Looking to add scrapping metal to your job description (either as a full-time gig or as a side hustle)? You’ve stumbled upon the ultimate field guide to scrap metal for cash.
Scrapping metal for extra cash as a “hobby” can pay for travel, boost your monthly cash flow, and even take over your truck’s monthly car payment.
But cashing in scrap metal can also morph into a full-time gig, if you’d like.
I first got interested in the subject as a college senior, when I wrote my thesis on the handling and recycling of electronic waste (e-waste) in third world countries.
Then I became way more interested after seeing my brother-in-law fill his truck up with metal junk on big trash day in the neighborhood, and drop it off at a scrap yard for $100.
So, how do you get started getting extra cash for scrap metal, or earning a full-time living from it? What rules are there and what safety measures should you take? What are the current scrap metal prices near me and you, and how can we access them on a day-to-day basis (since they fluctuate so much)?
You can read all the way through, or click through to the parts of this Field Guide you’re most interested in.
- What is Scrap Metaling and What is Scrap Metal?
- Quick Look at the Metal Recycling Process + Metal Recycling Benefits
- The Benefits of Recycling Scrap Metal
- Basic Knowledge of Scrap Metals (for sourcing + pricing purposes)
- The Process of Earning Cash for Scrap Metal at Scrap Yards
- What are Current Scrap Metal Prices Near Me (in Real-time)?
- How to Get the Best Price for Scrap Metal
- List of Best Scrap Metal Items
- How Do I Find Money for Scrap Metal Near Me?
- How to Collect More Scrap Metal for Cash
- Tips on Scrapping Metal for a Living
- Common Mistakes to Avoid When Scrap Metaling for Cash
What is Scrap Metaling and What is Scrap Metal?
Scrap metal is any sort of “waste” metal from products – such as steel containers, cans, automobiles, appliances, and construction materials – that can be melted down for a second life in the market, meaning it has value to producers of products.
Instead of fulfilling their metal needs through mining and extraction, they can use recycled metal materials at a significantly lower cost both in money and to the environment.
Scrap metaling for extra cash is collecting pieces of scrap metal, such as aluminum, tin, steel, brass, copper, etc., and cashing them in at a scrap yard or salvage yard that will pay you by weight and grade in order to use the metal in their secondary metal processing.
That’s just a fancy way of saying they’ll reprocess and recycle the metal to get it ready for its new purpose in the marketplace.
Scrap metal can be broken down into three categories – ferrous, nonferrous, and electronics waste (e-waste) – and we’ll look into this deeper in the “Basic Knowledge of Scrap Metals” section.
Psst: Just trying to get rid of appliances for cash? Check out my post on ways to do that – also for you if you want someone to pick up scrap metal for cash.
Quick Look at the Metal Recycling Process + Metal Recycling Benefits
Scrap yards, where the metal recycling process starts, are the “middle men” between lots of people who sell metal for cash, processing facilities that smelt metal (foundries, mills, mini-mills, etc.), and the end users: people who buy this metal to use in new production.
Here’s a bit closer look at how it works:
- Scrap Metals Drop Off: You plus many other individuals + businesses drop off your scrap metals. They’re sorted (we’ll talk about this more later), and then weighed by each type of metal you brought. You’re given a price per ton, depending on the grade or quality of the various metals you’ve brought, and depending on how much the scrap yard thinks it will receive from a smelter in return (they’re in it to make money, after all!).
- Scrap Yard Further Processes Your Metals: There is normally more sorting, possibly some shredding, and some extracting of metals from inside of scrap you’ve dropped off.
- Scrap Yard Delivers Batches of Metal to a Smelter or Metal Furnace: Once the scrap yard has enough of a type of metal to make the trip worth it (if they fear a price fluctuation, they might do this sooner rather than later), then they’ll get together a delivery to a smelter/metal furnace for further processing.
- Smelter Produces a Usable Product: The smelting company then takes the metals, and melts them down into a liquid form (usually takes thousands of degrees to do this). Then the liquid is poured into molds (called ingots), which are sellable to manufacturing plants.
- Manufacturer Uses the Ingots in Product Creation: These ingots are then melted again, and used right along side new metal to produce any number of products.
The Benefits of Recycling Scrap Metal
There are definite economic benefits to recycling scrap metal – for you + the scrapyards (job creation), and for the end users. You see, manufacturers can use the recycled metal in their new production processes instead of having to mine for new metal, a very costly operation.
