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Reuse and Repurpose Tin Cans

Updated on December 27, 2012

By Joan Whetzel

A lot of foods come in cans from fruits and vegetables to tuna. They generally come with paper labels that can be removed and recycled with paper products. Many recycling places, however, won't take these food cans because they aren't aluminum (we're not talking about the soda cans here, those are another story entirely). The question then becomes, what can be done to reuse or repurpose the food cans?

Preparing the Cans

Once the lids have been removed and the cans have been emptied of their contents, it's time to prep the cans for reuse or repurposing using the following steps.

  1. Remove the paper labels and place them in the paper recycling bin or save them for another craft purpose (decoupage or mixed media art).
  2. Sand the edges around the inside of the top, where the lid was removed, to remove any sharp raw edges that could slice open fingers.
  3. Clean the cans thoroughly with soapy water and dry them out.

The following reused or repurposed cans can be decorated using fabric, paint, craft store findings ("gems", sequins, ribbons, doll house d├ęcor, scrapbooking items), hardware findings (copper wire, nuts and bolts, wallpaper, mini glass tiles), or anything else you can dream up.

Fruit and Veggie Size Cans

The average size fruit or veggie can is useful for turning into a number repurposed items. Here's a small list, that I think will never be complete. (There are too many possibilities that I haven't even thought of yet.)

  • pencil can
  • telephone game with string
  • candle holder: (a) punch holes in the sides to use as air vents and to create a design so that the light will flicker through for an interesting effect when using smaller candles; (b) put sand in the bottom to help hold up taper candles and keep them from falling over.
  • create a wind chime using different sized cans: (a) punch holes in the bottom, (b) insert a knotted string, wire, or fishing filament through the hole of each can so that they hang upside down, (c) attach the string, filament, or wire to a wood strip frame attached together like a mobile. Then hang the "chimes" outside or near an air conditioning vent.
  • Stack them by the front door as a low-tech burglar alarm.
  • Turn them into drinking cups.
  • Take them to the beach and use them as sandcastle molds.

Feel free to decorate them anyway that strikes your fancy.

Coffee Cans

Because these cans have plastic lids they are great for storage. Among the things that can be stored in these cans are not so small parts (building supplies, car repair, shelf building parts) that are left over from projects around the home. Another use is to fill them with dirt and worms to take along on fishing trips - just be sure to punch air holes in the lid and make sure the dirt is moist but not overloaded with water (don't want to drown the worms). Stash spare change in the can or toss in the occasional $1 bill. After awhile, all that small change adds up. You might even get a nice evening out.

Tuna Cans

These make great sand castle molds. They are also great for use as candle holders. Simply fill them most of the way with sand and place a candle in the center - either a votive, a small pillar, or a taper. One repurpose project I learned in Girl Scouts was the creation of a burner of sterno can for campers. it requires melted wax and a strip of corrugated cardboard approximately the same width as the can's height. Coil the cardboard strip into sort of a pinwheel shape, and place it sideways into the cleaned out tuna can. It should more-or-less reach the top of the can, but not be taller than the can. Next melt the wax and pour it in the can making sure it gets in and around the spiraled cardboard. Don't fill the can all the way to the top, however. Leave a little of the cardboard above the level wax. Once the wax has hardened, the "sterno can" is ready for use as a makeshift camp stove heater. Simply light the cardboard. As it burns, it will melt the wax, and the wax and cardboard will slowly go up in smoke.

Warning: The "sterno can" and candle holder are probably best left UN-decorated as most products used for decorating won't stand up to the flames and heat.

Well, I guess now, the only question remaining is "What can you do with the lid from those tin cans?" I'm open to suggestions so feel free to let me know what you think.

Decoupaged Tin Cans for Organizing at Home | Reuse It Friday

Drink Can Tin Box


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    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 5 years ago from Katy, Texas

      Thanks Deerwhisperer.

    • Deerwhisperer profile image

      Brenda Krupnow 5 years ago from Bradenton, Florida

      I never thought of using tin cans as sterno burners. Great idea and great hub! I voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, and shared.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I am really impressed with all the uses. It really makes sense to keep these cans for other uses..not to mention the recycling advantage. I have decoupaged coffee cans for storing..Now maybe will rethink other cans. Thanks for a great hub and voting up...and sharing on facebook.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I'm always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle and you've given me some new ideas. The drink can tin box would be a great project. I think I'll be trying this soon. Looks like it would be fun to do.