21 Useful Items Good Preppers Never Throw Out—Why?

Preppers already have experience in storing food, clothing and other important essentials.

However, there are many other resources around the house that can also prove invaluable for survival – things that you can recycle, collect, or repurpose into useful tools and bargaining chips. Take a look at our full list and see which you can start collecting today. As a bonus, you’ll notice that many of these items have excellent synergy with each other as you continue learning how to reuse everything around you!

Dryer Lint

When it comes to small, throwaway things, nothing is quite so humble as dryer lint, which is why many people throw it away as soon as they take it out of the dryer. However, that lint has an excellent use that we should all know about: It’s a perfect tinder filler when starting fires. Grab a bag or other container and start storing your dryer lint. It can compact very tightly, allowing you to collect it for years until you need the perfect tinder material.

Used Tires

Used tires are an excellent garden resource! The wheel itself can be buried or filled with soil to create an easy, weed-free planter. If you lack comfortable resting space, you can use tires to make a quick DIY outdoor seat. If you’re feeling creative, tire treads also make an excellent liner for pots, tables, and steps. When in doubt, you can also build a swing for the kids!

Plastic Grocery Bags

A single plastic grocery bag is flimsy and a little annoying – you want to do something with it, but you aren’t sure what and it wouldn’t last long for any serious task. A hundred plastic grocery bags, however, are an excellent start for insulation materials. It’s a cinch to stuff grocery bags in cracks, open spaces between studs, shed walls, and anywhere else where you need some extra warmth. You’ll quickly find out that these spots can hold a nearly endless number of scrunched-up grocery bags, which will trap tiny pockets of air and offer effective insulation. Just make sure to keep them away from fireplaces, furnaces, and other sources of heat!

Water or Milk Jugs

Wash these jugs out with a little bleach and use them for storage. They are particularly well suited for storing long-term foodstuffs and gardening resources. Beans, seeds, rice, grains – they are all perfect fits for these jugs without weighing too much. If you don’t like buying sealed water from the store for your personal storage, you can also boil water and refill these jugs with clean water for longer-term resources.

Glass Jars

There are many types of glass jars out there, and not all are worth saving. However, many sturdy jars (especially around mason jar size) can serve important purposes. Use them as makeshift lanterns for outdoor candles. Fill them with soil for a safe, tiny garden that’s excellent for nurturing starter plants. Fill them with awkward screws, larger spices or nuts, and other objects that just don’t fit anywhere else. And while you can bake muffins or brownies in glass jars, you should be wary about canning with used jars: Unless you can guarantee an airtight seal with a canning lid, the jars become havens for dangerous bacteria.

Wax Materials

We’re talking about anything waxy here: Beeswax, crayons, melted candles, and so on. In most cases you can collect the leftovers, melt them down again, and recreate a candle (wick required) without having to buy a new one – another use for those mid-sized glass jars! You can also do the same with soap, but don’t combine the more caustic soap pieces with your potential candle pieces.

Cooking Grease

Cooking grease, including baking grease, is far more durable than many realize. This is why you should never pour grease down a drain or into a garbage disposal, since it will congeal there and clog your pipes. However, if you have a sealable container handy, you can strain out that grease through a cheesecloth or similar strainer (to remove impurities from cooking), and store it for reuse: Once cooled down, cooking grease lasts for a very, very long time, so it’s definitely worth saving.

The big exception here, if you don’t already know it, is cooking grease from cooking fish. Fish oil will become inseparable from the other grease used and…well, it will stink. Permanently. Throw away fish-based cooking grease.

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Spice and Pill Bottles

Obviously you can use these for your spices and homemade pills, but that’s only the beginning. These bottles are the perfect size for unique little storage kits where you can hold all the materials you need for a survival solution. Put in some fishing line, a few hooks and small weights, maybe a lure or two, and you have a fishing kit ready to go in an emergency. Put in some of that dryer lint and a few matches, and you have a fire kit safe from the rain. Those are just some of the many different kits you can create, which makes it easy to see why many people keep these bottles in their bug-out bags.

