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How to Upcycle Empty Paint Cans: DIY Planter

Tutorial written by Charlie Miller for Upcycle My Stuff.

I have a closet full of empty paint cans that I don’t know what to do with – you know the ones that have a tiny bit of paint left that you think you should keep just in case, but then you keep them too long and the paint goes all hard with a film on top and you aren’t realistically going to use it anyway? – ya tons of them.

Instead of just disposing of them, I plan on experimenting with a few upcycling ideas.

The first is to make a couple of paint can planters for my outside patio.

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Materials Needed – Paint Can Planter

  • Empty paint can (I used two)
  • Scouring pad
  • Spray paint or chalk paint
  • Mod Podge
  • Clear finishing varnish or gloss
  • Drop cloth
  • Paint brush
  • Drill

There is a printable How to Card including materials and instructions at the end of this post – if you don’t want to print it you can also save it to Pinterest for future reference.

Step 1: Clean out your Empty Paint Can

The first step is cleaning the paint can.

Even if you used up the whole can for your painting project there will still be paint dried up along the sides and bottom of your paint can, it’s just inevitable.

empty paint can

If your paint can is really old this step can be very easy as old dried paint often peels off in large pieces. I used a scouring pad for the dried on bits.

Get as much of the paint out as you can to avoid adding chemicals to your plant’s soil, but also don’t stress if you can’t get it all.

Obviously, if you are going to grow something you consume in your paint can, like a vegetable, you will want to make sure it is very clean, but if you are going to grow flowers or a leafy plant for decoration it isn’t as crucial to get it 100% spotless, a little bit of residual paint shouldn’t kill your plant.

After you have tried the peeling and scouring method, if there is still paint leftover, try some hot water just off the boil to loosen it all up and scrub out the remaining paint remnants.

Step 2: Create Drainage in your Planter

Any planter needs some drainage.

To accomplish this in my paint can I drilled 4 small holes around the bottom. I don’t have any science as to whether it should be 2 holes or 6 holes, I just put a few in different places around the bottom to ensure water wasn’t going to pool up in one spot and not drain out.

I just used my everyday drill and a medium sized drill bit.

Step 3: Paint your Paint Can!

painting an empty paint can

Once your empty paint can is truly empty (and clean), you can move on to the next step, which is to paint the can.

Lay down a drop cloth so you don’t make a mess and paint your can the colour of your choice, but don’t paint the inside.

I had some leftover matte black spray paint that I used so I could get rid of that from my cupboard as well.

Using spray paint is definitely the easiest option for this but you could use chalk paint or another type of paint you have to hand that needs used up as well.

Step 4: Decorate your Paint Can

This next step is the fun bit. You can pick whatever you like as decoration for your paint can planter and use modge podge to affix it to your paint can.

I decided to keep it botanical so I used leaves and clovers from my garden. You could also use petals from flowers. I just picked a leaf and put it on with mod podge using my fingers.

You could really use lots of things for the decoration but I liked the idea of the botanical decoration.

The image above is a picture of my paint can as the mod podge was drying.

Because I picked the leaves and put them on right away they are green here but they will brown over time, the mod podge won’t magically retain the colour, unfortunately.

how to upcycle empty paint cans

With the round shape of the can I found it easier to work on one side and let it dry then work on the other side.

I was working on this project in the late fall and learned that mod podge doesn’t dry well when left overnight outside in cold temperatures!!

The mod podge dries white in the cold (who knew?). I was able to salvage my project by pouring hot water over the affected area which mostly cleared up the white bits, you can see some remanence of it on the pot with the clover leaves below.

You can avoid this issue if you have a well-ventilated spot indoors that your mod podge can dry out before you move on to the next step.

DIY planters from empty paint cans

Step 5: Varnish your Paint Can

The last step is to apply a finishing varnish or gloss to seal and cover your work. The pot will inevitably get wet when being watered so you want to make sure your decoration is protected.

And yes, mod podge is a sealant, but for something that is going to live outside all year round, you really need some added protection.

Because paint cans are metal, they can rust, so don’t leave your paint can planter outside in an uncovered spot. I have mine outside under an awning.

The water used to water your plant will be minimal and applied mostly to the soil so it shouldn’t cause much rust.

I recommend adding the finishing varnish or gloss to the ridges around the top of the paint can to prevent rust on that spot.

empty paint cans to decorative planters


DIY planter from an empty paint can

And these are the finished products, two DIY paint can planters – saved from the landfill and growing new life!

DIY planter from an empty paint can

How to Upcycle Empty Paint Cans : DIY Planter

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Active Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: 5

Save your empty paint cans from disposal and upcycle them into decorative planters using leaves or petals.




  1. Clean out your empty paint can of as much paint residue as possible.
  2. Drill holes in the bottom of your can for drainage.
  3. Paint the exterior of your paint can the colour of your choice.
  4. Once dry, apply leaves or petals as decoration, using Mod Podge to seal.
  5. Use clear Varnish to protect your paint can planter from rust.
  6. Add your soil and plant!

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Are you looking for more upcycling ideas for your garden?

Check out our list of Summer Upcycle Projects that you can get cracking on any time of year to get you ready when summer rolls around!

You can also find our simple Boot Planter DIY Tutorial here. A classic Upcycle if ever there was one!

If you liked it, Pin it to your Trash to Treasure or DIY Planters Board!

DIY planters made from empty paint cans

Tutorial written by Charlie Miller for Upcycle My Stuff.

Other Posts you might like:

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Repurposing Junk to make an Outdoor Side Table

10 Projects Made from Rubbish that you will actually want to keep

What is Upcycling & What can you Upcycle?

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What is Upcycling & What can you Upcycle? - Upcycle My Stuff

Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

[…] Upcycle an empty metal paint can into a planter. […]

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Thursday 23rd of April 2020

[…] Photo: Upcycle My Stuff […]

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[…] How to Upcycle Empty Paint Cans: DIY Planter […]

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Sunday 12th of April 2020

[…] How to Upcycle Empty Paint Cans: DIY Planter […]

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Wednesday 8th of April 2020

[…] When decorating any space, you can’t go wrong with fresh flowers and this tin can upcycle, is a great way to display them inside your home. I only wish that I could have fresh flowers year-round but I have yet to find a plant that thrives in my home and blooms pretty flowers simultaneously. The next best thing, in my opinion, is displaying a bright green plant with attractive foliage and this upcycle can be done using an empty paint can.  […]

Kristen Hubert

Thursday 9th of April 2020

You should try succulents. They are easy to grow - they don't all 'bloom', but they still add a lovely hint of green to your decor!

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