June 28, 2017

31 Gallon Garbage Cans for Food Storage

31 Gallon Garbage Cans for Food Storage

Years ago, while building our food storage, we bought a bunch of 3-gallon, food-grade buckets from a bakery. We used 1 gallon Mylar bags for all of our LTS (Long Term Storage) and found that we could fit 3-4 1-gallon bags in each bucket. When we decided we wanted to add to our food storage, we discovered that the bakery we had previously purchased buckets from had gone out of business. I had previously tried stopping at other bakeries to get buckets and had only gotten a few over the course of a week.

I decided to try and find another solution. I came up with 31 gallon garbage cans. Below I have some factors that I considered and my thoughts on each.
Food Security

When I started prepping and researching food storage, a lot of the information I found made it seem like you had to put the food in Mylar bags and the Mylar bags in food grade buckets. The truth is that you only need food grade buckets if you’re storing your food directly in the bucket, without the Mylar bag. Unless you’re using the food stored directly in the bucket frequently, I recommend putting it in 1 gallon Mylar bags. This way you will only have a small amount of food to use at one time and the food in the other bags isn’t exposed to oxygen and the moisture in the air.

If you’re using Mylar, it is food grade, so you can put the Mylar filled bags in any container that is dry and won’t puncture the bag.

I have read many stories of mice and other rodents chewing through plastic buckets to get to the contents. This just isn’t going to be a problem with a metal can.

Home Depot has a 31 gallon steel trash can listed for $24.97. I bought mine at a local Menard’s for a similar price.

I have looked at a few different places who sell food grade buckets online and they are not all of the same quality. I have purchased from Bay Tec in the past, so I am going to use their prices, as I trust the quality and the price is somewhere in the middle. They have a six pack of 5 gallon buckets for $27.54 and a 3 pack of buckets for $14.07. lids for them are $1.99 each for a total of $50.55. You might be able to find cheaper buckets, especially if you can find a local source. I had a great one for a while; the bakery I mentioned above. They kept all used buckets and sold them. Other places I found are willing to give them away but getting to them before they throw them out was a trick!
Storage Space

All of the buckets that I have are 3-gallon. If you have 5-gallon buckets, you’ll be able to fit more food in the same footprint. As you can see in the image, eight 3-gallon, plastic buckets take up a bit more room than the garbage can. If you have 5-gallon buckets, they’ll obviously stack higher than the garbage can.

I can usually fit 4 full 1-gallon Mylar bags in a 3-gallon bucket. In the picture, I have 32 full Mylar bags in the buckets. I have 22 full Mylar bags in this garbage can. I think I could probably fit 25 in if I tried.

One idea I have is to cut a thick piece of plywood, wide enough to cover the entire opening of the garbage can. This would allow stacking items on top of the can, allowing more storage space. You could place cans side by side and do this with as many cans as you like or have room for.

For those of you with pets, we are able to fit two 38-pound bags of dog food in one can!
Final Thoughts

We use a mix of both buckets and cans. The cans work nicely and are cheaper than buckets in many cases. The only real downside to buckets is the weight. If we decided to bug out and wanted to bring the contents, we would have to partially empty the can and then carry it out to the truck and trailer.

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  1. Holly Putnam says:

    My only thought is that metal will corrode and they don’t make an air tight seal to protect the food. If it gets knocked over or even bumped just right the lid will come off spilling your food everywhere. I say this from bad experience!

    • Chris Ray says:

      These will only corrode if you have them in an area subject to moisture.

      The can does not need to be air tight, as the Mylar bag is.

      No one is knocking the full garbage can over accidentally. Even if someone did, you would only need to pick up the Mylar bags, the food inside the Mylar wouldn’t spill out.

    • Lizabeth Osterholt says:

      If you put a bead of liquid rubber on the inside of the lid and let it dry. then put the lid on and test to see it seats right. you then will have a seal much closer to air tight seal. if you get it thick by doing layers that are allowed to dry 24 hrs between and they are made smoothly, you will have a very good seal.

      • Chris Ray says:

        Not a bad idea, thanks.

        • Metal garbage cans will not hold water, therefor are not made air tight by sealing the lid.
          Heavy trash bags for can liners would give added protection from water.
          Keep your food and preps clean and dry.

      • Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

        I am glad that you had the same idea that I did. I was thinking more along the lines of a silicone sealant.

    • We’ve had mice chew into plastic containers. They can’t do that with metal. If you are afraid of corrosion, put moisture absorbers in the can and lightly oil the outside.

