Introduction: Get Project Buckets for Free!

Picture of Get Project Buckets for Free!

Get 5-gallon plastic project buckets for free, keep them out of landfills.
To see my related Instructables, click on "unclesam" just below the title above or in the INFO box to the right. On the new page that appears, repeatedly click "NEXT" to see all of them.

Step 1: Food-grade Pickle Buckets

Picture of Food-grade Pickle Buckets

Chain hamburger joints get their sliced burger pickles in sturdy food-grade 5-gallon plastic buckets, and these buckets cannot be reused for their original purpose. You can use the buckets to tote and store things in the shop, cut and shape them as parts of projects, or make a wooden rack that holds rows of buckets on their sides as wide-mouth storage bins for tools, components, materials. They are useful to crafters, farmers, gardeners, homeowners, boaters, the list is endless. These buckets are more sturdy than similar ones sold at hardware stores for $4 to $6 each, and the pickle buckets also have a snap-on lid. (Photo shows soft black seal ring on underside rim of lid). A busy burger joint will empty one to three buckets a week, depending on the season. It is inconvenient for most small businesses to recycle the buckets, so they get thrown into the business' dumpster, then go into a landfill. The plastic could be recycled, but reuse is more efficient, and it actually saves the business manager money to keep the buckets out of his dumpster.
I regularly visit a nearby chain burger joint, and its manager has his buckets rinsed and set aside for me to pick up when I drop by. I offer them free to friends and neighbors and to a charity that helps local folks. You could do the same in your neighborhood, or just get a few for yourself. Bakeries, donut shops and the cake departments of grocery stores also get ingredients in buckets, and they are all much easier to clean than buckets used to ship paint and drywall compound.

Step 2: Clean the Buckets

Picture of Clean the Buckets

Pickles are shipped in a salty acidic liquid, and a bucket and lid should be sloshed with hot soapy water, rinsed and allowed to air dry outdoors before use. Food-grade plastic is not absorbant, but even a little acid and salt could attack metal items stored in a bucket. To get the lid really clean, you should remove the flexible seal ring from the lid and clean it as well. Remove the ring without damaging it, when the lid is wet with soapy water, by rapping one edge of the lid hard against a solid surface. Pull the ring out by the part of the ring that slips out as a result of the rapping.
A plastic band is zipped off the lid when a bucket is first opened, and without that band, a lid will not reseal as tightly as its original seal. You can get a pretty good reseal by pressing the edge of the lid down all around. Opening a sealed lid can be tough on the fingertips, but you can buy a simple one-piece plastic tool for opening buckets at Sprawlmart, home center or paint store.
If you want to try to sell some buckets, it would probably be a good idea to remove all its paper labels.
Click to visit the official web page of the International Pickle Bucket Rescue League, featuring official spokespail "Bucky." The Buckster and I are pleased with the way it turned out,


rick.thornton.5074 (author)2014-08-22

I receive a dozen 5 gallon buckets every week with dry chlorine in them. After I use the chlorine I have no use for them. I have about 50 of them, I don't want them going to a landfill, if anybody wants any they can have them free, I'm in Manhattan Beach.

still have the buckets let me know

Would you be willing to ship them?

Pcdmv (author)rick.thornton.50742015-11-09

Rick, what industry are you in? I would like to find someone similar to you that's in my area

hi I was wondering if you still have buckets available if so can you let me know I don't stay far from you close to south bay and looking for them for my students project thank you for your time

StephanieD106 (author)2016-06-26

How do i order them?

charmeg (author)2016-03-12

Can you degrease ones thatt have had oiil?/ for gardening

chrisnotap (author)2016-01-23

excellent. I use these for different projects and never thought of burger joints to get them. Thanks for the tip.

KristinM5 (author)2016-01-19

Just got 3 today (2 will become garden buckets because they don't have lids). All I did was call around to a bunch of fast food places and asked. Didn't pay for any of them! Calling a bunch more places tomorrow.

ArkadyG (author)2016-01-19

Cool! Unfortunately, link is uncorrect :(

Maybe, somebody live in Russia, Saint-Petersburg and can give me couple of buckets? :) I hope... I hope...

kath65 (author)2016-01-19

I live in New Haven County, CT. Does anyone know of any free buckets? I don't drive but I could find a way to pick them up. Need them for a Garden & Storage. T.Y. Love ALL the Idea's you've shared with me.

precygirlbaby (author)2015-09-21

I need that gallon for my container vegestables garden need 20/5galoon


precygirlbaby (author)2015-09-20

me too I need that bucket for my container vegestables garden please.

I need 10/gallon.Thank you.

PeterD5 (author)2015-07-20

Im looking for 80 / 5 gallon used food grade buckets for a project. Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Thanks

CrystalS6 (author)2015-07-18

Looking for empty four 5 gallon buckets in fort worth, tx. Asap

MacCupcake (author)2015-05-21

spent a few hours today trying to wrangle buckets and thought I'd share my results with everyone.

