INSTANT SURVIVAL TIP: Those Buckets Aren’t Just For Wheat

It was my lucky day when I discovered the free buckets available just for the asking at my grocery store’s bakery.  “How many do you want?” were the words that nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes!  The buckets washed up nicely, along with the lids, but then I was in a quandary.  My wheat, rice, and oats had already been stored in other buckets and 2-liter bottles.  What was I going to do with twelve empty buckets?

Fortunately, a long-dormant organizing gene activated, and I realized those buckets aren’t just for wheat.  I started thinking outside the box bucket.  They are the perfect storage containers for so many purposes, whether they’re brand spanking new or gently used.  They’re great for organizing smaller items that you have in storage.  For example, a bucket is a great place to stash bars of soap, dental supplies, bottles of hand sanitizer, and boxes of Rice-a-Roni.  Anytime you have a collection of small, similar items, toss them in a bucket, pop on the lid, and mark the outside with a label.

A bucket is also useful for storing one or two days worth of food.  If you’re ever in an evacuation scenario, you can just grab these Evacuation Buckets and be gone.  With a supply of toilet paper, heavy duty trash bags, a bit of kitty litter, and a snap-on toilet seat, one of those buckets will double as an emergency toilet.  We’ve all heard about backpacks and duffel bags being used as Bug Out Bags or 72 Hour Kits, but if just one member of the family uses a bucket instead of a bag made of cloth, you’ll have something to carry water, firewood, and, again, have a toilet, if necessary.  Heck, you can flip the bucket upside down and use it as a semi-comfortable chair!

Why not use a bucket as a charitable gift for a needy person or family?  An inexpensive blanket, a few survival items, some water and food rations will go a long way toward helping out those who were unprepared for a crisis.  If you’ve been making your own dehydrated meals, they’re an excellent addition to a Gift Bucket.  Just be sure to include instructions for preparation.  For more ideas of what to include in a Gift Bucket, read this.

Finally, and I don’t really recommend this, I’ve used an empty bucket as a step-stool to reach the higher shelves in my pantry.  It gets pretty embarrassing to have to borrow brown sugar from the neighbor because you’re not tall enough to see all the sugar that’s stored on that top shelf!  (Especially when your neighbor knows you’re TheSurvivalMom!  True story.)

The nice part about these buckets is that once you have them, they’re good for many years.  They can be cleaned out and used over and over again.  Ask around at restaurants and bakeries because food supplies like cake icing and fillings come in these buckets and then have to be recycled or thrown out.  Even if you can’t get them for free, you can use buckets from home improvement centers for your non-food storage and save a bit of money that way.  The key, really, is to get your stuff organized, and these buckets are a great tool for making that happen.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

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  1. GoneWithTheWind says

    In addition to my BOB (which is just my backpacking bag all packed for a week in the woods) I have a bug out bucket. It contains a couple weeks supply of basic food (rice, oats, sugar and coffee) and TP. I made an extension for the handle using an old belt so I can sling it like a purse freeing up my hand. The mental picture of me carrying a full backpack and a five gallon bucket may seem awkward but in fact in practice it's no worse then carrying my rifle during hunting season. The bucket makes a great seat ! It is awesome for picking berries or apples (I see abandoned apple trees everywhere). One thing I have discovered about "found" apples; while they may be wormy the worm rarely ruins more then half the apple and it is easy to cut out the spoiled part.

  2. Barbara says

    My first aid kit is in a bucket. Easy to grab and run to the patient with it. I also keep a bucket for every family member with packages of new socks and underwear. As with everything else, when someone needs new we get some out of the bucket then buy more for the bucket. Rotate everything. Old ones are used for cleaning rags or used for pet bed stuffing.

  3. Chris says

    Honestly though, if bugging out I am going to dig myself a small latrine rather than use my only bucket to take a dump. Now, if you're bugging in, its another story…

    @Gonewiththewind – Nice addition with the sling to free up your hand.

    @Barbara – Good idea. You also might want to keep old jeans that family members have grown out of. Denim has many many uses.

  4. jan says

    I like the idea of gift buckets. Our bakery has the 5 gallon and 3 gallon buckets with lids. I store alot of pantry items in those buckets! It makes things so much easier for me. We use alot of buckets during garden season. The kids can pick veggies and still haul it out of the garden. I also use them when I am cutting up fruits and veggies to be processed. When I make huge batches of food to process, I have to make some, dump in the bucket, make more, dump in the bucket. I also use the 5 gallon buckets for homemade laundry detergent.

    • Kiley says

      Whoa… "homemade laundry detergent"???
      You simply can't drop that line and not go into details! Inquiring minds want to know!

      • TheSurvivalMom says

        Kiley, there are quite a few recipes online for homemade laundry detergent. Most call for washing soda, fels naptha soap, and borax.