  2. If you use the 31-gallon cans, be sure to put them where you want them before filling them! They’re very heavy when filled. We use the smaller galvanized metal pails with lids – I think they’re 15 or 16 gallon – available at Lowe’s and Home Depot, and occasionally WalMart. They fit on shelves, they’re easy to move around, and if you can store them where they have enough space above the pail, there is a handle that when raised holds the lid in place.

    both sizes also make good Faraday cages; line with cardboard, or just individually wrap items before placing in cans so they do not touch the metal. Set them on a piece of plywood or a couple layers of cardboard so they’re not grounded.

    God bless you all and God bless America.

    • Good tip on putting them in place first. I had to move the can from the picture while it was full, and it was very heavy.

      I have thought of a few other things they could be used for, faraday cage is a good one. I also think that if the grid does go down, they could be used for water catchment. You’d want to filter that water, but at least you would have 31 gallons of it.

    • Teresa Shere says:

      What is a “Faraday” cage???

      • Chris Ray says:

        a faraday cage is a container that one can place electronic devices in to protect them from the effects of an EMP.

    • Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

      Shelving is much more reasonable than just stacking the buckets. While I will not give you the embarrassing details, I will say that I lost some preps that only cost me time and not money. I stacked them without realizing how heavy it got at the third level. Shelving!

  3. Great post Chris. One way I have sealed the garbage can lids pretty well (not fool proof) is to use wax. I used the wax ring for toilet set for inexpensive quantity.
    Another use for these metal cans (here in the south anyway) is an easy root cellar alternative. Bury the can in the shade with about 4 inches sticking up to deter water and make the lid accessible. They stay relatively cool. You could spray the with a rust preventive paint before but they will still be limited in time. Camo the lid a little, throw some debris and leaves on top and you have a hidden cache.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Thanks Jim.

      I like the root cellar idea, thanks for adding it.

    • I can’t do that much digging b/c of my bad back, & so have paid teenage boys to do any needed digging in our yard. Any ideas on what I could tell them to throw them off of knowing that I’m going to store food in that hole??

      Jim, how long have u had ur metal garbage can buried? I’m afraid the rust preventative paint would eventually peel off & leave the can vulnerable to rust. Or are they galvinized?

      • Jim Moore says:

        Tell them your just creating a compost bed or maybe growing some worms.
        I’ve had one can buried for about 8 months now. Not long at all. It is galvanized and I didn’t treat or paint it so it may be a good test. On another not, I bought some old cans at a garage sell that the seller said were about 20 years old. One has a little rust on it.

    • You can also spray the outside of the garbage can with automotive pickup bed liner spray. You can buy it in either spray cans or the kind you apply with a spray gun. This type material is virtually waterproof and durable. I hope this helps.

  4. One thing that I don’t like about storing food in round containers, is that when u put away the containers, the space around the outside of the bucket/can is wasted. That’s why I have some of our food stored in same-size boxes. We don’t have any household rodent problems, probably due to our cat.

    Is there any issue with putting the mylar bags in boxes?

    • Chris Ray says:

      square boxes should work fine. I know Wise foods and another manufacturer sell their cases in square plastic boxes that you can stack.

      • Chris, putting the cans into plastic or cardboard boxes, doesn’t change the wasted space; it just changes the wasted-space to being inside another container. Does this make sense?
        We live in a part of the country where there are no basements (red clay soil), & we don’t have a garage either. So space is a factor in our modest home.

        I see that Wise Foods has square buckets as well square boxes. But it looks like one can only get their square buckets if u order their food. I’m going to try their free sample.

        • Chris Ray says:


          My bad, I didn’t mean put the can in a square container. I meant put the Mylar bags in the square container, that should limit the wastes space. There is still some in the garbage can, but not a huge amount.

          Wise foods puts their 1-2 serving packets in the square box, to the best of my knowledge, they don’t put anything in #10 cans.

  5. I’ve already gone down the path of the 5-gal plastic buckets. Good point that they don’t need to be food grade with mylar inside. Regarding the rats/mice, cats are out for us… wife is highly allergic. However, I’m thinking of buying/storing some poison or traps in anticipation of future trouble. Thankfully, we have none right now.

    I’d prefer the square buckets for better use of space, but they seem to be harder to find. Any good sources someone could share?

