Buckets: Cheap and Sturdy Storage
Most modern packaging is made of cardboard or lightweight plastics that work well for reducing shipping costs, but won’t hold up for long term storage. Specialized storage vessels that are sturdy enough to protect their contents against moisture, oxidation, or animals are harder to find, but you may already have one type of versatile storage container in your garage or basement. Plastic buckets for Preppers is a great find!
Plastic buckets arrive in our homes holding paint, cleaning solutions, and food, but with a little knowledge and planning, they can be used for so much more than just storing their original contents. A quality plastic bucket is impact-resistant, temperature resistant, and with the right lid, can create an airtight seal. If you want to find quality buckets without having to clean the original contents out of them.
Read more to find the perfect buckets for your needs and learn four unexpected ways you can use plastic buckets to protect your belongings and prepare for emergencies.
Identify food-safe buckets
If you’re planning a bucket storage project that doesn’t involve food or potable water, any sturdy plastic bucket will work. It’s helpful to know, however, when your bucket is food-grade. Buckets that are not food-safe can leach chemicals into the items they store, so should only be used for non-edible items.
Food-grade plastic can be identified by the recycling number on the bottom. Any item labeled with a 1, 2, 4 or 5 is technically food-grade, but you also need to check to see if they are “food-safe”. Food-grade plastics are made of high-density polyethylene that is very stable and won’t degrade in sunlight or extreme temperatures, but they may have been treated with a dye that compromises the bucket and could leach into your stored food or water. Or, it may have been originally used for materials like cleaning liquid that compromise food safety.
In addition to the numbers, look for the label “food-safe” or an image of a fork and cup, microwave lines, or a freezer-safe snowflake. Any one or combination of those indicators mean a bucket should be safe to store edible materials.
4 Versatile Ways to Use Plastic Buckets
1. Emergency Water Filter
In an emergency situation, access to clean water can be the difference between life and death. With four 5-gallon food-safe buckets and some easy to obtain supplies, you can build a large water filter to provide clean drinking water for your family without electricity or chemicals.
For this project, each bucket works as a filter chamber, with each chamber trapping smaller sets of impurities as gravity pulls water into the bottom bucket. The bottom bucket will catch and store
water that is safe to drink even when you don’t have access to power to boil water.
To build the filter system, drill 1″ holes in the bottom of three buckets, and 2″ holes through the lids. Cover the holes with a few layers of window screening and glue it in place with a strong epoxy, then glue a ceramic wall tile over the screening, shiny side up.
Prepare each bucket with a different grade of filter material: the top is gravel, the middle is sand, and the bottom or last filter bucket is filled with activated charcoal. Stack your buckets in a tower with the last empty bucket on the bottom to catch the clean water. When you pour water in the top, it will slowly filter through the increasingly smaller gradients, getting progressively cleaner. The first few rounds may come out cloudy as some loose dirt from your gravel drains away. Soon enough, the water will appear in the bottom bucket clean enough to drink.
2. Bucket Garden
Many people use pots to grow plants, but buckets take container planting to a new level. Bucket gardens allow you to grow food even if you don’t have a large yard, and unlike pots, big buckets are ideal for vegetables with large root systems. Keeping plants isolated in buckets even decreases pest problems and lets you control crop watering more precisely to maximize your garden’s yield. Using buckets to grow vegetables gives you more options to save money on food, and is a great way to prepare for a food shortage. Bucket planting means your garden is portable, too! You can bring plants in during harmful storms or shift them to just the right sunny spot.
Start your bucket garden with 5-gallon food-grade buckets. You don’t want any nasty chemicals leeching out of the plastic into the veggies you will eventually eat. Make small drainage holes in the bottom using a drill or hammer and nail. Layer the bottom with small rocks or gravel to help prevent root-rot and top off with organic planting soil mixed with homemade compost. Water whenever the soil feels dry or your plants look droopy.
Some plants grow better in buckets than others. Try these bucket-loving plants for a vibrant portable garden:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Small melons
- Bush beans
3. Preserve sensitive materials
Storing delicate items in plastic buckets is ideal because food-grade plastics are designed to protect against the same conditions that damage paper. If you use a well-fitted lid to create an airtight seal and include oxygen absorber packets in your bucket, you can cheaply and effectively keep light, moisture and oxygen from damaging items like photos, electronics, newspapers and even receipts!
Prepare your items for storage by cleaning them. Wipe electronics with a microfiber cloth, and try to handle photos with gloves or tweezers. Many photo albums or storage sleeves are made of plastic that degrades in heat or with age, releasing harmful chemicals that can damage your items. Take any paper or photographs out of storage cases and remove any ordinary plastic, tape, paper clips or cardboard covering or frames, unless are labeled “acid-free”.
Before you seal your items into the storage bucket, you need to include a desiccant to maintain a stable environment inside the seal by absorbing moisture. You can buy desiccants online or collect them from food and goods like medicine or leather shoes. These tiny packets absorb moisture that normally damages paper or electronics over time. The amount of moisture in the container will determine the amount of desiccants or silica gel packs you need, so look at the size of your bucket and how much empty space you’ll leave inside.
4. Bucket shower or sprinkler
Buckets are great at holding water. Exploit this natural strength and upgrade your bucket into a water dispenser for places where you can’t use plumbing. Modify any clean 5-gallon bucket by drilling a 2” hole on the side, near the bottom. Use a hose bib attachment that screws through the hole to create a multi-purpose spigot on your bucket.
Need to bathe outside or without power? Just attach a standard shower head to the hose bib. Hang the bucket from the ceiling or a high tree branch using a rope and two pulleys to offset the weight of the water. Simply fill your bucket with a mix of cold and boiling water, then hoist the bucket and turn on the spigot for a warm, gravity-powered shower. You can also create a sprinkler system. Instead of a shower head, attach a hose. When your bucket is raised and the spigot is open, gravity will pull water from the bucket and allow you to use the hose.