  5. LizLong says

    They are the perfect size to hold a sleeping bag. In a bug out situation, I would stuff the sleeping bags into their stuff sacks for transport, but they clearly say DO NOT store them long-term in the stuff sacks. Even more importantly, mice find sleeping bags make lovely mouse-house material. But they can't get to what you store in a plastic bucket. :-) (I would avoid anything like a soy sauce bucket that could potentially impart a food-smell to your sleeping bag, though.) We also have spare clothing in 5 gallon buckets (again, anti-mouse measure) including socks, bras, camis, and underwear. Yet another bucket holds my heirloom seeds and some related items.

    When I get a few more, the spare wool blankets are high up on the list of items to go in there, and most likely some wool sweaters I'm not wearing much. I may even toss in some O2 absorbers with the wool items and down-filled sleeping bags. I don't think any moths that might be in there un-noticed will survive long with no oxygen.

    • blazeandbelle says

      I am so glad that you mentioned that mice like sleeping bags. Mine are unprotected at the moment! Need more buckets!!!

    • Cat says

      Unfortunately, plastic buckets aren't rodent-proof. If they are determined, mice and rats will chew through plastic. I had a bucket chewed through a few years ago.

    • LizLong says

      I ask anytime I'm near a bakery. Most near me haven't had them, to be honest, but I did get lucky with one free smaller bucket from icing at Costco. My dad got some from a place that uses lots of chocolate. And yes, I do just go and ask if they have any free food-grade buckets. The lids are mostly trashed, though.

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      Bakeries often get their cake frosting and fillings in large food-grade buckets, so that's where you should start asking. If they don't have any buckets, ask if they would save them for you. Restaurants get a lot of their ingredients in food-grade, PETE, containers, so you can ask there as well.

      • So Blessed says

        Hi! Lisa I just found your website last night. I’m hooked. So much good info from everyone. Question, can
        zip lock bags be used to store flour, sugar, rice, pasta, coffe … or can they be stored in the containers they come in? I saw where some people used 2 liter coke bottles so I was wondering can any plastic container be used for long term storage? I do alot of canning, from my garden in the summer, but never really stored for long term other than in jars. But if I could use something else for these items I’d love to know. I don’t waste by not storing it correctly.

        • says

          Zip lock bags are only useful for very short-term storage, say a few weeks. And, the specific foods you mention come in packaging that isn’t designed for long-term, e.g. cardboard boxes, paper or plastic bags. Canning jars are good, mylar bags are very good, vacuum-packed plastic bags are generally good as long as the stored food doesn’t poke through the bag. Food-grade buckets are a good option, and come in different sizes, not just the 5-gallon size. I’m glad you’re wanting to do this correctly! It’s no fun to throw away food because it’s gone bad.

    • Dave Warner says

      Yes that's exactly what I did. I asked the bakery mgr at Publix and he saved them for me. I buy him a 12 pack now and then.

  6. says

    I am tempted to go down to my local store now and ask for a bunch of the buckets. I have a list of ideas that I could use them for. One idea i had was to store my sanitation supplies in. You always see them being advertised for like 10-15 bucks a piece.

  7. jan says

    I get my buckets from the Safeway bakery. A pizza place in town gets square shaped buckets with pickles and hard boiled eggs in them. I try to just get the buckets that had the eggs, the smell is easy is to get rid of. I haven't been able to totally get rid of the pickle smell. I like the square buckets, they stack easily in my closets.

    • Cyndi says

      Hi, I just found your website and I love it. I have been thinking about emergency preparedness for quite sometime, but just did not know where to start. Your website breaks it down into manageable steps.
      I wanted to comment about where I get my buckets. I buy large containers of cat litter at Sams Club. They are square buckets. I guess they wouldn’t be appropriate for food storage. I don”t know, but you could still store so many other things in them. I store my homemade laundry detergent in mine.

  8. erisgreendragon says

    Another idea is to go down to your local Firehouse Sub shop. They sell their 5 gallon pickle buckets for 2 dollars. All of the money that they raise from the selling of the buckets goes to their Charity that helps firehouses in cities that can not afford to buy proper equipment for their firefighters. It's a good alternative if you can't find any bakery's that are nice enough to give up their buckets. Granted it does cost a little but at least you know the money is going to a good cause that will save a life some day.

  9. says

    Oh the little things that make me happy: The grocery store here has started giving me their 5-gal icing buckets. The lid is not only the typical durable, plastic re-locking kind, it *has a gorgeous black gasket* that seals it up prefectly!! I began making what I call "supply buckets" – so far I have only made two. They have rat traps, a berkey element, a package of pool shock (for water purification), a clothes line, hardware to hang the line, clothes pins, a roll of tinfoil, a bottle of vitamins, an inexpensive wheat grinder, a can opener, a few oz of silver, pencils, a notebook, and printouts of critical info.

