Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
One of my favorite ways to preserve food is to seal it in Mylar bags and store them in food-grade buckets. With this method you can store a lot of food in a small space, your food will have a very long shelf life, and you can reuse the buckets as many times as you want.
But there’s another bonus to using buckets that many people forget: In a long-term disaster, you can use them for all sorts of other things. This post describes 25 uses for buckets (especially five-gallon buckets), and after you read it you’ll never throw a bucket away again.
You can always buy buckets online or at a home improvement store, but there are many cheaper alternatives. I just did a search for buckets on Craigslist and found several for a couple of dollars each in my area. Chances are you can find some in your area, too. You may also find them for as little as a dollar at your local flea market.
If you’re a smooth talker, you might be able to get some buckets for free. Restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, delis, coffee shops, doughnut shops, and most other places that sell fresh food might have leftover food-grade buckets they don’t need.
You could also check car washes, construction sites, gas stations, soap makers, wine stores, and anywhere else that uses buckets. But if you get buckets from any non-food-related businesses, don’t store food in them unless you’re sure they are food-grade.
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How to Identify Food-Grade Buckets
Although most of the uses for buckets listed below will work with any type of bucket, you still need to know how to tell the difference between food-grade and non-food-grade so you don’t mix them up. First, look at the recycling symbol on the bottom.
There should be a number between 1 and 7 inside a triangle made of arrows. The numbers that indicate food-grade are 1, 2, 4, and 5, but the best is 2 because it means the bucket is made of high-density polyethylene, one of the most stable forms of plastic.
If there isn’t a number on the bottom of the bucket, check for other symbols such as a cup and fork (food-safe), radiating waves (microwave-safe), or a snowflake (freezer-safe). All these indicate the bucket was designed to contain food. If none of those symbols are there, look for a price tag or manufacturer’s label for information. The bucket in the picture below is definitely not food-grade.
If you can’t find any indication that the bucket is food-grade, do not use it to store food or water. Some plastics could leach harmful chemicals into your food, and that is not worth the risk. Now on to the list.
25 Brilliant Uses for Buckets
1. Build a Rocket Stove
Large metal buckets are great for making rocket stoves. In case you don’t know, rocket stoves are cheap to make and incredibly efficient. They heat up food and water very quickly and run on small branches and twigs. If you’ve never built one before, here’s how.
2. Build a Water Filter
A few buckets and some PVC pipe can be used to build a biosand filter. With these, the water filters through gravel, sand, and charcoal and comes out free of heavy metals, bacteria, and viruses.
It only takes a few pounds of charcoal and lasts several months before you have to replace the charcoal. This PDF has detailed instructions.
3. Carry Water
If there is no running water, you might have the carry it from the nearest source. Buckets are the best thing for this. Even if you have a wagon or something, you’ll still need buckets. Jars and pails are usually too small. Another thought: If there is a flood, you can use large buckets to bail water.
4. Crush Your Trash
If garbage collection companies become unreliable or cease altogether, your trash will pile up quickly. To save space until you can properly dispose of it, use two five-gallon buckets as a trash compactor.
Simply put the trash in one bucket, then put the other bucket in the first one and push it down with your foot. This will halve the space taken up by your trash.
5. Fight Fire
If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, buckets are a good alternative. Use them to pour water or sand on a small fire. Obviously, this won’t be enough if your whole house is ablaze, but if you keep a couple of buckets near your grill and campfire, you can stop fires before they get too big.
6. Grow Food
People have been known to grow entire gardens in five-gallon buckets. To make this even easier, you can build several Alaska Grow Buckets and connect them to a water reservoir that only needs to be refilled every week or two.
7. Harvest Rainwater
Put buckets at the bottom of your gutters and use the water to wash clothes or water your garden. You might be able to drink this water provided your roof isn’t too dirty and you filter the water. This post has more information.
8. Heat Up Water
Get two black five-gallon buckets, put one inside the other, fill 2/3 of it with water, put the lid on, and place it in direct sunlight. After an hour or two (depending on the temperature outside), you will have a bucket of nice, hot water.
It might even be a little too hot, in which case you can add some cold water (this is why I don’t recommend filling it all the way). Don’t drink this water or use it for cooking unless the buckets are food-grade.
9. Make a Backpack
You can attach straps to a bucket to turn it into a backpack, or you can just purchase a bucket backpack like this one. It would be very useful while gathering food or supplies.
10. Make a Toilet
Pour a few scoops of kitty litter into a 10-gallon trash bag and put it in a bucket, then sit down and do your business. Here’s more info.
The only problem is that you can’t exactly sit on a lidless bucket, and it’s difficult for some people to squat over one. The solution is this toilet seat which was designed to fit on most buckets. It’s surprisingly comfortable.
11. Raise Chickens
If you have backyard chickens, you can use buckets as chicken feeders and waterers. Just drill holes near the bottom edge, put the buckets in foil roasting pans, then fill the buckets with chicken feed or water.
