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How To Make Money With Scrap Metal

Do you ever see the trucks hauling old barbecues and metal around on garbage day and wonder how to make money with scrap metal yourself? 

In my neighbourhood, scrap metal is a booming business around garbage day with tons of pick-up trucks running around collecting anything metal that has been put out. 

If you fancy making some money on the side with this lucrative hobby, read on for all the details. It’s easy to get started and even easier to make money. 

how to make money with scrap metal

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How To Make Money With Scrap Metal

Millions of dollars’ worth of scrap metal are shipped from the U.S. to China on a daily basis.

The scrap metal market is booming as emerging countries need to sustain their rapid industrialization and more developed countries produce tons of trash that can be recycled.

The Chinese market is only a small portion of the scrap metal market. Huge quantities of metal are needed by a wide range of industries all over the world.

Can I Make Money From Scrap Metal?

Absolutely! This is a side hustle that requires no skill once you have learned to recognize the different metals. Anyone can start making money with scrap metal. 

The nice thing about collecting and selling scrap metal is that you can generate an income on your own terms.

You can work whenever you want and make money by selling the scrap metal once you’ve collected enough.

What Do You Need To Make Money From Scrap Metal?

The nice thing about this side hustle is that you hardly need anything to get started.

If you already own a pick-up truck or some kind of large vehicle, you can get started today. 

You will need:

A Pick-Up Truck/Van or Large Car

Although you can collect scrap metal however you like, a pick-up truck will make life easier. You can go round the streets tossing any metal items in the back and gather a bunch of stuff quickly. 

By the way, if you do own a truck, there are lots of other ways to make money with a pick up truck and a trailer. 

A Good Quality Magnet

This is a must. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on a high-tech gadget, a pocket sized magnet like this one will be perfect. 

You need a magnet in order to distinguish ferrous from nonferrous metals (more on that below).

Ferrous metals contain iron and most ferrous metals are magnetic. 

How Much Money Can You Make Selling Scrap Metal?

This really depends on how much scrap metal you collect and the kinds of metal you sell.

It is not unheard of to make $500+ a day with a good scrap metal business. 

Here are the current scrap metal prices in California to give you an idea:

Type of Scrap Metal

Copper $0.14 to $2.25 per lb

Copper Wire $0.30 to $1.50 per lb

Aluminum $0.04 to $0.92 per lb

Aluminum Cans $0.42 to $0.55 per lb

Brass $0.50 to $1.45 per lb

Stainless Steel $0.17 to $0.57 per lb

Iron$0.02 to $0.05 per lb

Lead$0.09 to $0.68 per lb

What Is The Most Profitable Scrap Metal?

Not all metals are created equally. Looking for the most profitable scrap metal objects will help you make money faster. 

 Learn to recognize different types of  metals. It will be easier to quickly tell the value of a metal at a glance as you gain more experience.

Here are the most profitable scrap metals (and the least profitable):

Non-ferrous metals

Non-ferrous metals are by far the most profitable. The way to tell if a metal is ferrous or not is that a magnet will not stick to non-ferrous metals. 

This is the metal you want to be looking for when you go around searching for scrap metal. 

Although ferrous metals can get you some money, non-ferrous metals are usually worth a lot more money so you will need less of them to make some good cash. 

The bulk of your money will come from non-ferrous metals.

Scrap Metal List -What is the best thing to scrap for money?

Copper

Copper is easy to identify by its reddish, brown, or green color if the metal is not in good condition. You may find pipes made out of copper. 

Found In: Pipes, Wiring, circuit boards. Refrigerator and AC unit parts. 

Aluminum

Aluminum (or aluminium for those in the UK) is a white or silver metal that bends very easily. It is one of the most common metals you might find for selling for scrap metal.  Many household and industrial items are made with aluminum. 

You have probably seen people searching through trash for old soda cans – those are made of aluminum but they are light so it takes a lot of them to really make money. 

How many aluminum cans does it take to make $100?

30 Aluminum drink cans weight approx. a pound. 

According to the current scrap metal prices in California,  you can get around 0.44-0.52 a pound for aluminum cans. 

This means that you would need about 6000 cans to make $100. 

Common Aluminum/aluminium Items: Drink cans, window frames, car frames, wheelchairs, airplane parts

Brass

Brass is is an alloy made with copper and zinc. It is very heavy metal with a yellow color and a slight red tint in some areas.

You probably know brass from musical instruments like trumpets and trombones. 

Brass is found in: Doorknobs and faucets,  pipe fittings, bullet casings and light fixtures.

Lead

Lead used to be used in pipes. It is very heavy, surprisingly so. 

You will find lead in car batteries, ammunition, cable sheathing, weights for lifting and for containers that store corrosive materials. 

Stainless Steel

This can be confusing because steel is a ferrous metal but stainless steel is considered nonferrous metal. Stainless steel fetches a much higher price than regular steel on the scrap market. 

