Unstick Stuck Buckets!

If you’ve ever made a nice tall bucket stack like i have on the free 5 gallon buckets article, you’ve probably had the misfortune of sticking buckets together so tightly that you couldn’t pry them apart.

stuck plastic 5 gallon buckets

Wow. What’s with that terrible artwork?

Well, I don’t have any photos for this article, so I’ve drawn some for you instead.

Stuck buckets used to happen to me all the time, so I tried carrying a pliers around with me so I could wrestle buckets apart when they stuck together. I finally broke my pliers, so I knew I had to find a better way.

Here’s the quickest, easiest way to unstick 2 plastic buckets from each other. All you need is your foot, arms and back muscles.

unsticking plastic buckets

In case you can’t tell what’s going on from my dismal illustration, here’s what you need to do.

  1. Turn the buckets upside down so that the open end is facing toward the ground.
  2. Put your foot through the handle closest to the ground. If your buckets don’t have handles – I feel bad for you – unsticking your buckets will be much harder. Skip to the end of this article for the hot water solution.
  3. Grasp the top bucket – the one closest to the sky – by the rim and pull up using your back muscles.

unstuck buckets

This trick will work about 95% of the time.

But! Sometimes you’ll have stuck buckets so vicious that you’ll need to go a step further. The hot water treatment.

  1. Take your stuck buckets into the bathroom with you and run the outer bucket under hot water for 30 seconds to a minute.
  2. Rotate your buckets so the hot water runs evenly over the entire outside.
  3. Try prying them apart again using the foot trick. It should slip easily now.

The hot water actually expands the little air pocket between the buckets so the pressure inside becomes closer to the pressure outside. It weakens the suction keeping the buckets together, making them easier to pry apart. I’m sure there’s a physics formula that explains it, but you won’t find fancy math like that here.

I’ve never met 2 stuck buckets that could stay stuck after using both of these methods. So that’s all you need to know to unstick any 2 buckets!

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56 thoughts on “Unstick Stuck Buckets!

  1. A piece of thick-ish folded newspaper slid between each bucket as you stack ’em works even better…an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure :)

  2. A shot of air from an air nozzle works for me, but if you don’t have an air compressor then you have to struggle and strain.

  3. slide a flattend plastic straw between the 2 buckets and put a nossel of compressed air in the straw, they will free up nicely

    • That’s really smart, I’ll have to try that. Just need a can of compressed air and the willpower to not waste it by spraying ice at my cat.

  4. Compressed air was first thing I tried on 2 metal paint buckets stuck together for at least 3 years. After less than a minute blowing air into the crack around circumference, I heard a pop. They then came about with a good tug! Thanks.

  5. If you do NOT need the bucket to hold liquid drill a tiny pilot hole with a cordless drill. This equalizes pressure. Removes suction. So method one will work and you do NOT have to use the shower method.
    Worked for me. Thanks!

  6. The reason buckets stick together is that they get vacuum-sealed when you shove them together. (The top bucket replaces the air in the bottom bucket — it simply whooshes out.) So… knowing that makes unsticking them easy. You don’t need compressed air, hot water or even a lot of force — just the opposite actually. Simply compress the sides of the top bucket enough to allow air to enter the bottom bucket (which breaks the vacuum) and lift it out. Plastic is flexible so even though there isn’t a lot of the top bucket sticking out to manipulate, you should be able to squeeze the sides in enough to loosen it from the other bucket. A little twist of the top bucket at the same time often helps too.

  7. There’s a much easier way. Ever notice all those rings molded into the plastic at the top of the buckets? Pick up both buckets and put a few fingers from each hand on the bottom bucket rings. Then put your thumbs on the top rings, and move your fingers down and your thumbs up-almost like an open handed grip motion. Works every time.

  8. I did have success with the handle trick.
    I did drill a very small hole in the bottom of exposed bottom. Placed on their sides and worked to pull them apart…..in seconds they started to part and then TADA, separation. Also was able to spray a tad of lubricating oil between.

  9. yep, worked for me.

    first soak the shit out of it with hot water.

    then try to rip them apart with the open end facing the floor.


    • Yes it will but the water has to be hot enough…my gardener used the two buckets as a step ladder and they were hermetically sealed for 2 yrs! The hot water released them.

  10. Here’s a wrinkle…..The inner Rubbermaid barrel has a crack in the bottom. I don’t have access to an air compressor. I don’t think I will take this in my tub with me either.

  11. The hot water treatment works like a charm…had to boil water to get it hot enough. The buckets that had been stuck for about 2 years just slid apart….careful not to burn yourself when pouring the hot water! I did this in the bath wearing water boots…the bucket and metal handle become hot!