I want to do
container gardening on my deck and don’t want to have to spend a fortune
on pots. I saw this article and was excited. The buckets would be
perfect for a single tomato plant!

My first stop was Panera Bread. They were able to give me 3 5-gallon
buckets, they were indeed pickle buckets. They are soaking now to help
reduce the pickle smell (I personally do not like pickles!). A second
Panera later in the day resulted in being told that we could dumpster
dive for them. Not sure I want them that badly.

Then on to Burger King – they said they normally just throw them in
the dumpster, but would stack them next to the dumpster and I could come
by periodically and pick them up. The manager I was talking with said
she would love some tomatoes – wink wink. I will definitely bring her
some if I am successful and actually do pick up some buckets from her

Next was KFC, McDonald’s and Subway. All of them say they no longer
get the buckets, either the food is delivered in different containers or
no containers at all. HyVee Bakery (food store) said they didn’t have
any but a second HyVee bakery turned up a single frosting bucket that
was square and maybe 3 gallon. Wendy’s manager was no where to be found
but the cashier said they had buckets and they go into the dumpster in
the morning when prep is done. I may pop back over there at another time
and actually track down the manager. I eat at Wendy’s a lot, so
hopefully it will be successful in the future.

Good luck in finding your own buckets. I haven’t quite decided if it
isn’t worth the $4 that a bucket and lid would cost me at HomeDepot. My
time and gas have to be worth something.

ChaimL (author)2015-05-13

ChaimL (author)ChaimL2015-05-13

We have a load of empty 5 gallon plastic buckets for FREE. Must be able to pick them all up! Unless you can arrange for several folks to come together to remove all of them. We are closing down our DUMBO (down town Brooklyn) warehouse and must get rid of them all. Contact me at provide your name and contact info - telephone and email address. Thank you!

jose.r.zaragoza (author)2015-03-19

I live in the OC and looking for bucket for a gardening project can any one help me

sunfireboi2000 (author)2015-01-12

Panera (st. Lois bread company too) still uses pickle buckets, and the cherry filling for pastries comes in large buckets as well

rockluvr57 (author)2015-01-10

I HAVE been going to all the nearby sandwich & hamburger joints I can get to ...they are now saying that they get their pickles etc in bags...any ideas?

JenniferLynnHupp (author)2014-10-01

I am looking for white 5 gallon buckets with lids to make seats for our Sunday school club room at church. My email address is


It may be too late to reply, but I got 50 FREE large icing buckets from my local Sam's bakery for my daughter's Girl Scout troop to make camping seats. You can also check the WalMart or grocery store bakery. I had to check in several times a week to collect them, but it didn't take long.

LadySwag520 (author)2014-09-30

I'm about to experiment on a DIY laundry detergent recipe. This bucket will be perfect!

joe.adamick.5 (author)2014-09-08

My son is looking for yellow and black 5 gallon and similar pails for a project.

does anyone have any?

lindam.kruszka (author)2014-08-27

I need these buckets for gardening.

pmcreviss (author)2014-05-28

Hi I really need 5 of your buckets! Where are you? Can u email me your info at Moe
Thanks and good work :))

hlanelee (author)2014-04-15

When I need some 5 gallon buckets, I look for a logging operation. They always have buckets that they have to get rid of and are happy to give them away. I take the tops off, put in a couple cups of cheap liquid laundry detergent, fill with water, and let them sit for a couple of days. Repeat as needed.

maryshe (author)2009-10-10

I was thinking that 5 gallon buckets would be good for Lego storage.  You could even sort by color.  They were too expensive for me so I looked on this site.  What do ya know?  I find out how to get them for free.  Thanks.  Does the pickle smell really not come out though?  Icing buckets would at least have a vanilla smell, right?

mbear (author)maryshe2009-11-30

I wonder if you could get rid of the pickle smell with baking soda. It works in a refrigerator and my carpet. (I've even used it when the cat was sick to cover the smell so I could clean.)

Maybe mixing baking soda and water into a paste and "painting" the inside of the bucket would pull out the pickle smell.

Just a thought.

lime3D (author)mbear2014-04-04

just let them air out, without the lids on. the smell will wear off on its own.

rhaubejoi (author)maryshe2010-06-14

Hi, I used to sell Tupperware and one of the tips they shared with us was that crumpled up newspaper left in a sealed up plastic container will help take the smell out. That was one that they told us for people that leave the leftovers in a little too long. I am sure it should work for a pickle smell too. Leave the crumpled up newspapers in there for a while. A week or two should be good.

willrandship (author)maryshe2010-01-07

Vanilla buckets have a chance of depends on whether it's real or fake, but I don't remember which. Still though, I wouldn't risk losing my legos to explosive vanilla bombs....

