The origin of the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is somewhat unclear. Most people think it dates back to the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970. For dedicated homesteaders, however, the popular mantra is more than a call to reduce trash — it is a way of life.
One of the most useful items homesteaders can recycle is the five-gallon bucket. You can purchase new buckets online, but you’re better off looking for used ones for free at supermarkets, bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, school cafeterias, painting and construction companies, and pool maintenance companies. Check Craigslist or Freecycle for other possible sources of free buckets.
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One of the most popular uses for five-gallon buckets is for long-term and bulk food storage. Since many establishments use buckets to store non-food items, make sure it is food grade HDPE (high-density polyethylene) before using it to store food.
Turn over the bucket to examine the recycling symbol on its bottom. You should see a triangle made of arrows with a number between 1 and 7. The numbers that indicate food-grade quality are 1, 2, 4, and 5. Number 2 indicates the bucket is made of HDPE, a highly stable form of plastic.
If there isn’t a number, check for other symbols that indicate food safety: a cup and fork indicates food safe, radiating waves show microwave-safety, and a snowflake shows it is safe for the freezer. If none of those symbols are visible, use the bucket for non-food purposes.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are 25 uses for five-gallon buckets you may not have tried.
1. Harvesting rainwater – Five-gallon buckets are a great size for collecting rainwater and water run-off from your roof. You also can use them to create a water filtering system.
2. Using and cleaning paint rollers – Buckets have distinct advantages over pans when working with paint rollers. They are quicker, easier, and less messy to load with paint. Also, you can easily cover a bucket with a damp cloth when you are taking a break, and the paint won’t dry out.
3. Feeding your pets and animals – You can make a durable self-filling animal feeder with five-gallon buckets. You also can use a similar concept to create a watering station for your pets or for your chickens.
4. Loading and unloading mulch or gravel – Here’s a simple hack that will save you time. The next time you need a load of mulch or gravel, line your pickup bed with empty five-gallon buckets. Then after you get your load as usual, rake the mulch or gravel across the top of the buckets to even out the load. When you unload, you can empty one bucket at a time exactly where you want it.
5. Washing clothes – Five-gallon buckets are great for washing and rinsing dirty clothes or for fabric or yarn dying projects. Their size and depth make for easy work and easy clean-up. You can choose to have one bucket for washing and another with holes drilled in it for rinsing.
6. Brewing beer – Have you been wanting to try brewing your own beer? Five-gallon buckets work great for this project.
7. Handy tool carrier – A five-gallon bucket is great for carrying your gardening tools when you are working around your homestead. You can cover the tools with the lid and flip the bucket over to use as a stool when you need to do some pruning. Here’s a lid tip: If the lid is hard to pry off, cut off all but two of the plastic tabs and the process will be easier.
8. Cord reel – Speaking of those bucket lids, you can make a handy reel for your power cords or hoses with two five-gallon bucket lids.
9. Fertilizing your soil – You can brew a compost tea in a standard five-gallon bucket. This tea will do wonders for your garden.
10. Watering trees – Lugging heavy buckets of water out to water your newly-planted trees can be time-consuming and back-breaking work. You can use five-gallon buckets to help in this process.
11. Cooling the air – This little DIY project for a portable air conditioner can be a real life-saver on a hot day.
13. Composting toilet – While we’re on the subject, you can also re-purpose a five-gallon bucket to use in a composting toilet system.
14. Holding an outdoor umbrella – Store-bought outdoor umbrella stands often don’t do their job in a strong gust of wind. Why not create your own umbrella stand using a five-gallon bucket?
15. Growing tomatoes – Need more space for your tomatoes? You can fashion an upside-down tomato planter using a five-gallon bucket.
16. Strawberry planter – Similarly, you also can grow strawberries in a small space on your deck or patio with a five-gallon bucket.
18. Hanging light – Need some more lighting in your basement, shed, or workshop? Here’s an idea for a handy bucket lamp.
19. Extra seating – Five-gallon buckets can double as stools in the barn or out in the garden. You also can use them to create fun seating for young children in the home.
20. Putting out a fire – You can store sand in a five-gallon bucket to help put out a fire on your property when a fire extinguisher is not available.
As you can see, there are tons of ways you can use these versatile containers. Here are some other ideas to get your imagination going:
- Storage bins (toys, charcoal, cleaning supplies, etc.)
- Transporting fishing gear and supplies
- Covering roses or other garden plants in winter
- Mixing concrete
- Trash cans in bedrooms or bathrooms
Honestly, there aren’t just 25 uses for five-gallon buckets. There are dozens and dozens of uses. The only limit is your imagination
Now let’s say a word about bucket storage. If you have ever given up after a hard-fought struggle to separate two or more five-gallon buckets from each other, you’ll be interested in this tip.
You can prevent this annoying problem by placing a plastic 2-liter bottle (with its top on) or a plastic milk gallon jug between each pair of buckets. You can also use extra pieces of plastic tubing that you may have to do the same thing. Now you can nest the buckets together without them sticking to each other.
And here’s a word of caution. Be especially careful when using liquid-filled five-gallon buckets around your young children. Small kids can fall headfirst into the buckets and drown. Even a partially-filled bucket can be a hazard, so use extra caution.
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