Used Shoes

It may not seem like old shows have much use after you are done wearing them, except as a dog chew toy. However, historically shoes have actually been one of the most valuable items in the average house: They are traditionally expensive, hard to make, and worn until they literally fall apart. Without shoes, even basic travel becomes far more difficult and dangerous, making them largely mandatory and in high demand.

That’s why the most thorough preppers set aside a bin or box for used and outgrown shoes: If economic systems collapse, they are one of the best items for bartering, and even old shoes still have a lot of personal value in them when you can’t get new shoes anymore.

Empty Lighters

When a lighter has emptied and no longer produces a stable flame, most people throw them away and get another without a second thought. But even empty lighters can prove surprisingly useful, especially if there’s no chance at getting any lighter fluid. The small sparks that the lighter produces can still light fires, especially when combined with a sensitive tinder like lint – it’s a readymade flint sparker that you can keep in your pocket, or store in one of those spice bottles for a fire kit. Like shoes, you may even want to consider storing a collection for trade, just in case.

Old Motors and Small Engine

We’re not talking about vehicle-sized motors, which don’t really have much value outside of the car. But small motors, like the kind used for lawnmowers, actually have a lot of applications. Engines from something small like a mower are simpler (and don’t usually require complex fuel additives), highly portable, and amenable to…creative reconstruction. In the right conditions you can use them to power a generator, or to create a personal transport device, or to repair other devices that require an engine to function. Have an electric mower instead? Don’t worry! The best electric mower models have powerful batteries that can hold a charge for a long time, making them a valuable commodity if electricity becomes a rare resource.

Newspaper

Chances are good that you already have a list of things to do with newspaper, from using it to start fires and clean windows to cutting it up for mulch. But we’d like to suggest a more long-term use for newspaper that will have you double-checking your stash: Weaving a basket. When newspaper is rolled into strips, it becomes a surprisingly reliable weaving material that can create all types of baskets and holders. These are great for storage, disposable trash cans, or simply creating useful items to share or sell – and they aren’t quite as attractive to pests as cardboard.

Egg Cartons

If you haven’t tried this yet, save your next egg carton and use it as a starter kit for herbs or other plants. Simply fill each egg section with a bit of rich soil, plant your seeds, water lightly, and perch the carton by a window to watch the results. It’s the perfect way to start a number of small seeds at the same time. You can also use these cartons as fuel for the fire in a pinch.

Any Type of Binding

We mean rope, twisty-ties, wire, twine, string – anything that you can use for binding. These materials are invaluable for securing objects, building makeshift shelters, creating security perimeters, fixing broken equipment, building weapons, and much more. Never underestimate the usefulness of a simple piece of rope!

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Tin Cans

Combine a tin can with some curled cardboard a bit of that leftover wax we mentioned above, and you can create your own little mini heater. Of course, tin cans have many other uses, from perimeter alarms to weapons, but we’re partial to the mini heater idea, since it’s easy to create using scrap materials and offers a lot of value. Even if you don’t keep many tin cans around, at least try this project out so you know how to do it!

Bread Bags

Remember above, where we talked about how valuable a commodity shoes can be when the worst happens? Those of you in rainy areas probably thought: Great, but unless those shoes are waterproof, they aren’t going to be very useful where I’m at. Enter the humble bread bag – an ordinary plastic bag, but the perfect size for wrapping up water-sensitive shoes before going out in the rain. This keeps your feet from getting wet (along with the potential health issues that brings) and helps protect vulnerable shoes.

Leftover Lumber

Lumber comes with an important caveat: Leftover pieces of lumber tend to be large and heavy. That means you may have trouble finding a place to store them, or problems taking them with you if you have to leave in a hurry. That’s fine! But if you do have the space and security, keep those extra pieces of lumber around. They are obviously good for just about any construction project, support system, bulwark or garden.