  10. Chris says

    I get all my buckets from my local grocery store. They are free and I have all my food stored in them. The only bad experience was I did not quite get the strawberry smell out of the one and that rice is now used to make pudding.

    • Laurie says

      A tip I read and can vouch for in cleaning used food buckets. 1) Hose off the greater mess outside at the spigot. Take it to your bath tub or shower and 2) scrub it with dish soap and a brush (don't neglect the outside and the bottom of the bucket – this is important if you plan to stack and store them till needed 3) Fill it with water and 1 cup of bleach. Let sit 24 hrs. 4) Empty, rinse, refill with water and 1 cup of baking soda. Let sit 24 hrs. Empty, rinse, and towel dry, or invert and air-dry. In the summer this can all be done outside at the spigot, and the sun naturally heats the bucket-water, but my work has been over the winter so my bathroom suffices. This will take care of most all residual smell. sells 4 mil liners for about a buck apiece, and grommet-sealed lids for about a buck-thirty-five. That, and a little dry ice, and I'm in the long-term storage zone!

  11. MelB says

    I've read about getting used buckets in the past, but haven't actually asked anyone. I'll have to do that today. What I really wanted to comment on was your photo. I first saw your post through my feed reader, sitting here in the semi-dark without my glasses, but I was sure you have a bucket of cats next to your pasta and bad kidneys next to the beans along with a bucket holding a R(ight) toe between the sugar and flour. A closer look revealed they were just oats, red beans and rice. Nice to start off with a little giggle in the morning.

  12. Emerson says

    Never truly thought of a bucket as a multi-use item. Some great ideas here, one of the best articles I've read on this site.

  13. says

    I'm new to all this survival stuff (thanks, Glenn Beck). Can you use these second-hand buckets for food storage, like flour, sugar or dehydrated items?

    • Liz Long says

      It depends on what was in them. If it only had food in it, then food will be safe but the original contents may leave a residual flavor or smell that will impact what you put in it. If it was a soy sauce bucket, then anything you put in it will end up with a bit of a soy taste, I'm told, if you don't put it in other packaging first. The food would still be perfectly safe, though. But I'm not sure I would like chocolate flavored rice! If you do have a container with a stronger smell, you can put smaller non-food items in it to keep things tidy, or packed food. For instance, vegetable oil goes bad more quickly when exposed to light. If you put several bottles inside a bucket with a lid on it, no light = longer shelf life.

      Personally, I have so far used mylar bags inside the five gallon buckets because I'm afraid I won't get them clean enough and it isn't worth the risk to my food. I also have things I've vacuum sealed and then put inside buckets. Glad to have you joining us!

  14. Laurie says

    I spent an afternoon hitting one restaurant after another down a commercially-populated road thru town. I simply asked very politely if they ever had any 5 gallon food buckets that they threw out and if so would they be willing to let me have them. Some didn't speak english, others were a little perplexed, and I was striking out for the most part but all were vey nice to me. I hit the jackpot at a large Chinese buffet style restaurant whose manager was more than pleased to forward me about ten soy sauce buckets every week for as long as I wanted them. It's been fantastic. I finally just gave her my number so that she can contact me at her convenience (not mine) and so I wouldn't outlive my welcome. It has worked wonderfully.

  15. Sandy Harris says

    The buckets sound great for storing food, but is there a problem with the plastic giving off harmful chemicals? I have an auto-immune disease and cannot store food in my frig in plastic; I need to use glass. I got very ill and it ended up being from the plastic water bottles that I had refilled and used more than once. I'm wondering if half-gallon and gallon glass jars would ultimately be healthier for food stored for long periods of time. Please comment.

    • Sierra says

      I'm sure most restaurants would give you all you needed and more. Also sub sandwich and perhaps pizza (ci'ci's and/or pizza hut).

    • AnnA says

      I do not know but you may want to check the local hobby store there are products that "Seal" and are food safe. I do not know if they would work on plastic though.

  16. Sue says

    Is there any concern over the plastic material leaching toxins into the food you are storing? I'm new to this and have heard to use glass if possible. Also I did store food items such as boxed crackers, rice mixes etc. in a new large plastic tub and after a few months the food had taken on a horrid smell and taste. Help!

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      You really have to watch the shelf life of crackers, saltines in particular. They get really nasty not long after their "due date". You might check into using mylar bags for some foods, such as oatmeal and other grains. Many people store those types of foods in mylar bags placed in buckets. You get a double layer of protection. Oh, and you're not the first person to make some mistakes with food storage! One time I had five boxes of Cheerios, way past their due date, and had to tell my kids they'd be eating Cheerios twice a day until they were used up! LOL

  17. Donna says

    Keep the flour etc. in the bag and write with a sharpie good until date because IT DOES GO BAD! Also to keep out bugs place bay leaves in the container. It works in cabinets as well. Also my dad (now passed away) back in the 80's stored dried beans using this method. In a clean dry canning jar he would put in beans and place on top a piece about the size of the tip of your finger. Place on metal lid and screw on top ring tightly. The dry ice takes out all the oxygen and no bug or bacteria etc… can live in there. I swear I have black eyed peas and other dried beans in jars labeled 1982 and you can shake that jar etc . all you want. It looks as fresh as if it were bought today. I show it to people and they can't believeit!