    • Chris Ray says:

      We get the occasional mouse when the weather turns cold, so I have used a variety of poisons and traps over the years. Poisons are out for me, because it doesn’t kill them right away. They than could carry it to a place where you can’t find them and die, leaving you with a smell that you can’t find the source of. I have used traditional mouse traps, but like the Jawz type traps more. They are much easier to set, and are not quite as sensitive as the traditional traps, but still do the job.

    • Tractor Supply often has square buckets. If you know someone who has horses, most feed supplements come in square food grade buckets. You may be able to get some from them.

    • Frieda Friendentia says:

      The idea of mice and rat poison brings up the undesired outcome of other birds and animals that feed on them, most of the time they exit the building and are eaten by others who also die, please use the old fashioned traps, they still work just fine.

  6. Teresa Shere says:

    Where can you get the Mylar bags???

  7. Try the Cary Company for all types of containers.

  8. this is excellent!! i had thought about doing this because of mice, rats and just animals and crawly critters in general. but considering i’m really new at this i wondered if using the cans would be safe! same thing with the square plastic garbage cans altho the lids on the plastics cans are more humped up.
    but thank you for posting this and answering a big question for me!

  9. one thing i would like to add about using the plastic cans is that they are on wheels and can be easily moved. and they can be run up a ramp into the back of a truck or into a trailer by 2 people. even my daughter and i can do it. as far as i’m concerned while you might be losing some room? the ease of moving them balances that out.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Be careful about buying mylar bags from places like ebay; they may be good, they may not. Mylar bags DO come in different thicknesses, and it does matter. Do a little reading at different sites and compare not only price but product.

    As Chris said, there are lots of places to get them; check out this source, for example: http://mylarbagsdirect.com/

    BTW, potato chip bags are a type of mylar. They are not the same as LTS (long term storage) mylar bags, such as you would use here, but they CAN be used; some things I put down inside a vac seal bag or zip lock bag, but, they’re clear, and I may not want light to affect them, so I use recycled potato chip bags to add additional protection from outside elements. I was them, of course, hang them to dry, and seal them using a COOL iron. Too much heat will melt them.

    You can write info about the contents on the outside of the bag with a marker.

    Just a thought – how about recycling those bags?!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I mean to say, “I wash them”….dadgum it! ; )

    • Chris Ray says:

      Lots of good info, thanks for adding it.

      I have purchased many sizes, and thicknesses, and have decided that i like the 1 gallon bags the most. As for thickness 3 mil is good for most things, but for pastas and other things that could puncture, I like 5 mil.

      Good question on recycling, I’m not sure.

    • Another option is the bags coffee comes in. We are addicted to Starbucks who also have their coffee mylar bags. We make up meals and place an oxygen absorber before heat sealing them with a flat iron. Of course they need to be clean dry before hand. We use the same procedures outlined in many Meals in a Jar books. These are also great for handing out to those seeking assistance.
      We tape cooking instructions to each bag. For every bag we make we save a 2 liter plastic bottle for water. We have a plentiful independent water supply available so they don’t need to be filled till needed.

  11. Peter in greater Seattle says:

    I would recommend metal cans over plastic cans. We used to keep plastic cans in our barn for garbage and for grain, and the rats and squirrels easily chewed holes in the lids of the plastic cans.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Sorry to hear they chewed through it, but I appreciate another confirmation of rodents chewing through plastic.

  12. I am using metal cans now. I bought them at Lowes. I put each can on a 19 X19 wood base with casters, also bought at Lowes. I have put smaller amounts in mylar bags, then into the cans. They are heavy, but the rollers make it easy to move around. I am sold on them.

  13. re square/wheeled cans…one can use a two-wheeler to move round cans, plastic and cardboard boxes as well as 2 or 3 five gallon buckets. I use a bungee cord to secure whatever to my two-wheeler.

  14. FYI – I talked to the bakery in the local grocery store and they gave me all of the food grade buckets they had for a month for free, already washed out. They have to wash them out according to the EPA before they recycle them. I drilled drainage holes in the bottom of the smaller ones and used them to plant potatoes on my deck. The bigger ones (5 gallon) I used for long term food storage.

    So, check with your local bakery. You might be able to get food grade buckets for free.

    • Chris Ray says:

      That worked out well for you. I checked 3-4 and the places and the ones that gave them for free hardly ever had them available.

  15. Leauxryda says:

    For what it’s worth, Lowes sells 5 gallon food grade buckets in their paint department for 3 bucks and some change. These are white and have the food grade stamp on the side. These are even cheaper than their colored buckets.