Pennies

After the precious metals like gold and silver (which can be difficult to recycle), copper is actually one of the more valuable metals today, and offers even more practical value if manufacturing suddenly becomes difficult. Older pennies from before 1982 in particular are known for their high copper content. Start a collection jar for old pennies so you can stock up!

Chopsticks

Need a little extra kindling? Chopsticks are easy to collect and the ideal larger tinder material, perfect for constructing efficient fires. It’s also useful to have some smaller wood pieces around for minor supports and building or craft projects. If you don’t have room for large lumber, you can still collect chopsticks!

Safety Pins

A trusty jar of safety pins can help you in uncounted survival situations. You can connect blankets together to build a quick shelter or partition, close tears in clothing so that it can better protect you against the elements, and even use them to help close wounds when nothing else is available. The pins can also act as mini-tweezers for delicate work, crafting tools, and so much more.

However, make sure that you keep your safety pins in a well-sealed jar and a safe environment: Moisture may cause the pins to eventually rust and lose their efficacy.

Small Wheels

If you are in a hurry and short on space, it may be difficult to take a cart, wheelbarrow, or scooter with you. However, everyone has room enough for the small wheels that are the key parts of these devices. You can recycle wheels from older carts, toys, and other items you may have around the house. Keep these wheels in your bag along with a few compatible screws, and you will be able to create a cart or platform for transportation as long as you can find a few basic scrap materials.

 

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Latest comments
  • You forgot another thing that newspaper is good for,newspaper fire logs.You make several layers of newspaper and roll it up into a log,soak it in water,then let it dry.BOOM,you have a newspaper fire log.

  • In reference to electric motor, when one of the fans that cool the engine stripped its blades, I asked from the garage if I could keep the whole two fan housing. You see, both fan motors still work and one still has the blades on it. I plan to disassemble the fans from the housing and mount the good one in one of my heating ducts to circulate the warm air from my wood stove up stairs through out the house. I already have the solar panel and batteries to feed the motor,

    • automobile cooling fans draw a lot of current. 20 + amps is not uncommon. just keep this in mind so you’re not surprised when the batteries don’t last long.

  • Even non-canning jars can be sealed using melted wax. Just pour about a half-inch on top of the food you’ve prepared for storage. The wax can be used over and over

  • Pennies are made of zinc now and aren’t worth much, but they’re useful as corrosion resistant washers when drilled. For serious rust proof washers nickels and even quarters are good. Quarters make good hose sealers when sandwitched between an old broken-off threaded end

  • @Griffinaero While using wax to seal even a non-canning jar is a really good idea and has been used successfully for many years what I find a more interesting solution is to seal a non-canning jar with a thin layer of alcohol. Drinking alcohol, not rubbing. After I fill the jar to about 3/4 of an inch from the top. And at that point whatever I’m filling the jar with is still steaming hot having just come out of the cooking pot. Before I screw the lid on I pour perhaps a quarter inch of booze over the entire top of whatever jam or compot I’m canning and the way I look at it is that the booze will most certainly kill ANY pathogens that may have snuck in there at the last moment. And the hot liquid gives off alcohol vapours which after I’ve sealed the jar will condense when the jar cools and provide a better seal than just the product alone. After it’s sealed there is NO way anything bad can grow in that environment when a thin layer of alcohol covers the jam or whatever. I’ve been doing it like this for some time now and have products that I’ve successfully stored like this for years without any problems whatsoever. And when you again open the jar for the first time and take out that first spoonful of jam it makes for a most interesting experience first thing in the morning. Quite the wake up call. LOL.

    • Love that! A great idea I’ve never seen anywhere else. And a little eye-opener in the morning bonus…heh heh.

  • If one also learns how to process alcohol from wood, they can have usable fuel for those small engines long into the future in a total collapse situation. Used cooking oil, if changed fairly often, can be used in those same small engines, even if that oil is made from rendered animal fats.

    • The heavier fats are best used in Diesel engines, they can destroy 2 cycle engines pretty quickly.

