This page will cover three different types of food grade plastics you are likely to come across in your plastic bucket journeys. There are other food grade plastics such as PET, PCP and the increasingly unpopular BPA not covered here, but they are usually not used to make buckets.
HDPE or High Density Poly Ethelene plastic has an amazing temperature range, and is considered safe for short periods up to 248°F (120°C) or for long periods up to 230°F (110°C.) Since boiling water never gets above 100°C, this means that anything boiling and below is safe for a food grade bucket.
It’s important to make sure the bucket you are storing hot liquids in is HDPE however, as a similar plastic, low density polyethelene, actually has a temperature limit of 176°F (80°C) which is well below boiling. To see which type of plastic you are working with, just check the small recycling symbol usually found on the bottom of the bucket. HDPE is the one you want to see!
Sometimes I find a polypropelene or PP plastic bucket used for food, usually smaller containers that are thinner and less rigid than standard five gallon buckets. Polypropene has the highest temperature rating of all, but is considered a low to moderate health hazard by the Environmental Working Group.
High Density Polyethelyne
- 230°F temperature limit
- Usually food grade
- Recycle symbol 2
- Example: Most five gallon buckets
Low Density Polyethelyne
- 176°F temperature limit
- Usually food grade
- Recycle symbol 4
- Example: 18 gallon rubbermaid totes
- 275°F temperature limit
- Usually food grade
- Recycle symbol 5
- Can release a mild or moderate toxin
- Example: Yogurt containers
The most interesting fact I’ve ever learned about five gallon plastic buckets is that In the third world, they are so valuable that it would be unthinkable to drill holes in one! Lucky for us, five gallon buckets are so cheap and ubiquitous in the western world that they can usually be picked up for free.
Here are just a few places to check for 5 gallon buckets. Usually, people working in these places get regular requests for their used buckets, and will not think your request strange at all. Call beforehand to save yourself a trip.
- Construction sites
- Coffee Shops
- Farm Stores
- Soap Makers.
- Wine Making Stores
- Kitty Litter
- School Cafeterias
- Craigslist & UsedEverywhere
- Car Washes
If you obtain a bucket from a source that is not involved in food, like a gas station or hardware store for example, make sure your bucket is food grade HDPE (high density poly ethylene) before using it for food purposes.
Many of the above free bucket sources also will have smaller buckets available. If you grab those too, you won’t be dissapointed! It’s great having a variety of sizes to fit various uses. Check out this great 1 gallon bread box, for example.
I purchase cheap used buckets from a bulk soap retail company. See our buying 5 gallon buckets article for more on buying buckets.
There are a few times when I like to line my buckets with newspaper:
- When using it for a compost bucket
- When storing sharp things that can scratch the insides
- When harvesting food
You only need 3 sheets of newspaper to line a bucket, but the order you put them in makes a big difference.
Step 1: Nest 2 sheets together along the side of the bucket interior.
Step 2: Push a fully folded sheet carefully down to the bottom, allowing the corners to fold up, locking the sides in place.
This method works so well that you can turn the bucket upside-down and shake it, and the newspaper will not fall out!
Tip: I use broadsheet sized newspaper in this example, but when I can get my hands on tabloid-sized newspaper, I prefer to use its taller size for the sides, while using the broadsheet for the bottom only.
It looks like I’m not the first person to start publishing five gallon bucket uses! This guy beat me to the topic by about 12 years, which is half my lifetime so far.
I only buy about two books a year, and this was one of them this year. Used copies can be had very cheaply over on Amazon.
I only paid about 5 bucks for the book, and honestly that’s about what it’s worth. Many of the ideas are jokes, although about 40% of them are interesting. I would give this book 3 1/2 stars out of 5.