12 Surprising Ways to Reuse Aluminum Foil

By Jeff Yeager on 9 April 2010 (Updated 12 April 2010) 19 comments
Photo: iStock

Ever since the mandatory conversion to digital TV -- the proverbial death knell to rabbit ear television antennas -- I've wondered if aluminum foil sales have plummeted.

If you grew up with rabbit ears, you know what I'm talking about. Who didn't fashion aluminum foil into a homemade antennae appendage in hope of enhancing the reception of their rabbit ears? I was never convinced that it worked, but at least it gave us something to do, since we couldn't see what was happening on the screen.

Even with the demise of rabbit ears, aluminum foil sales are still big business. Over 1.3 billion pounds of aluminum foil is produced every year in the U.S. -- that's a heck of a lot of leftovers. While aluminum foil is just as recyclable as aluminum cans, many curbside recycling programs won't accept it for sanitary reasons (check with your local recycling program for their foil policy). That's a shame, because recycling aluminum uses only about 5% of the energy that it takes to produce aluminum from raw materials.

Alas, until aluminum foil recycling becomes more commonplace, here are some ways to get the most mileage -- and most value for your money -- from your aluminum foil by using it more than once:

Wash it and use it again (and again)

I swear my mother is still reusing foil from the time of Christ for wrapping and rewrapping leftovers in the fridge. Just wash it in soap and water, flatten it out with a rolling pin on the kitchen counter, and it's good as new. (Caution: Foil that has come in contact with raw meat should not be reused for other food purposes.)

Sharpen scissors and garden shears

Fold used foil so that it's six to eight layers thick, then cut thru it a few times with dull scissors to instantly sharpen them. To sharpen hefty garden and pruning shears, fold the foil so that it's even thicker.

Reduce static cling

I don't understand how it works, but if you throw a crumpled piece of aluminum foil into the clothes dryer, it seems to magically reduce static electricity. A true miracle of cheapskate science.

Shoe/boot forms

Wad up balls of old foil and stuff them into leather boots and shoes to help them keep their form when you're not wearing them.

Paint and plaster texture

Use crumpled up foil to add interesting texture to painting and plastering projects. Also when you're painting, old foil is handy for masking doorknobs and other fixtures you don't want painted, and wrapping your paintbrushes and rollers in during a lunch break.

Deter pets and other animals

For no apparent reason, our cat started using our fireplace instead of her liter box. We put a couple of sheets of used aluminum foil on the floor of the fireplace -- which cats, dogs, and other animals can't stand -- to break her of that bad habit. Hang strips of used foil on strings around the garden to deter birds, deer and other unwanted pests, too.

Protect young plants

Make a collar out of used foil to fit loosely around the stems of young tomato plants and other plant starts in order to keep cutworms and other insects at bay.

Make metals shine

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Scrub rust off of steel and chrome with a wad of aluminum foil instead of using steel wool -- it works even better. You can also use aluminum foil and simple household products like baking soda and salt to clean silver and gold, with the proper know-how.

Shim a table leg

Ball up some old foil for under the short leg of an uneven table to make it a level field once again.

Scrub grills and baked-on messes

A wad of used foil makes a great scouring pad for cleaning the gunk off BBQ grills and stuck-on food from pots, pans, and inside ovens.

Repair stripped threads

People often say that I have a screw loose. When I do have a nut, bolt or screw with stripped threads, I wrap a little aluminum foil around the bolt or screw and try gently tightening it again. A quick temporary fix.

And remember your 10th wedding anniversary

Lucky break for your wallet! Believe it or not, 10th wedding anniversaries are traditionally celebrated by exchanging gifts made of aluminum. What could be more romantic than a piece of homemade aluminum foil art?

When I was working on this piece I read that some folks recommend putting sheets of used foil on snowy sidewalks to help melt the ice faster and make shoveling easier. Well, I tried that this weekend at home and had no such luck. So I'm not sure about that one.

Now, if I could just find some creative ways to repurpose my old rabbit ears...

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

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Guest's picture
Christopher

I do sympathize with your situation. I read through about half of the comments, and did not see this point made, so I will go ahead and make it. You signed a contract. It sounds like you're still able to make the payments, but the numbers just do not fall in your favor. I really don't think a decision like that should be made based upon how it affects your credit score, or how it benefits you financially. If you are not able to make the payment, that would be much different.

I myself filed bankruptcy, about 16 years ago. I was convinced that I had no other option, but if I had it to do over again I would have struggled through it. Even 16 years later, I still regret it. My credit is good now, we purchased a fixer upper bank repo house, which is paid for, and own three older vehicles, which are also paid for. We are not completely out of debt, but only have about $9000 to go. My point is, it completely changed my opinion of borrowing and my life, for the better I think.

The best advice I could give, would be to volunteer to do submission or charity work in a Third World country, or volunteer to help Habitat for Humanity. You may even learn some things that would help you remodel your own home, or make the best use of your space. See how they live, and when you get back home you will feel like you have plenty of room. I have been in that situation before, where we just did not have enough room, but we made it through just fine.

I don't mean to sound too harsh, I lived in Colorado for 14 years, so I know that the cost of living there is pretty high. As a carpenter, who has built many homes in Colorado, I also know that a modest home can mean very different things to different people. Who knows, if you are to struggle through another year with this house, maybe things would be different. One last thing, if you haven't already, try doing some things to add value to the house. Things that mostly add "sweat equity", and that do not require a lot of money.

Andrea Karim's picture

Hm. I have a feeling that this comment must have been meant for a different article.

Guest's picture
notimpressed

Honestly, you guys must really be struggling.  The advice you give is so riduculous.  Who is going to hang used sheets of aluminum foil in their yeard?  Or crumple it to put in their leather shoes?  And aluminum art for your 10th anniversary?  I mean, you must have been up for days trying to complete this article and finally you just gave in and included that part just so you could finish the article.