      • @TheObtuse I’ve also heard that. A few years back and it might still be going on, I don’t know. There was a big movement on to pick up all the used cooking oil from places like MacDonalds and KFC. And then process it so you could run a diesel engine on it. Apparently a diesel is quite content to run on a number of different fuels that you might not think of as fuels including things like peanut oil. And in a true grid down situation petrol and diesel fuels might just be in short supply so if we have a working diesel engine we have to improvise and adapt so that we can still use the tools that are left.

        • The original Diesel engine, unveiled at the world’s fair in the 1880s was designed to run on organic short chain oils, like peanut or canola oils. It is the long chain fatty acids and waxes found in animal proteins and fats which are troublesome. The fuel delivery system must be kept above the solidification temp for the oils / waxes to be a useful fuel. The seals are also most profoundly affected but these as well.

        • Older diesels can also run on JP8, Kerosene, new or filtered transmission fluid, light weight motor oil, vegetable oil, used and filtered cooking oil, mineral oils from electrical conductors and a mixture of all. In the winter you are limited due to the solidification temperature (like Obtuse mentioned) but in the summer you can use all of the above. ALSO you cannot use any of the above in a gasoline engine (also like Obtuse mentioned). Talk about a truly multi-fuel motor, diesels are extremely versatile.

          • Diesels will run on used oil year round in moderate winter climates. all the mentioned fuels will work but can be hard starting except for cooking oil, it can solidify and has water in it. I run a diesel truck with duel tanks and use one for starting and then change over to the other tank for driving. plan on changing fuel filters more often.

  • Never use milk jugs for any liquid you will use or for food. You can not clean a milk container well enough, Years ago we tested them and everyone of the containers grew some nasty stuff..
    Ranger

    • Ranger Rick, You hit the nail on the head ! ALL Milk Jugs (Plastic, not glass) are made from LDPE (Low Density Poly-Ethelene) – They Will NOT Last over 3 Months as a reliable container. Exposed to the sun, make that 6 Weeks. Save yourself the trouble.

      • Milk jugs can be used to store water for flushing toilets in a temporary emergency. Actual water jugs (like from any store) can be used to refill with water and store food.

  • Get your eggs in the pressed paper cartons, fill the spaces with your dryer lint, top off with either canning wzx or leftover candles. You can cut them apart and have a dozen fire starters. Don’t use the styrofoam cartons, though, they will just melt and not give yoou the fire starters. You can also put a wick in each space in the carton, fill with wax, and you have a dozen small candles.

  • Put the bread bags over your feet then put your shoes on. If you put them over your shoes (as you suggest) they won’t last 100 steps befor the bottoms are torn and shredded.

  • Cans are handy items. I cooked and drank from first a soup can then a can that once held corn. It was a prized possession for a time alone living in the hills. I made tea and cooked food in it. I boiled, cooled, then drank water from a can. In the shop I collect nuts, bolts, nails, tacks et in a can till I get them sorted. One sits by my gas stove with a long lighter resting in it. I made a solar heater with bags of washed and dried vegetable cans. Like the more popular heaters being made from pop cans. My aunt roofed a chicken house with cans cut along the seam and flattened. Who hasn’t made a noisy tail for a car for a wedding? A Noisy trap covering a path is good and easy. Pull tab can lids are easy to tie in fruit trees or grape vines to scare off birds. We used to bake bread in 1 lb coffee cans. You can strain grease into a can or melt wax to make candles in a can. I’ve punched holes in a can with a punch can opener or a nail to make a pretty candle holder or with a wire handle its a lantern. I’ve melted bits of soap in a can to remold it. Mom melted wax in a vegetable can to pour onto jelley to seal it. I have a pot with a spout. Grandma saved tomatoes for seed in cans where they could ferment to be easily cleaned for saving. I’ve mixed up paint in a can that made it easy to hold while painting cabinets or furniture. I use a can as a single days rabbit food scoop. I’d bet you can add many more uses to that list. I have older large coffee cans packed as caches in the mountain above me.

    • Clergylady,…WOW!

      Thank you for sharing.
      A lot of great ideas.

