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Take a quick look inside your cabinet for me. I bet you have some old pots and pans waaaaaay in the back.
If they haven’t budged from that spot for years as you continue updating your collection with new and shiny equipment, you might need some help coming up with a plan to deal with these neglected rejects.
What are you supposed to do with old pots and pans anyway?!
When they are no longer useful for cooking, or when you simply want to clear out the clutter during spring cleaning, don’t throw the old ones away.
And don’t just leave them there in your cabinet or closet, making the kitchen chaos even worse – you need that limited space for items you’ll actually use.
This article offers seven creative ways to recycle all your old pots and pans to give them a new purpose.
There’s still some life in those old bones!
How to Recycle Old Pots and Pans
1. Camping Trips
Most campers would rather not take their best pots and pans with them when they go on a camping trip – save those for home use only!
If you have some old cookware that isn’t too damaged and is still fit for cooking, pack it alongside your other camping equipment.
Saving them for when you and your family or friends enjoy a camping adventure will give them many more years of use, and you’re guaranteed to always have a reliable and safe way to cook over an open flame, though there are some caveats with the types of materials you should use.
Cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum are all safe, durable materials. However, any equipment with a nonstick coating may degrade when exposed to the heat of an open flame. And pots or pans with plastic handles should not be used, because these accessories can melt.
With a variety of pots and pans, from large stock pots to small skillets, you won’t be limited to just the typical campfire recipes – other than hot dogs and s’mores, you can expand your repertoire and feature different cooking techniques with different types of cookware.
2. Children’s Toys
Giving your kids old pots and pans to play with is a great idea for saving a little money when you don’t want to constantly buy new toys.
Many young children love to use old pots and pans to play pretend – or simply to bang on them to enjoy the loud noises! – and it’s much cleaner and less wasteful than getting any actual ingredients involved.
When you restock your kitchen with new cookware, transfer some of the older items to your children’s play area or a low cabinet where they are easily and safely within reach.
Don’t forget to include some old spoons, whisks, aprons, and kitchen towels so your little ones can pretend to be chefs, pastry cooks, or maybe even molecular gastronomists.
Let them “cook” a delicious meal for you!
Be sure the pots and pans are not too heavy, as this may cause an injury to an overzealous mini chef. Stick with smaller and lighter selections!
For pots and pans that are still useful, but no longer serve a purpose among your new cookware collection, research donation options in your city.
Churches and shelters may be low on funds to fully stock their kitchens and replace cookware that is long past its prime.
Contact a local food pantry, shelter, or church to see if they can put your old cookware to use. They will surely appreciate the donation if they can, and you will be happy to recycle items to provide others in need with the opportunity to use them.
You can also check with your local thrift stores as well, for another potential donation outlet.
4. Gift Baskets
We all love a thoughtful gift idea – especially when it perfectly intertwines with a theme!
Use an old pot or pan as a practical vessel for a kitchen-themed gift basket. This is a unique and nifty idea, and far more on-point with the theme than a traditional wicker basket.
Avoid using terribly dirty, rusty, or warped cookware for this, as you still want to offer an aesthetically pleasing gift that has the potential to be reused.
Peruse the entire pantry collection from Mouth.com for tasty product inspiration.
This would be a fun housewarming gift idea for young homeowners – how cute!
5. Holiday Candy Holders
Get a little crafty during the holidays throughout the year, and paint your old pots with fun holiday colors and images.
You can use them to hold lots and lots of candy and treats!
But we also recommend this DIY project for other holidays, too.
You can also get the kids involved in the art project, and allow them to use a variety of paintbrushes and plenty of colorful paint to make a truly unique candy holder.
You might even have enough old pots and pans to host your own paint-and-sip party for the adults!
6. Kitchen and Home Decor
If you have an empty wall in your kitchen or dining area, beautify it with a gorgeous display of old cookware!
When the functionality of your pots and pans has faded, transform them from cooking vessels to beautiful decor.
Imagine an entire wall full of copper pots and pans or cast iron skillets – this is when you actually want them to rust or corrode to create a breathtaking color scheme that will naturally change as the years go on.
Consider purchasing Oropy’s wall-mounted 21-inch pot and pan rack, available on Amazon in a set of two. The iron pipe design and matte black finish offers an eclectic mix of modern and vintage style, a perfect accessory to hold/display your old pots and pans.
Oropy Wall-Mounted 21-Inch Pot and Pan Rack, set of two, available on Amazon
But don’t limit this type of decor to only your walls!
A large pot placed on a baker’s rack can hold spatulas, oven mitts, and wooden spoons, and other smaller pieces of cookware can be used throughout the house as displays for holding small decorations.
Smaller pots can also be kept under the sink to hold extra bottles of dishwashing liquid and sponges.
7. Photography Props
This one is for you, all my social media foodies…
If you love taking Instagram-worthy food pics or videos to share on TikTok, you know the importance of staging your photoshoot area!
Using old pots and pans as props will bring a weathered, antique look to your photoshoot.
You can position a simple stack of smaller pans in the background, or you can choose to feature a pot as the main vessel in which you’ll display your food.
And because the materials are more worn, you won’t be annoyed trying to work around the pesky shine and sheen when taking photos of new cookware.
Recycle for Years of Fun
Why throw something away when all it takes is a little creativity and some research to find a new and unexpected way to use it?
In the case of older pots and pans, you might be using these for years and years to come with one of our unique suggestions!
From camping trips to photography props, there’s an idea here for every home.
Do you have a fresh idea on how to repurpose old cookware? Tell us in the comment section below!
If you’re looking for other ways to run a clean, organized, and sustainable household, we have more tricks and trips to share with you from our list of how-to articles! Here is just a small taste of what you’ll find:
- How to Use the Whole Loaf of Bread, Including the Ends
- 9 Easy Ways to Be Less Wasteful in the Kitchen
- 15 of the Best Ways to Use Overripe Bananas (Besides Bread!)
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on November 11, 2014. Last updated on July 21, 2023. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photo via Amazon.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.