  18. JRN says

    If you want to be able to get into the buckets easily, get the Gamma seal lids. They snap onto the bucket, but then have a screw type lid. Much easier to get open for the daily/weekly use items. You can get them from a variety of places on the internet.

    • Gettin Ready says

      I first used the gamma lids on a camping trip and have been a big fan ever since. I would suggest that everyone have a few for they are much easier to use than snap on ones.

  19. Cathy says

    Hi! I'm new to food storage also and have a question. The article mentions that you can use buckets from home improvement stores to store non-food items. Why can't food items be stored in these buckets? Thanks!

    • windgate32 says

      You can, I use the ones from HD, they have the orings in the lids and seal airtight. You just need to look at the recycle number on the lid and bucket, the triangle with a 2 in it is for the food grade. I am going to look at getting some for free too 8) You cant beat free!

      • jayjay says

        The triangle simply means it is made from recycled material; the 2 is simply the type of material used for the container …straight from Lowe's paint dept. manager!!

        yes, I have about 30 LOwe's 5 gallon buckets with food for about 2 years now. And drywall buckets and dele icing buckets.

        • TheSurvivalMom says

          Chemicals in plastic can and do leach. If you\’re going to use industrial purpose buckets, you should be using a mylar back as a liner.

    • LizLong says

      They aren't necessarily designed to hold food and may have chemicals that seep into food. You can still use them if you have a mylar liner. I use the mylar liners even inside food grade buckets, honestly, just to be extra safe, and make the food inside easier to move to another container if I need to for some reason.

  20. Kaci says

    So, I get this cappacino mix from Sam's, and it's a great container. It's also #2. Is it safe to store food in long term? Thank you in advance :)

  21. Gettin Ready says

    When you are using buckets with snap on lids or the gamma lids that snap on with the screw lids you should know that they are not 100% air tight. I use tape to seel the lid to the bucket even if it is for a paint bucket that I plan to use in 6 months and if I notice a difference in paint and other materials think what it will do for your food and other long time storage items. You can use duck tape or a red plastic tape(stucco tape), but keep in mind that some things like clothing might need a breather once a year.

    • Ed G. says

      If your planning to store long term, why couldn't you use a silicone caulk where the lid and bucket meet?

  22. says

    The brand new (5 gallon buckets) that are sold at "Lowes & Home Depot" are great for storing food items. They are brand NEW and have not had chemicals in them. The orange lids from the Home Depot have a (nice rubber gasket) inside it. Which is easier for putting on and removing it. Wash them out with a bleach/water solution (to make sure they are clean) to your liking–and dry them out real good. “Remember to always rotate out your food supply.”

  23. says

    They are safe for storing many things-like (clothing, sugar, vitamins, mashed potatoes, powdered milk, cake mixes, nuts, baking soda, baking powder, spices, gravy mixes, and medical items) too. Use your imagination and put anything inside them. They stack real nice.

    Get some plastic (pallets) from an animal feed store (they give these away most times) to set them on. You do not want your buckets (on the concrete floor) in your garage or cellar. The concrete can (over time) LEACH smells (INTO) your containers. Same way pickles will.

    I also use several buckets with lids for charcoal—the kind you use for afternoon barbeques—Sometimes we have (water problems) like hot water heater leaks or busted water pipes over the years and the buckets will protect your stuff from that too—unless it (real bad) like Katrina was. :-)

    • LizLong says

      My elderly Mother in Law eats a lot of rice. We gave her a five gallon bucket with a gamma seal lid to store hers in, and she's as happy as can be about that. It's easy even for her arthritic hands to handle and she doesn't have to lug bags of rice home anymore. (We take care of getting the occasional 25 lb bag for her.)

  24. VermeerGirl says

    I had never thought of using these buckets for emergency toilets, but…… Do you use regular cat litter or the clumping kind??

  25. LizLong says

    I just figured out that the icing buckets from the bakery seem to be the perfect size for a 25 lb of rice! A 5 gallon bucket holds closer to 33 lbs of rice.

  26. Annette says

    Great idea of storing foodstuffs in the buckets. I use squared kitty litter buckets for non food items. A teaspoon of chlorine beach in a full bucket of water takes the perfumey smell out overnight. Another 24 hrs and the chlorine has off-gassed and the water can be used in the garden or laundry.They store easier than round buckets, and the lid is attached unless you want to take it all the way off.

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