  12. If you put a clothespin on the edge of each bucket as you stack them, they dont get stuck together. It keeps them from being able to make the vaccuum. Stack is a bit less stable, and a bit taller, but it’s worth it to me, since I can always get my buckets apart. :)

  13. I pried a screw driver between the lip of the bottom bucket in 5 places, each time I sprayed a quick squirt of TDL Dry Lube, lodged the buckets under my table saw, pulled, and they came apart immediately. Of course, I don’t know if the TDL would effect whatever you’re going to put in the buckets. For me, it was just for tools.

  14. Most have a turkey roaster and in less than 5 min. you can separate 2 – 5 gal. plastic buckets with no effort right in your kitchen!
    1. Place roaster over 2 burners of your range.
    2. Place a heat safe dinner plate right side up in the bottom of the roaster.
    3. Sit the stuck buckets on the plate.
    4. Pour enough water in the roaster to just float the buckets which will tilt to a side upon floating.
    5. Turn both burner on high and heat water to very hot, not boiling.
    6. When water is hot, use a coffee mug and dip water from the roaster and pour on the side of the bucket, turn the bucket and pour hot water on the bucket, keep turning and pouring till you can turn the buckets inside each other. Turn and easily pull
    the buckets apart.
    Takes less than 5 minutes!
    TIP : If your outside bucket is dirty, you may want to wash the dirt off before starting the process on the stove. That way there is no clean up !

  15. At my job at Parks & Rec we are constantly pulling apart huge stacks of buckets, and here is our foolproof method..It takes two people and a rubber mallet! Person with the mallet holds the top bucket by the handle and the second person holds the rim of the bottom bucket. Lean apart from each other, holding them horizontally. A bunch of small taps on the top bucket vibrates them apart like a charm. If you whack em too hard it’s pretty uncomfortable on the fingers, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. :)

  16. I just gotta say, how hilarious that so many of us suffer from the same issue. I had a gaggle of mom’s laughing at my assistant coaches the other day trying to separate my baseball buckets. Poor bastards. I read this, and boom! 10 seconds later, by myself, buckets separated. Funny stuff. We men need to stick together!

  17. The hot water expands the diameter of the outer bucket, causing a separation from the inner bucket. The air hole helps too. Thanks!!

  18. Not exactly buckets – BUT I have two ikea plastic scarp moulded chairs (outdoor) – all winter long they were outside and no matter how hard I pulled / flexed they wouldn’t come apart – I must have spent at least 2 hours over multiple weekends trying.

    I carried them and put them under a hot shower – flexed and pop – viola! Thanks

  19. I have two large plastic plant pots (like 5-gal buckets with no handles) stuck together for about 4 years. I’ve drizzled dish soap between them; tried wd40 between them; a 2nd pair of hands with a screwdriver and hammer; and tried hot water in the bath tub; … nothing works! The dirt from inside the outer one fell out when turned upside down so I’m not so sure there is a vacuum that a hole in the bottom would depressurize. I don’t have an air compressor. Any other ideas?

    • If you have a Dremel or a drill and a diamond bit you can put a drainage hole which should allow them to break suction and come apart. Use water while drilling to prevent cracking the pot if it’s ceramic or glass.

  20. I will give the hot water a try, should be interesting since mine at the massive 30 gallon sized black nursery pots. My strong son tried and he couldn’t budge them either. Thanks for the tips!!!

  21. thx, damn buckets at least 4 years stuck
    went outside and upside down
    and whew that smell when they fell apart

  22. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I coje across a blog that’s
    equally educative and entertaining, and without
    a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem iss something too few people are sspeaking intelligently about.

    I’m very happy I stumbled across this in my
    hunt for something concernng this.

  23. Wonder if anyone can help me so recently I purchased two leather trash bins with a metal rim and base but they are stuck together and hard to pull apart

  24. My buckets are stuck. They contained cherry sauce at one time. The labels on the buckets have a glue on them. I think that the labels have stuck them together. What to do about loosening up this mess?

  25. Thank you so much! I’ve had two buckets stuck together for a couple of YEARS, and the hot water treatment made them come right apart. I’m very happy!

  26. It might sound ridiculous and look even more ridiculous, but I will put the buckets on their sides and straddle them then rock forward and back while pulling on the inside bucket. Works every time!

  27. I found the perfect solution to unstick those 5 gallon buckets. You have to check this out. Watch it on youtube,” The bucket Handle retainer”

  28. First method worked great! Had a couple buckets that had been stuck for months. I was getting ready to drill a hole in the bottom of the top one but figured I’d check the internet first! Glad I did.

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