    I also get good service and good prices on mylar bags and gamma lids as well as desiccant packs from USA Emergency Supply.

    After that, a clothes iron and a 1 x 4 is all you need to seal off the bags.

    Warning: Do not stack buckets over 3 high as the gamma lids will crack from the weight, depending on your distribution of the bucket weight. A 1/4″ sheet of luan will distribute the weight to the bucket rims making for a sturdy foundation of each layer.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Good info, thanks for sharing it.

      I used an iron in the beginning, as long as you don’t leave it on to long it works just fine.

      I have never used gamma lids, but it is my understanding that they’re really only a plus for buckets you go in and out of frequently. Or is there some other plus?

      • Leauxryda says:

        Yes that is true. We use our buckets in both singular and mutiple items. Rice, flour, salt, etc. are singular examples while say, a 5 gal bucket with a variety of beans….or even assorted flavored Ramen noodles. Set ups are unlimited.

        Our experience with gamma lids are they seal very well. We have some buckets that have the oxygen sucked out via desiccant packs that the sides of the buckets sucked in.

        We are confident our preps utilizing gamma lids will do well in storage for long periods of time. And the convenience of access will serve well when access becomes part of everyday life in a post event situation.

  16. I have only bought a few of the more expensive gamma lids. I bought a green, orange, blue and white. These are color coded for what type of food is inside. Green is mixed lentils, beans, etc. for protein. Orange is quick oats. Blue is brown rice or white rice. White is flour. I only put the gamma lid on the currently in use bucket. The rest have the cheaper, rubberized O-ring seal lids.

    • color coding is clever. We use a number system, but it takes a heck of a lot longer to easily find which type of bucket I want.

  17. Another alternative to garbage cans… in fact one that I use…are the rectangular plastic bins you can buy at any Walmart, Target, etc. My first two were the fancier, lockable plastic footlockers that Boy Scouts use for their summer camp trips, but I can’t find any more of those, so have started buying the simple bins with removable lids. Cheap, and unless you fill them with extremely heavy material, still movable if full. Also, some of them come with little wheels.

    • Chris Ray says:

      I have a few different types of these bins for various home storage needs. The stores here have sales on them a couple of times a year.

  18. What a wealth of wonderful information! I am fairly new to prepping, and I LOVE the root cellar idea. We live in a retirement community with my husbands 90 year old blind dad. Bugging out will be a huge challenge. We are in a mobile home with NO storage space. I have been wondering about digging under the back deck for a root cellar type space, but we also have raccoons etc who sometimes get under the deck. I also thought about putting some items under the mobile but again the critter problem. The issue is there is not much room to dig a hole for a big ol trash can. And what about the freezing of the ground and thawing? So how or what could I use? Also what about the contents of the container, can they handle the hot and cold??? any info would be greatly appreciated.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Hi Carrie,

      I’m glad you’re finding the blog useful.

      I know very little about root cellars, but I can offer a little info. If you live in a place where the temperatures fall below freezing, my guess is that you would need to go below the frost line.

      Hopefully some people with more root cellar experience will chime in.

      • Jim Moore says:

        I live in the south so I know it’s different further north. Good point about the frost line Chris.
        As far as racoons are concerned I would go with a double hasp on the lid to the can and use a lock. I’d use a key because I know some southern racoons could figure a combination. Should be too hard. Some self tapping sheet metal screws should work for the hasp, You may to put a creative bend in the long part to reach the other part.
        I’ve seen some metal trash cans that had holes around the lid handle and the floppy side handle. I try to find them without holes but I suppose some liquid solder or silicone caulking may work.

        • Jim Moore says:

          Digging under the deck would be hard. You may want to consider something like a metal truck tool box. Bury that so that the lid or lids are still above ground. You won’t get the depth and there for the good insulating factor but you can get them with locking lids. But under the deck they would be protected several ways anyway. I guess if you could dig a big and deep hole there you could put them completely under ground and leave enough room so the lids would open them throw a sheet of plywood or something over the hole. Just thinking…

  19. debbie shaw says:

    hi there

    Can food in wheeley bins or any kind of clean trash can be stored outside, in my lour bags as well, it gets cold and frosty and it snows would the food inside them be still ok in the winter,

    • Chris Ray says:

      I wouldn’t recommend storing food outside, even in winter. the temperatures fluctuate, which could lead to the food freezing and then thawing. Now if you had a root cellar that was underground below the frost line, where the temps were cooler, and more constant, then you might be ok.

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