    • WOW! I LOVE YOU! WHEN DOES YOUR BOOK COME OUT??? SERIOUSLY, GOOD SOLID INFO AND IDEAS. ELABORATING ON JUST A CAN FOR SO MANY USES, AWESOME! HAVEN’T SEEN THAT MUCH CREATIVITY SINCE FOXFIRE SERIES OF BOOKS!

  • Re: empty lighters

    If you use electronic lighters, the piezo electric spark virtually NEVER runs out, and never misfires. Stick the lighter in some dryer lint, and you can almost guarantee you will have fire.

  • You can also use the egg cartons with the wax add in some wood chips or lint (not as good now with most clothing being synthetic) to make firestarters. Good idea learned from being a Scout Leader

    • I’ve grown cotton as an ornamental. It was very easy to grow even in poor, sandy soil. Do you think a couple of blooming plants would be better than a load of lint?

      • It’s the super-dried aspect of lint from a clothes drier that makes it so useful for firestarting Dave. Any plant fibre should work fine for firestarting if it’s dry enough.

        • Hadn’t thought of that aspect. Thanks.

        • Also with how fine the fibers are from the lint which makes it easier for it to ignite

    • I USE THE COMPRESSED EGG CARTONS ALSO FOR FIRE STARTERS AT HOME. WHEN YOU USE A PAPER TOWEL FOR SOMETHING NOT REAL YUCKY, STICK IT ASIDE TO DRY,TEAR THEM INTO BALLS THAT FIGHT THE EGG HOLDERS AND ADD YOUR LEFT OVER OLD GREASE. ONE MATCH, ONE FIRE!

  • Shredded up used tires also make a pretty decent firestarter.

    I carry re-used plastic baggies in my pocket nearly all the time. If you need a container or want to protect your phone from precipitation, place in baggie, seal and rest easy. If you need to pick up something nasty for disposal, turn bag inside out, grab item from opposite side of bag (like a glove, turn over, and throw out. Easy peasy.

    Those feedback ideas are very good – thank you for contributing those too !

  • Great article.

  • some other items to repurpose.
    1. used zip-lock bags, great storage and won’t conduct electricity for use in item 3.
    2. used batteries, I collect used batteries at work for recycling and test them. about half and still good. free batteries.
    3. metal tins. great little containers for kits and may be usable as little faraday shields for C.B. radios when item stored is insulated from electrical currents.
    4. Tic Tac packs. remove the top and it will hold 3 AA or 4 AAA batteries for nice little battery back-up pack

    • love the idea of the tic tac container for batteries

  • Along with dryer lint and pill bottles. Never throw out cotton packing from vitamin and supplement bottles. You can stuff a massive amount of it into a single ziplock back for tossing into a bug out bag.

  • I have been turning 1gal white milk jugs w/screw-on lids into marker bouys for crab traps. Turned upside down and drew a large “R” (for ‘Recreational’) on 2 sides. Exceeds FL requirements (float must be min 6″, R must be min 4″, highly visible). Cost nothing except some Sharpie ink. I can use them for trotlines, etc.

  • I saw a video on YouTube where they took the plastic shopping bags and made sleeping mats for homeless people. It takes a while to create one, but it would be water resistant/proof and keep the sleeping bag off the ground. It would also be good for creating an “area rug” for a primitive shelter to sit on or keep your shoes and gear off the ground. I suppose it could also be used as a bit of insulation for a shelter as well.

  • I make sleeping mats for the homeless. As I don’t have enough room (I live in a single wide trailer) to weave one, I cut the bags in quarters and crochet them. It only takes the ability to make a chain and then single crochet stitch until it is big enough. No PHD required! One under you and one over your sleeping bag will keep you snug.

  • Another use for zip-lock bags is to zip them over your outside mirors of your cqr to keep ice-free during wet freezing temps. Just pull off when getting ready to go some where.

    • WOW! I never would have thought of this brilliant idea for a zip lock bag!! HUGE Thank You for this idea!!