The reason is that it contains nickel which makes it more valuable. 

Stainless Steel is found in: Cutlery (flatware) and kitchen appliances. 

Ferrous metals

Ferrous metals are easy to recognize because a magnet will stick to them.

They aren’t worth as much as non-ferrous metals, but it’s possible to make money if you have large quantities.

They are often more common and easier to find so you probably don’t want to discount them completely. 

Ferrous metals include:

Steel

Unlike stainless steel, regular steel will attract a magnet. Steel rusts and produces long yellow sparks when a grinder is used on the metal.

Common Uses For Steel: Structural materials – steel beams, braces – used for construction of homes and things like bridges. Automative parts. Household appliances like washing machines. 

Iron and Cast Iron

Iron rusts easily.  It is also the most common metal you will find.  In fact, 90% of all metal that is refined today is iron.

 Most  iron is used to manufacture steel and used for building structures and manufacturing.

Where Can You Find Scrap Metal For Free? 

There are a ton of places to find free scrap metal. It’s important to source all of these places as otherwise you are eating into your profit margin before you even start. 

Now you know the kinds of metal to look for, where can you find scrap metal to make money? 

The best places to source scrap metal will depend on where you live and how competitive the area is.

It might take you some time to find a great routine or where the hidden treasures are in your area. 

8 Places To Find Free Scrap Metal To Sell

1. Look Around Your Home

Start small. Look around your house and see what you can get rid of. 

There is plenty of metal to scrap around the average home. Go through your belongings to get rid of things you no longer need and offer to do the same for friends and relatives.

Common Household Items that contain scrap metal:

The following are often made from either aluminum or brass/copper:

  • Plumbing pipes
  • Door handles
  • Light Fixtures
  • Bathroom fixtures
  • Household appliances
  • Electronics
  • HVAC units and parts
  • Siding
  • Roofing
  • Gutters

2. Local Businesses

Offer to help local businesses get rid of bulky items. It worth creating business cards to drop around so they can bear you in mind whenever something comes up. 

Steel companies and factories have scrap metal that needs to be hauled or some equipment and machines they no longer use.
Farmers might have unwanted tools, equipment, or vehicles they want to scrap. 
Construction companies often end up with unused materials. Some local construction companies appreciate the help in getting rid of these materials.

3. Thrift Stores

Thrift stores and charities often receive donations such as household appliances and electronics. Oftentimes these don’t work or don’t sell. 

You might be able to cash in on these items by offering to do a regular pick-up for disposal. 

4. Garbage Day

In my area, the night before garbage day is full of pick-up trucks going around picking up scrap metal items from the curb. 

Our city garbage won’t take any metal items or even items with metal so people put their used BBQs and furniture out for the scrap metal guys. 

In some areas it is illegal to take things from the curb but most times homeowners will put a free sign on the items so you know they are ok to take. 

It’s a win-win. Residents get rid of their unwanted trash for free and the scrappers made money. 

Look up which days are garbage days in your city and neighbouring areas and start a routine of going around the night before to collect scrap metal. 

Quick side note – If you like going around on junk day and finding curbside treasures, you should check out my post on How To Make Money Flipping Items. 

5. Network

Everyone has junk they no longer need in their house, basement, or garage, and offering to haul it off is a valuable service.
Advertise your services on local neighborhood Facebook groups and NextDoor sites.

You will be surprised how many people need someone to get rid of their appliances and metal junk. 

Contact local churches and groups and offer your services to anyone wanting to get rid of their old metal items. If you offer to remove them from the home or garden, you will have even more luck. 

6. Craiglist or Gumtree

The free section of  Craigist, Kijiji or Gumtree can be a goldmine. If you do a google search for “scrap metal free pick up” those ads are what comes up first. 

Here is an example of an ad I found:

how to sell scrap metal for money

You will probably come across people wanting to give away appliances and other items you could scrap because they no longer have any use or room for these items.

7. Advertise Your Services

 Introduce yourself to your neighbors and let them know you can help them get rid of unwanted junk.

Make some cheap business cards on Vistaprint or at Staples.

Hand them out to local stores and business and let them know to get in touch if they need you. 

You can also put a magnet advert on your car with your number so that people know who to call. 

8. Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving can be a good way to find items to scrap.

Although it is legal, some cities and townships have local ordinances against this practice. Also make sure to ask for permission before entering any private properties (eg. the back of stores). 

How To Sell Scrap Metal

Once you have collected all your metal, there are few things to consider:

Sort Your Scrap Metal

Another thing to do when you are getting ready to sell your scrap metal is to sort it out by type. This will make it much easier to sell. 

Storing Your Scrap Metal

Unless you are planning on selling the metal you find right away, you will need to consider storage.

