—Cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket large enough for the male end of the cord to fit through and pull enough cord through to loop back inside the top of the bucket. The male end is the end that plugs into the wall. Coil your cord inside the bucket leaving the center hollow. Pull the cord from the bucket when you need it and coil it back up when you are done with the job. The hollow center can be used to put a drill or other small tools as you carry them to where you are doing the work.
TOOL BUCKET— Use a 5-gallon bucket to carry hand tools to where you needs to use them. You can purchase or make caddies that fit around a bucket to expand this capability.
SHELF SUPPORTS FOR SHED OR WORKSHOP— Use 5-gallon buckets as supports for shelving in your shed, garage or workshop. You can use plywood, but I prefer to use two 1x6 boards measuring 6 feet long. I screw the boards right to the bucket tops. You can stack these about four high. I don’t recommend going any higher unless you fill the buckets with sand for stability.
TRUCK BIN—Keep a bucket in the bed of your pickup truck at all times. Tie or strap the bucket down. Use this bucket for tie straps, rope and other odds and ends. Be sure to snap the lid on to keep rain water out. You will find yourself using this bucket for lots of smaller gadgets.
BOAT BUCKET--Keep a bucket with a lid in your boat. You will find many uses for your bucket to include using it for dry stowage for those valuables you do not want to risk getting wet. They make great bait buckets as well as nifty lunch boxes and garbage buckets. Buckets are also great for bailing water if necessary.
CANOE BUCKET—Use 5-gallon buckets to protect food, clothing and valuable from water on canoe trips. Be sure to secure the lids on the buckets and tie the buckets to the canoe.
FISHING BUCKET—Buckets are great for keeping your catch for brief periods of time. Fill the bucket with water to keep your fish alive a little longer.
CAMP BUCKETS—Buckets have many uses for camping. Pack food items in buckets and store non perishable items in these buckets during the camping trip. They will keep your food dry and inaccessible to smaller critters. Buckets are perfect stools to use around the campfire. You can use buckets to forage for kindling for your campfire. Clean buckets are also great for hauling water and doing dishes. Use a bucket to wash your clothes while camping.
HILLBILLY BEVERAGE COOLER—Place one 12 pack of your favorite beverage in the bottom of the bucket. Fill with ice and add enough water to cover the ice. (Perfect for sitting around that summertime bonfire in the country). Snap on the lid and you have your own front row seat.
MUSIC INTRUMENTS—Use as a makeshift drum. Drill holes in top end and tie strings for a ghetto banjo. Make a bucket bass. More to follow on these makeshift instruments.
TOY STORAGE—Get your child to assist or actually paint their toy storage buckets. These buckets can serve as storage for everyday toys, beach toys and a variety of other kid related items. Look around and use your imagination.
SPORTS EQUIPMENT CADDY—Cut the bottom out of a 2-gallon bucket and screw it right to the wall of a garage or utility room to store sports equipment like baseball bats. Use a 5-gallon bucket to store baseballs or tennis balls.
HALLOWEEN CANDY BUCKET—Paint a 2-gallon bucket orange. Use black paint to make your jack-o-lantern pattern on the bucket. Simple bucket for trick or treat candy collection.
EASTER EGGS COLLECTION BUCKET—Have kids decorate 2-gallon buckets for Easter and have them collect their Easter eggs in them.
TREE HOUSE DUMBWAITER—Tie a rope to a bucket on the ground and hoist food, supplies and tools up to your kids tree house. Using a pulley helps pull the bucket up.
EMERGENCY WINTER CAR KIT—Use a bucket to store your winter emergency car kit supplies. Here is a suggested list to store in you winter car kit: windshield scraper and small broom, flashlight, battery powered radio, extra batteries, water, snack food, matches, candles, metal coffee can, extra hats, socks and mittens, first aid kit with pocket knife, blanket, tow chain or rope, road salt and sand, booster cables, emergency flares, fluorescent distress flag.
EMERGENCY WATER STORAGE—Use ONLY food grade buckets for emergency water storage. Extended loss of public water is probable during severe disaster situations. Experts state that each adult requires one gallon of fresh water per day and need ½ of this amount just for drinking. Some experts recommend storing at least 3 days of emergency water while others recommend up to 21 days. If you plan on storing emergency water supplies please follow the FEMA guidelines here: http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/water.shtm
EMERGENCY TOILET—great for boating, camping or during extended power outages. Line the inside with two plastic bags. As nature calls, remove the lid and do your business then snap the lid back on. When the reaches about ¼ full, tie the bag and dispose of properly. Replace the bag for continued use. Store this bucket in the outdoors for continued use. You can actually buy lids specifically designed to using a 5-gallon bucket as a toilet.
OUTDOOR COOKER—Cut the bottom out of a metal 5-gallon bucket. Cut four equally spaced 1 inch holes around the bottom side wall. Find a round grill grate or cut on from the perforated metal diamond mesh material. Place the bucket on enough paver bricks to extend two inches around the bucket. Load the bucket with hardwood or lump charcoal. Once a good bed of embers are glowing, add the cooking grate. This can be used for grilling, but we use it to preheat water for out outdoor canning operation.
WARNING: Children can fall into a bucket and drown. Keep children away from buckets even with a small amount of liquid. Always empty buckets when not in use or securely place lid on the bucket.
DANGER: Never use plastic buckets for excessively hot items or burning. Never dump hot ashes in any plastic bucket. The only suitable bucket for ashes is a metal bucket with lids.
CAUTION: Please use extreme caution when drilling or cutting buckets for your projects. Wear gloves and eye protection to avoid personal injury.
NOTE: Do not leave empty buckets stored upright outdoors during spring and summer months. If they fill with water, they become prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.
We will be posting pictures in the future—stay tuned. We are also working on future articles about re-purposing everyday items to save them from landfills and save you a few dollars.
If you have any additional uses for these buckets, please post them for everyone can see them. Feedback is always greatly appreciated.
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