unclesam (author)maryshe2009-10-15

maryshe, if you want to use pickle buckets and keep track of Legossorted by color, you could paint the outside of each bucket thesame color, or spray just a spot of color. Krylon makes spray paintsespecially for plastic, sold at hardware stores. I have not testedit on these buckets.  To remove the pickle odor, follow thecleaning instructions, especially for cleaning the lid and lid seal, instep 2, and allow buckets to air outdoors for as many days asyou can before using the buckets. You can easily pass the word to othersabout the free buckets by forwarding the link , included inInstructables text, to web site I created just for that purpose.

w0x0f (author)2011-06-15

If you don't need food-grade buckets, check with your local swimming pool. Our pool uses a solid chlorine puck system and the pucks come in a 5 gallon pail with a screw on lid. I wouldn't use these for anything food-related, but they're clean pails that only need a rinse before you use them. Try not to breathe in any of the dust that may be in the pail, it's not good for you.

doo da do (author)w0x0f2014-03-30

Nice idea, I go to the pool 2 or 3 times a week and know the manager. Enjoy your day. Doodado

doo da do (author)2014-03-30

Like the idea

fretted (author)2012-12-20

All the stores around here including restaurants sell them for 1.00 - 5.00 depends on where you go !

handful of dust (author)2012-12-03

The preserved animals used in biology dissections are usually shipped in buckets. These buckets are also much better than the ones you find in hardware stores. Unfortunately, biologists know this and never have enough buckets.

dwebb5 (author)2012-11-08

Use baking soda to clean them. It neutralizes the acid (vinegar) and takes away the scent!
I use some lemon scented dish soap, then rinse in a baking soda solution, then rinse with clean water.

hopit (author)2009-04-29

I've found these buckets in market dumpsters while rescuing discarded good food and other items. They've proven useful or putting compost scraps and using in the garden to store mulch, etc. It would make a lot more sense for the stores to return the buckets to the vendor to be refilled. If all the discarded buckets were actually put to other uses and not thrown out, before long everyone would have more buckets than we needed and would have to throw them out because we don't have a place for them. The only sustainable society is a zero-waste society. Otherwise we'll use up our resources and filling up our land with trash heaps.

luvit (author)hopit2009-05-05

i once looked for food in the dumpster on a hot day. it was a bit cooler in the dumpster, so i took a nap.

menusetc (author)luvit2012-08-14

Bad idea. Coming from a Garbage driver. I have dumped people into my truck before, thank God for them screaming - or they would be dead.

nicokblue (author)menusetc2012-11-04

Yeah man, please PLEASE do not do that- a friend of mine was homeless for awhile and was trying to get out of the cold so he get in a dumpster- he was dumped into the truck but was still half way crushed (couldn't hear him and this was the 90's so I don't think they were as easy to shut down then?). He's fine but the whites of his eyes were blood red for months.

unclesam (author)hopit2009-05-13

hopit, I agree with your sentiment to see used buckets returned to their source for re-use, and I have often considered how this might be done. However, I fear the logistics would be difficult. Imagine trucks carrying used empty buckets all along our highways, some still having resIdue of various food products. Imagine warehouses where they are piled waiting for sterilization and re-use. Add a few weeks in the hot sun, and you have a recipe for public health disaster. Would people eat at restaurants that they knew got food packed in used buckets after seeing photos of this process? I think not. Soft drinks (and beer) used to be distributed only in returnable glass bottles, and the bottles were cleaned and re-used, not broken up and made into new glass. I used to pick (filthy) bottles from ditches to turn in for cash, and I later handled the mountains of empties that came back into the grocery store where I worked. The truck that delivered the beverages picked up the empties. Once I bought a coke out of a machine, took a long cool swig from the returnable glass bottle, and only then noticed that there was a layer of mud and a large snail in the bottom of the bottle. Urk! Re-using food containers for food has some risks that our society is not currently willing to take. U.S.

ScattyCrafter (author)unclesam2011-06-12

Yes BUT if every supplier took back the buckets to send back to the supplier of those then it would work.
I remember the days when we used to take our 'empty glass bottles of soda' back to the vendor for recyciling( probably re-use ) and we would get 2 old pennies or even 3 for each bottle.
Some children made up their pocket money by going around collecting discarded bottles :-)
why can we not do that now?

hopit (author)unclesam2009-05-13

Yes, there are issues in reusing the buckets and they should be addressed. With our current system our toxic landfills are growing and raw materials are getting depleted. We've got concerns about sanity on one side, and the desire to not trash our planet on the other. Which is more important?

Schmidty16 (author)2012-09-24

dude all u would have to work at DQ and u can get free buckets there or at an ethonal plant

moonchylde (author)2011-01-29

If you're not above a little trash-picking, you could always look for empty cat litter buckets. They're usually 2 1/2 gallon square buckets, and people toss them all the time. But always be sure that the buckets are empty before you toss them in your car; I've gotten a few that were refilled with used cat litter before.

menusetc (author)moonchylde2012-08-14

Those are great for oil storage too!

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