Some metals are valuable enough to attract the attention of thieves, which is why scrap metal should be stored in a safe place that can be locked. You also want to prevent rust and corrosion. 

Cleaning Scrap Metal

This isn’t polishing your metal so it shines like glass. Cleaning scrap metal involves getting rid of any other materials. 

You will get more money for metal that is free of any other materials v metal that is contaminated with other metals or plastic etc. 

To give you an idea how this works, take the example of copper which is a very profitable metal to sell for scrap. 

There are three types of copper you might find:

#2 Copper

This grade of copper can be identified by its somewhat dirty appearance.  It may still have paint or soldering on it.  Additionally, its minimum copper content should be 94-96%. 

#1 Copper

#1 copper is the second most profitable type to trade in.  To be classified as #1, the copper should also be clean in appearance, unalloyed and uncoated.

The most valuable type of copper pipe may qualify as #1 copper as long as it is free of fittings, insulation, paint, solder and other materials.

Bare Bright Copper

Bare bright copper is the most profitable type of copper you want to find. Junkyards will pay well for this kind of copper. 

Bare bright copper is bare, uncoated and unalloyed wire or cable  of #1 copper quality. There should be no traces of paint or anything on this copper. 

Talking of copper, one way to make a lot of money is with copper wiring, here are my tips:

Make Money With Insulated Copper Wires

Copper is one of the most valuable metals you can scrap and it is used to make cables in most appliances and electronics.

If you take the time to strip cables so you can sell the copper as #1 copper instead of #2. 

The only downside is that stripping copper wire can be very time consuming all depending on the type of equipment you are using.

Most recycling yards have professional machines that are designed to strip large quantity of wires in the shortest period of time. You may find that the extra money is not worth the time. 

Popular Items That Contain Copper Wires:

  • Desktop computer towers
  • laptops
  • TVs
  • Monitors
  • Radios
  • DVD players, and VCRs.
  • Appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, washers, and dryers.
  • Smaller appliances like toasters, blenders, coffee makers, and fans.
  • Small electronics that need to be charged, such as iPods, cameras, cell phones, or handheld gaming devices. 

How To Strip Cables For Copper Wires

  1. Cut the wires or cables from the electronics or appliances and leave them in the sun. Heat will make the cables easier to strip, but it is unsafe to expose insulated copper wires to a direct source of heat.
  2. You can strip wires and cables by cutting around the copper with a razor or by using a tabletop wire stripper.
  3. Make sure that you have removed all traces of plastic from the wire. 

Where To Sell Scrap Metal For Cash

Scrap yards and recycling centers are the best places to sell scrap metal.

Most places will pay you by the pound. 

Some may purchase appliances and electronics you did not strip since these items can sometimes be fixed and recycled.

Getting paid by the pound means it is worth focusing on the most valuable metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum.

The prices offered for scrap metal can vary from one area to another and it might be worthwhile for you to drive a little further to sell what you collected.

How I Make Money For Scrap Metal Near Me

I  can use the iscrap app to find the current prices of scrap metal yards near me. It gives you up to date information and a list of junkyards in your area. 

Another thing I do is to call as many local junkyards as I can to request their current scrap metal prices per pound and go to the one offering the best prices. Sometimes it is a bit of a drive but the extra profit is worth it. 

It helps to build a good relationship with the owners of local junk yards, scrap yards, and recycling centers. That way you can find out what kinds of metal they are looking for.

How To Sell Scrap Metal  – Tops Tips

Safety First

Make sure to wear gloves when handling metal as edges can be sharp and rusty. If you get spiked or jabbed with rusty metal, you should visit your doctor for a tetanus shot. 

You should wear gloves when stripping cables and wires too.

Stay Legal

Don’t look for scrap metal on private property, abandoned houses, or abandoned factories as tempting as it can be. You can get cited for trespassing and even theft. 

Don’t Dump

Don’t throw away scrap metal that is worthless to you. Take it to a recycling center or a junk yard to ensure it is properly disposed. 

Get Receipts

Obviously this doesn’t apply to items picked up on the curb but it is always a good idea to get receipts or written permission when collecting scrap metal.

The scrap yard owner might ask about the origin of the items you bring to make sure they are not stolen. 

If you are hauling construction materials or equipment that came from a factory, cover yourself by getting written permission.  

Final Thoughts On Making Money Selling Scrap Metal

Hauling and selling scrap metal can be physically demanding, but this activity is an ideal way to generate an additional income if you have a truck or a trailer and aren’t afraid of hard work.

It’s important to learn to recognize the metals that are worth hauling and to identify the objects you’ll be able to sell. Recognizing valuable metals, appliances, and other objects will become much easier as you gain experience.

Besides making money, you’ll be helping local residents and businesses get rid of unwanted junk. And since the scrap metal you sell will be recycled, this activity is a great way to help preserve the environment.

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