An ode to the high utility of the five-gallon bucket

Every Wednesday, we highlight a unitasker on Unclutterer. These humorous posts point out a product that does a single thing, and for the majority of people has little utility. Today’s post is about the opposite, a multitasker with high utility: the five-gallon plastic bucket.

I have dozens of these, and I’d gladly take a few more. This unassuming little tool is about the most useful thing I have around my house. I believe every homeowner can find uses for several. They’re inexpensive, durable, and infinitely useful. The following are ways I use my buckets around the house for cleaning and organizing.


Toting things around. Moving and holding things is a bucket’s obvious and primary function. Since buckets are highly durable, you can haul all sorts of things easily.

  • Weeding. I always use a bucket when weeding the yard. The bucket is light enough to carry around and capacious enough to hold a lot of weeds, which allows me to spend more time weeding and less time running to empty the bucket.
  • Painting. The buckets hold a lot of paint and have accompanied me on many jobs.
  • Washing the car. This seems rather obvious, but they work great for holding sudsy water.
  • Transporting small things. Small rocks, collections of toys the kids have strewn about the house, pretty much anything you need to move from point A to point B.

Fire safety. We have a fire pit in the back yard. Whenever we use it, I have five gallons of water and five gallons of sand standing by in buckets. Should there be an emergency, I’m ready. This safety precaution also makes it quite easy to extinguish any hot embers as the night ends; much easier than fiddling with the hose in the dark. If you have an indoor, wood fireplace, metal buckets are great for holding ashes for a few days after a fire to allow the ashes to properly cool before disposal.

DIY bird feeder. The kids and I line up a few buckets upside-down and pour a bit of bird seed on each bucket bottom. The birds love it and we have a great time watching the birds.

Mixing. There’s no better mixer for calc, cement, sealant, and so on. Best of all, it’s got a handle, so it can come along with you.

Camp seat/storage. My family goes camping a couple times a year, and our bucket “Sit Upons” always make the trip. They’re super simple to make: get some polyester stuffing, attach it to the bucket’s lid with decorative Duck Tape, and you’ve got a lightweight, portable seat that also carries your favorite camp items.

Organizing your supplies. Add a few simple inserts into your bucket or pockets for the exterior and you’ve got a fantastic portable organizer. You can make a craft supply bucket or purchase tool supply pockets to fit on the exterior of your bucket.

The sky is the limit. Be creative. If you’re really handy, you can apparently make a portable air conditioner that is perfect for a shed, workshop, and so on. You can even grow plants in them, like tomatoes.

The point is, you can spend less than ten dollars and get a tool that you’ll have for years, is nearly indestructible, and is incredibly versatile. Don’t overlook the humble five-gallon bucket.

7 Comments for “An ode to the high utility of the five-gallon bucket”

  1. posted by skiptheBS on

    Great post. A great bucket apron for tools can be had at Grizzly Industrial’s website. I’ve also seen small parts organizers made to replace a bucket lid.

    Ocoee, TN, home of Olympic rafting, also is home to an artist who sculpts buckets into ingenious, often bizarre, art forms reminiscent of the late Big Daddy Roth at his best.

    Don’t forget food and emergency supply storage. A bucket will hold 50 or so pounds of rice, soybeans for milk, or unroasted coffee beans. Cat litter buckets are great for winter ice salt, summer potting soil, or homemade laundry detergent.

    Check your grocer’s deli or the local recycling center for freebies.

  2. posted by liz on

    If you know someone with a swimming pool, ask them for a leftover container. These would not be safe for food storage.

    Also works as a food storage container, but make sure you get the food quality one with the gamma top. Great for storing the large bags of rice.

    Finally, it can be used as an emergency portapotty – I think you can even get liners and a seat. It may seem silly, but in an emergency with no running water, it might be worth it.

  3. posted by Gail on

    My friend uses clumping litter for her cats. I have a few of the buckets the litter comes in which I continously use for hauling all sorts of things.

  4. posted by Pat on

    I compost and when I garden I use two – one for the compost candidates (weeds, spent flowers, dead leaves, etc.) and one for the other stuff (stones, branches, errant candy wrappers, and such). Works great, and they fit inside each other to store in the garage.

  5. posted by Jen on

    @liz They definitely make great emergency portapotties (or portaloos, as we call them here). In Christchurch after the 2010/2011 earthquakes, sewerage pipes across the city were damaged, and it was weeks (months or even years in some areas) before we could flush our toilets again. Eventually the army distributed proper portaloos across the city, but until then, most people had to resort to a bucket.

  6. posted by Susanna on

    When the handle breaks (or before), drill a few holes in the bottom, and it becomes a great tomato planter for a single tomato plant on a patio, deck, or in the greenhouse. I’ve got one right now in the greenhouse as I ran out of room for tomatoes in the ground out there, and the one in the bucket is doing really well!

    I drilled a few holes near the top sides of the bucket, too, and then put a tomato cage in the bucket, and then tied the cage to the bucket via those side/top holes. That way the cage won’t knock over and your tomato will have great support.

    Or, you know, you could plant other things than tomatoes. The five-gallon bucket is great for a planter as it allows enough depth for many garden veggies.

  7. posted by leslie on

    you arent actually BUYING these right? all of the ones I have have been recycled from somewhere – the weed carriers once held driveway sealer, the toy bucket held cat litter , Occasionally one will show up curbside (where I got mine) that actually held paint.

Comments are closed.