You can also turn buckets sideways, cut away 2/3 of the lid, and put straw in there to make some good chicken nesting boxes. Here’s how.
12. Store Dry Supplies
If you have supplies that need to stay dry (paper towels, toilet paper, kindling, fire starters, tinder, etc.) but you want to store them in the garage or attic or somewhere they could get wet, just seal them in air-tight buckets to keep out rainwater and humidity.
13. Store Water
A pallet of five-gallon buckets (3 wide and stacked 3 high) full of drinking water would last the average family at least a month and wouldn’t take up much space. Just be sure to put the pallet on a concrete floor and make sure they are food-grade buckets.
14. Take a Shower
This video explains how you can make a camp shower using a five-gallon bucket, some PVC, a PVC ball valve, and a nozzle. With a low-flow nozzle, it can last up to 8 minutes before you have to refill it.
15. Wash Clothes
Put your clothes in a bucket along with hot water and detergent and close it with a Gamma Seal Lid. Shake the bucket back and forth for a few minutes, drain the soapy water, wring out your clothes, and repeat the process with fresh water. Here are more detailed instructions.
16. Store Fish
If you’ve ever gone fishing before, this should be an obvious one. Plastic buckets are among the most practical tools for storing caught fish and then transporting them back home or to your campsite.
17. Do The Dishes
You can also just as easily use normal buckets to do the dishes as well. Simply pour warm water and soap into the buckets, and have another bucket with cold water for rinsing. Just make sure that the buckets are thoroughly clean beforehand.
18. Ammo Storage
Buckets make for an excellent ammo storage device as well. Simply pour loose rounds into the bucket, and close tightly with a lid.
Keep the ammunition stored at normal room temperature in a dry location. Only use one bucket per caliber for organizational purposes, and write the caliber stored in the bucket on the outside.
19. Solar Still
You can also use a bucket to build a solar still to collect clean drinking water. Dig a hole deeper than the bucket and around two feet wide. Place a bucket in the center of the hole, and surround the base with green vegetation.
Lay a tarp or plastic sheeting over the bucket, secure it at four corners with rocks, and then place one more rock over the center to weigh down over the bucket. Condensation will drip down the tarp and into the bucket. Wait around 24 to 36 hours before coming back to check on progress.
20. Make A Survival Kit or Cache
A bucket can be used as a surprisingly good survival kit, which you can either transport with you, keep in storage at your house, or bury out in the backyard or in another location as a survival cache.
Virtually anything that you would put in a bugout bag or a survival kit you could also put into a plastic bucket, such as blankets, a first aid kit, tools, fire-starting materials, rope, food, paracord, and so on.
Last but not least, plastic buckets also make for excellent planters. Simply puncture a few holes at the bottom and then fill up with soil.
You can also use the handles to suspend them up over the ground. This is best reserved for older buckets that are approaching the end of their usefulness; cleaner and newer buckets should be reserved for other purposes such as dishes or laundry.
As you can see, buckets are very valuable during a major disaster. I’ve heard that in third-world countries buckets are so valuable no one would dare throw them away. Don’t let this versatile tool go to waste.
22. Create Outdoor Seating
As simple as it may sound, normal plastic buckets can work well for extra outdoor seating. Just turn the buckets over so the open ends are facing down and then sit over the closed end. It won’t be as comfortable as an actual chair, but it will work in a pinch if you have no other seating alternatives.
You can also staple or glue padding (such as carpeting or a blanket) to the closed side of the bucket to help make it more comfortable to sit on.
23. Mix Concrete
Plastic buckets are a great DIY alternative to concrete mixers if you need to, well, mix concrete. Besides the natural ingredients to make concrete (cement, water, and aggregates such as crushed stone or gravel), you’ll also need an appropriate tool such, as a trowel, to mix everything in the bucket.
This process will be very messy, so make sure you’re working in outdoor ‘work clothes’ that you can get dirty and have cleaning water on standby to wash yourself off.
24. Make a Bird or Animal Feeder
A plastic bucket will work great as a DIY bird or animal feeder. Take a normal five-gallon bucket, and cut a hole at the bottom. Fit the elbow of a PVC pipe into this hole and cut open part of the pipe for the feed to show through. Be sure to close off the open end of the bucket with a lid.
You can use this to feed chickens or other farm or homestead animals. Alternatively, you can place the bucket into a tray or another wide and shallow bucket. Then puncture holes in the sides of the bucket, and the feed will naturally fall out into the tray or shallower bucket.
25. Use As A Buoy or Rescue Flotation Device
Take a five-gallon bucket with a good lid and seal it so the air remains trapped inside. Attach a rope or paracord to the handle of the bucket, and then you can throw it out into a lake or river to mark a spot on the water (like a buoy).
Alternatively, you can also use this same kind of device as an emergency rescue flotation device. Simply throw the sealed bucket out with the rope to someone in the water in need, and then they can grab onto it to stay afloat before you pull them back to safety.
It’s vitally important that your plastic bucket of choice is fully sealed here so it works properly. Be sure to test it out in the water first before applying it to more serious uses.
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