How to Recycle Old Pots and Pans

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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.

Vertical image of used assorted cooking equipment, with text in the middle and on the bottom of the image.

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!

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!

Horizontal image of preparing a meal over an open flame.

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.

Horizontal image of a child playing drums on cooking tools.

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!

3. Donations

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.

Horizontal image of a scene of a shelter distributing food.

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!

Horizontal image of a gift basket with food items.

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.

Line the pot with pretty dish towels and arrange cookbooks, small kitchen utensils, and shelf-stable pantry items like pastas, jarred spreads or sauces, and spice blends inside.

Peruse the entire pantry collection from 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.

Horizontal image of a woman handing out candy to a group of children during Halloween.

You can use them to hold lots and lots of candy and treats!

This is a great idea particularly for Halloween, when you can fill big pots with candy for all the trick-or-treaters visiting your home.

But we also recommend this DIY project for other holidays, too.

You’ll love this idea when you want to give away jelly beans and chocolates during Easter, or candy canes and individually packed homemade chocolate chip cookies during Christmas.

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!

Vertical image of a wooden wall display with vintage copper cooking utensils.

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…

Horizontal image of a woman taking a picture of a food scene in front of a window.

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?

Horizontal image of a wall display with rows of hanging vintage cooking utensils.

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:

© 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.

18 thoughts on “How to Recycle Old Pots and Pans”

  1. My husband just bought me a brand new pots and pans set for my birthday. I have had them sitting in the corner as I wonder what to do with them now that I don’t need them! Your post has given me many great ideas and also encourages our family to take a camping trip in the spring! Awesome post!

  2. If you have some grimy cast iron, don’t toss it out. If you have a self-cleaning oven, you can toss your cast iron in there through that cleaning cycle. Once it is done, the crud will just fall off as ash. You still have to clean off the ash and then start a seasoning process, but it will be as good as new.

  3. The pots we use for camping often end up being out bowls (metal or aluminium, not sure which), it makes for convenience. But I love the idea of using pots as a gift basket! Especially for someone who is arriving and might not have all the cooking essentials. I expect that we could also donate to colleges or university with a campus and foreign students coming. A pot is not usually what is given priority in a suitcase!

  4. Seeing this article was really brilliant timing for me, since I just purchased a whole new set of cookware. I’ve been wondering what to do with the old pots and pans. Some of them I had resolved myself just needed to be thrown out because they really are in such poor shape, but now I see there are other options. Some of those can be given to my kids to play with and maybe used for Halloween Candy. The nicer ones I was planning to donate, but now I might see if there is some way they can be used to decorate my kitchen. Thanks for the super useful tips!

  5. We have just enough cooking stuff I guess you could say. 1 large pot, 2 small pots, 1 frying pan and 2 roasting pans and cookie sheets. They are very old, pretty sure the big pot is from the early 1980s and still going. I like the idea of giving the old ones to your kids for a play kitchen or donating, I would for sure if I could.

  6. I tend to “relegate” old pots and pans. I take the handles off and use them as utensil holders, paint kettles, storage for fiddly little items like nails and screws and even drill holes in the bottom so they can be used as plant pots. I also take them on camping trips too – it doesn’t matter if they get burnt or otherwise wrecked.

  7. I like having old pots, and pans that belong to my relatives that have passed away. Especially if I can remember them cooking with it when I was a child. By in the day people really thought a lot of their kitchen tools. No to mention the fact that it was made to last. I still cook with the same pots, and pans they cooked with 30 years ago.

    • I am going through my mother’s cookware now. Memories and tears.
      So many unused items she hoarded.
      Now my family is grown and I wonder how helpful it would have been to have them then. I plan to repurpose and cook more. Just wish I could turn back the clock to make her happier if I could

  8. I do think donating your old pots and pans is the way to go. If you already have the new ones to replace the old ones, keeping both sets in the house will just give you unnecessary clutter and make you look like a hoarder. Remember, always throw out the stuff you don’t need. Space is precious, and a tidy, spacious house is a beautiful house.

  9. These are some great ideas. Some of these items will also work as planters for plants and flowers (the ones that aren’t real tall). I love finding new ways to use things.

    I have a couple items that I think I’ll set aside for my grandbaby to “cook” with when she’s here. She loves to help.

  10. I was about to throw out some pots… really contemplating, am grateful to have stumbled onto this article, am definitely putting to work one or two tips written above…although i really see myself donating them to church… i definitely need the blessings that will follow 🙂 .

  11. These are some great ideas for repurposing old cookware. I definitely wouldn’t want to take my good pots and pans camping, although I have a few that might be designated for that purpose when I am able to replace them. I’m sure every area is different, but most have ‘life skills’ classes for students with challenges, and these classes often involve simple cooking tasks, so they might appreciate a donation. Also, I often donate my items to Freecycle and/or Trash Nothing.

  12. And here I was not knowing what to do with my old pots and pans, this actually is pretty helpful! I never thought of recycling them, didn’t think the material was that useful. I used to just donate my old cookware to friends or people in need.

  13. Here I was thinking I was the only person that uses an old pot as a Halloween bowl. The first time I did this, my husband thought it was tacky and he wanted to go out an buy something nicer. I was tempted to let him do it, but I was like, what’s wrong with my pan…it doesn’t cost anything to use…and besides, the kids don’t care that their candy is coming out of a pot instead of a bowl.

  14. These are great suggestions. We have been slowly weeding out our old pots – especially the ones that probably aren’t safe to cook with anymore. I never thought to give them to the kids. Perhaps I will set up an outdoor kitchen next to the sand box. Then the old cookware can double as sand toys!

  15. My grandmother used to use her as kinda an outer flowerpot for many of her herbs and stuff that was growing in the kitchen. As you mentioned, it makes not only a neat decoration, but allowed her I guess to use cheap, ugly flowerpots inside that were hidden.

    I like the women´s shelter or even salvation army type donations. For many of us that have been cooking and accumulating gear over the course of our adult life, it is probably tough to remember starting out with a new kitchen and having to buy a lot of stuff at the same time. Giving someone some really cheap or free stuff really can give them a jumpstart.

  16. We are planning on getting new cookware. I may be a great option to gift our old set to my younger sister, who will be moving out on her own soon. Another possible option for using old pots could be to use them as planters for herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, etc.


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