  • One-gallon milk jugs make great mini-greenhouses for tomato & pepper seedlings. Cut off the bottom 1″ of the jug with a sharp knife and leave the cap off. Place it over the seedling and scoop up the soil around the outside to keep it from blowing away in the wind. If the plant starts growing up out of the top and it’s not quite warm enough yet, you can lift the jug up a few inches and scoop more soil around it. Mine typically last 2 or 3 seasons.

  • Another use for old tires is footwear. My father told me about finding Viet Cong troops in Viet Nam wearing sandals made from tire tread pieces. He said they also used tire inner tubes for sealing / preserving weapons and ammo from moisture.

    • Steel-belted sandals. Would probably outlast the owner!

  • Good article, and I’ve done much if it. Dryer lint! Works great, but fishworms love it, so to the compost it goes, unless we need it. But, we use a solar dryer (AKA clothesline). The dryer is needed for dark duds or you’ll be picking lint off clothes forever.
    Used tire: No, not here. Here, we dig down at least 3 feet to get the caliche out or you can spend all summer watering and still lose the garden. Used tires should go to people who can reply them and sell them. Most of this is done in Mexico, so it keeps the primos at work. No work, no manhood, folks say.
    Milk and water jugs: Water, yes. Better, vinegar jugs. Food grade, meant to last for years, and can be resealed if you take care not to melt them. Anything else, fill with sand or clay (liquid) and use as building blocks, but cover well with adobe or another clay.
    It’s hard to find glass jars we can use for canning, but plastic bottles are much better to store things like screws. Recycle glass. If you have an oven for baking ceramics, it can be used to recycle glass into small windowpanes with wire in them. Or, hippy wind chimes and so on. Bottles were used to build homes in places where there’s little wood to be had, but plenty of clay. Pack clay aroud the bottles with the bottom open so the sun shines in.
    Wax! You got it. Wax is very recyclable. You can make bullet molds with it if you’re good at such things. Leave a small hole in the bottom of the mold to let out the wax as you pour in the lead, AKA lost wax method.
    Cooking oil and grease make emergency lamps and fuel. Once oil has been used a time or two, it darkens from hydrogen infused in it. It should not be used too long (nor should you eat margarine, which uses hydrogen). It will seal leather and canvas, but beware of animals looking for a snack.
    Spice and pill bottles: !
    Used shoes: Replace the sole and heel. We wear them till they’re falling apart to go hiking and so on.
    Lighters: Often the reason a lighter will not work is dirt stuck in it that kills the spark. When one won’t, give a sharp puff or two of breath to see if that works. If it’s out of gas, sorry, but that’s a great idea to save them for an inexpensive flint and steel.

  • Soft drink bottles make superb mini-greenhouse/plant starters. Cut the bottom couple of inches off and perforate for drainage. Replace the tops and lids. On a hot day, take the lid off to keep plants from suffocating.

    Bleach bottles are great for storing water.

    Innertubes are incredibly useful for gaskets, bushings if you glue several layers together, even jar lid gaskets for old Ball Ideals or French jars.

  • Another use for plastic grocery bags, make rope. Cut off the handles and bottom making a plastic loop that can then be crocheted and braided. I have a rope strong enough to tow a car and another that I us to help in taking down pine trees.

    • Do you use thrift stores? Most would love to have the bags. By helping them and others on a regular basis, so they get to know you, workers will tell you, hey, can you use a … We put it aside if you want it. Often this is nothing much, but at times it’s good things, very useful things. All because I donated a mess of bags. Here, plastic gets eaten by the sun. It never lasts long unless buried. Even tires will degrade fast unless protected (armorall! 🙂 Everything we can, we recycle because the recyclers know us and will tell us if they have something we might like. It’s all part of the Law of Korema, the sharing in brotherhood in Native America. Americans once understood that by instinct, them liberalism destroyed us. Niio.

  • I use Styrofoam egg cartons to start seeds. Cut off the top and use it for a tray. To make drainage holes in the cups, heat up a nail over a candle flame and poke it through. Protect your fingers with a rag, because the nail will get HOT.

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