How To Make Money Picking Up Scrap Metal
A little bit of work and the right tools can help you earn some extra money.  Sound like a good idea?  We think so. 


You've probably heard about selling scrap metal. Perhaps from someone looking to take old auto parts, aluminum cans, or something else off your hands, or maybe it was a friend or relative. You may have questioned their actions; is it really worthwhile? The answer is a resounding yes!


In order to make money selling scrap metal, you’ll need information. Knowledge is power and a little can go a long way.

Types of Scrap Metal

First, you will want to know the major categories of scrap metal and which ones are most valuable. In truth, all scrap metal has substantial value but that value is often less than the value of your labor and resources (time, fuel, equipment, etc.). 

A major value consideration is whether the metal in question is ferrous (iron-based), which includes cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, tool steels, nickel alloys and more;or non-ferrous (metals and alloys that do not contain iron, which include: copper, brass, bronze, gold, silver aluminum, etc.). With the exception of certain stainless steels and nickel alloys (which contain high nickel or chromium levels) ferrous metals are worth less than non-ferrous metals in the recycling market.

The majority of scrap metal you will find is ferrous but the value varies substantially. Home appliances and motor vehicles, despite having mixed metal content, would be considered a low-value ferrous metal at a scrap yard. Specifically, most scrap yards consider these types of mixed-content metals to be “shredder steel”, a category that usually pays in the range of $200 per ton ($0.10/pound). But not all ferrous metals are worth this little. Stainless steel, for example, can be worth five times as much. 

Pure, non-ferrous metals including copper, tin, and aluminum can be worth even more. Aluminum cans are one of the most plentiful non-ferrous items and have a current value of around $0.55/pound. Other common recycling metals (radiators, heat exchangers, aluminum engine blocks) may range between $0.25-$2.00/pound. Semi-precious and precious metals are worth far, far more.

What You Need To Test Scrap Metal

The beauty of collecting and selling scrap metal is that you don’t need much to get started.  In fact, all you really need to start is a strong magnet.

A key test for ferrous content is the magnet test. Almost all ferrous metal, with the exception of a few stainless and nickel steels, is magnetic. None of the non-ferrous metals are magnetic. So put that knowledge together with the values observed earlier on and we can conclude: All non-magnetic metals have substantial value at the scrap yard. The magnetic metals have value, too, so don't overlook them. But it is critical to sort the metals as best you can before heading to the scrap yard and know as much about each 'pile' you have made. Even a pickup truck full of mixed metals may be worth as little as $50, but just a couple of buckets of copper or brass solids can be worth multiple hundreds of dollars. As a quick example, used iron pipe fittings and used brass pipe fittings will look identical if they have been painted. A scrap yard may not notice (or might notice and not tell you) that the fittings you are turning in are brass. You could lose big money. However, just showing them that the fittings do not respond to a strong magnet is proof they are not iron.

You will want to have a magnet that is as strong as possible, but also as portable as you need. Rare Earth (neodymium) magnets tend to be very strong and the highest grade is known as N52. These magnets, by themselves, are very fragile. So we sell a complete range of test magnets where the fragile neodymium magnet is encased in solid metal.

One more note: If you know the types of metal you plan to recycle, don't be shy about calling the different scrap yards to see what they pay for the categories you have. It can vary substantially.


How to Find Scrap Metal

Access is key. Luckily, you have lots of options. Consider some of the ideas below:

Bulk Pick Up: Lots of cities have days allocated for bulk garbage pick-up. This is a scrap metal treasure chest.  People throw out old appliances, doorknobs, plumbing fixtures, pipes, wires, and more. Often it’s out on the curb and free for the taking.  Please be aware that some municipalities actually forbid taking anything out of a curb-side recycling bin. These cities and counties are also counting on the value of certain household recyclables. Namely, aluminum cans.

  • Word of Mouth: Talk to your family and friends, and ask them to spread the word. Let them know you’d be happy to pick up items they may no longer want. It is likely they will be thrilled to have an easy way to dispose of them.
  • Social Media/Internet: People are constantly moving, redecorating, and renovating. They often post items online, free, for local pick up. Regularly check websites like Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor, Craig’s List, and OfferUp. 

Remember, Sorting is Key

As mentioned above, lumping all of your scrap metal together in one location isn’t wise. You will want to separate it by type. Remember, the value of each metal is different and you want to be sure you are paid appropriately.

In addition to separating ferrous and non-ferrous metals (by using your magnet), you want to segment them even further. For example, aluminum, brass, and copper are all non-ferrous, but you want to keep and sell them separately. If you don't know much yet about the various metals, sort the non-magnetic pile into metal colors or textures. Even this modest step can be very profitable.


Who Buys Scrap Metal?

The best place to sell your scrap metal is, not surprisingly, scrap yards. There are often multiple scrapyard businesses in and around any location. Take some time to contact them to understand both their prices, how they want the product delivered, and their payment practices. Choose the one that best meets your needs.

Speaking of payment, you are likely wondering how much you can actually make. While the figures vary depending upon where you live, how much you can collect and the type of metals you find, scrappers have been known to make $100 a day on plain salvage steel. The non-ferrous and stainless categories can net much more.

If you are looking to make some extra money, picking up scrap metal may be an excellent option.  Take some time and do some research to identify the best opportunities in your neighborhood.

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