I want to read this site for useful information, not far-fetched, 100% unrealistic nonsense that people put together just to sumbit an article to be posted on this website.  I would rather read a shorter article with valid points than one with made up things just to have a longer article.

Guest's picture
Thorolf

Not Impressed with NOTIMPRESSED
It must be nice to be so close to Godhood that you can tell people what they will or will not do!
"Who is going to hang used sheets of aluminum foil in their yeard?"
Obviously you have never spent an entire back-breaking week tilling, planting and cultivating a garden, just to see it get devoured in one night by hungry rabbits and deer. To say nothing of the extra work and expense of replanting or loss of valuable food for the table and freezer! I know MANY people who would be MORE than willing to try something like this if it stands a chance of safeguarding their garden, ESPECIALLY when it is something that can be tried for Free, using an item that was going to be thrown away!
You also could Really benefit from a visit to a Farm Supply store or large garden shop! You will find items there called "Spinners." The look exactly like a 2 foot long by 2 inch wide stip of foil twisted into a helical shape. They are bright and reflective, and made to hang loosely flutterring and twisting in the breeze. Many people mistake them for pure decoration, but they are , in fact, made to frighten animals away from your garden plants. And these items are being SOLD for cold hard cash! Gee, that sort of sounds like the use for used foil described above, doesn't it?! Except for the part about paying for it with cold hard cash, of course....
Why don't you go back to reading the Wall Street Journal, and let the WORKING people here decide FOR THEMSELVES what they will and won't try. I'm sure you don't bother or NEED to raise your own food, so keep your snobby comments to yourself!

Guest's picture
Guest

Uh, how are rabbit ears dead?

The tuner needed to receive the new digital signals was changed, not the antennas.

Sure, there are the new 4bay and 8bay antennas, but despite what your cable/satellite co. may tell you, that old antenna on your roof or tv can still pick up the digital signals.

And speaking of tinfoil, you can use it to augment a homemade gray hoverman antenna and continue to get the same free over the air channels, and more. Just do a google search.

Guest's picture
blue

actually, we bought a new set of rabbit ears for one tv just because of the conversion, and have used a ton more foil on them now than before.

because you still need to get a strong analog signal to be converted. and where you could put up with a little bit of fuzz in your picture before, with digital its all or nothing... so we lost a lot of channels that were ok but not perfect before but then turned unwatchable. 

but, being that its a kids room tv.... im not going to spend a fortune on something that looks like starship enterprise just for them to watch cartoons.

Guest's picture
Guest

@blue, the new antennas are not that expensive. I paid $35 for a new post-conversion antenna on e-bay after determining that reception was inadequate with either the rooftop antenna or rabbit ears.

And to the person who scoffed at the anniversary gift, the most romantic gift my husband gave me was made of post-it notes.

Guest's picture
Colin

"(Caution: Foil that has come in contact with raw meat should not be reused for other food purposes.)"

 

Why?

Guest's picture
2bits

I think that will spread bacteria Colin.  FDA:

"Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We call this cross-contamination."

 

Guest's picture
barb

Nice tips I love foil!  I know you were kidding when you see repurpose your rabbit ears. But you can decorate them up as a craft project with ribbon all the way up & down to cover. Then use them for clip earring holders.

Guest's picture
MikeC

I just twist the aluminum foil into a long stick shape and shove into cans that are being recycled.

Guest's picture
Tabtha

We still use rabbit ears but now they plug into our converter box.

Guest's picture
Guest

Make yourself a hat!

Guest's picture
fairydust

I swear my mother is still reusing foil from the time of Christ for wrapping and rewrapping leftovers in the fridge.

Not entirely sure why, but this made me laugh so hard. Thanks!! I need all the laughs I can get on a Monday.

Guest's picture
Alexis

I never would have guessed that foil would clean all the gunk off of my bbq grill...not just the racks but that drip pans & everything! Anything helps, any money saving tip helps.....THANKS!

Guest's picture
Olivia

Our cats all loved playing with a wad of foil on a string that we'd dangle or drag along and let them jump at. (The ones without string ended up in odd places.)

I reuse foil too, but I think I should start buying the heavy duty stuff next box, as it may hold up better.

Thanks.

Guest's picture

Rabbit ears live!

There's nothing wrong with reusing tinfoil after it's wrapped meat if you wash it thoroughly with dish detergent and hot water. By that line of thinking, you'd have to throw out every dish that ever touched raw meat, too.

Tinfoil makes a great impromptu "pan" for grilling veggies with steak. Tightly wrap asparagus, summer squash, broccoli, or the like--add a little olive oil and flavorings, as desired--and set on the grill near the meat. If you can put if off the direct heat it's less likely to scorch. Tastes great and doesn't use any energy from the stove.

Guest's picture

Rabbit ears live!

There's nothing wrong with reusing tinfoil after it's wrapped meat if you wash it thoroughly with dish detergent and hot water. By that line of thinking, you'd have to throw out every dish that ever touched raw meat, too.

Tinfoil makes a great impromptu "pan" for grilling veggies with steak. Tightly wrap asparagus, summer squash, broccoli, or the like--add a little olive oil and flavorings, as desired--and set on the grill near the meat. If you can put if off the direct heat it's less likely to scorch. Tastes great and doesn't use any energy from the stove.

Guest's picture

I thought these tips were great!  I actually tried the ball in the dryer (along with some felted wool balls I'd made) and it seemed to help.  (Please note that my clothesline came crashing down recently, otherwise our clothes would be hanging in the breeze!)  I linked to this on my weekly link roundup a while back, the post is under my name.  Thanks!!