In 2014 alone, 8 million metric tons of nonferrous scrap was used in manufacturing instead of new metal, and one third of the US supply of Copper comes from scrapped copper sources.
But there are also environmental benefits. These include less wastes being put into our environment as offsets of the extraction process, less water use, and less energy use (for example, the recycling process for steel requires 56% less energy use than if you were to create the steel from iron ore).
Alright, alright. Enough of all of that – you now have a clear understanding of the secondary recycling industry, processes, and reason for being.
Let’s dive into how YOU can make money off of scrap metaling!
Basic Knowledge of Scrap Metals (for sourcing + pricing purposes)
In order for you to make extra cash or full-time income off of scrap metaling, you’ve got to get a little knowledge about the three categories of metals – ferrous, nonferrous, and e-waste (electronics).
Lots of metals actually look the same, so sorting them with just your naked eye will be difficult to do. And as we’ll learn later – in the section on How to Get the Best Price – sorting your metals out ahead of time will likely give you a better price. If you keep them all jumbled together, then the scrap yard dealer could weigh them all together and then give you the price/ton based on the lowest-value metal you’ve got.
You don’t want that!
In order to sort, you’ll need separate containers, labels to keep the containers straight, something to write with, and a magnet.
Yes, a magnet!
Label your containers as aluminum, iron/steel, stainless steel, copper and brass (this is just a place to start; as you go further into this business you’ll likely find a need for different containers of metals that you specialize in).
Ferrous materials are mostly made of iron, which makes them magnetic. Materials include cast iron, wrought iron, and varying gradients of steel (from mild steel, to high speed steel, and everything in-between). These metals are used for their strength and durability (think about your grandmother’s cast iron bathtub that’s still around).
Ferrous materials are also the most recycled materials in the world! Because of this high supply, their prices tend to be lower than Nonferrous materials.
Nonferrous materials are identified by not being magnetic (see, that magnet is coming in handy!). Materials include aluminum, copper, brass, zinc, lead, etc. These metals are more malleable, and, since they’re not magnetic, are good to use in small appliances/electronics.
Go into more depth on how to sort metals such as aluminum vs. lead vs. brass vs. copper.
Electronics and the e-waste they produce are given its own category (even though some metals we discussed above are found inside of them) because this type of waste generally needs to be extracted from the electronic and because many scrap yards will not accept it.
Here’s an article on how to dissect your desktop computer tower in order to reap more cash at scrap yards that accept them.
A few thoughts for you on getting cash for electronics (e-waste):
- If It’s Working, Sell Directly to Consumers for Reuse: I’ve been able to sell our electronics in the past to be used by someone else. For example, we sold a projection television a few years ago in a Facebook Group for $200. We also sold an old digital camera for $25.
- If It’s Not Working, Sell It to Companies to Refurbish: There are companies out there who will buy non-working electronics that they’re pretty sure they can refurbish to sell again – get your cash from them if you can! For example, we sold an iPad with a cracked screen/wouldn’t turn on to a company that refurbished it and resold it. We received $80. BuybackWorld is another site to try — shop around for the most cash you can get!
- Can’t Sell It? Drop It Off for Recycling (at a cost to you): You can find places on e-Stewards.com that will recycle your electronics for a fee.
Pssst: Before you pay to recycle your e-waste, check out Staples’ E-Waste Recycling Program – it’s free.
The Process of Earning Cash for Scrap Metal at Scrap Yards
You’ve come to the right place to actually learn, “how do I get paid for the metal?”
Not only did I contact a local scrap yard to us to ask some questions – something you will want to do once you find a local scrap yard you want to try.
But I also went through the process myself with a couple of coke cans so that I could have some experience with it.
Questions you want to ask a local scrap yard before showing up:
- Is there a minimum or maximum amount of metal I can bring in?: For the location I went to, they said that they accept both small and large loads (for the record, I took in a few empty cans of soda to his facility once. He totally accepted it, without even laughing, even though they looked very puny on the huge metal scale).
- What do I need to bring with me to the scrap yard?: Many scrap yards follow the Scrap Theft Alert program. That’s because metals (especially copper; I once went out to eat on a hot October afternoon here in Houston, and the poor restaurant had no air conditioning for their guests because all of the copper wiring in their central units had been stolen overnight) are worth a good chunk of change. Some people steal cars or metals – what’s called material theft – and then try to cash out at scrap yards. If you’re trying to scrap a vehicle, then you’ll likely need to bring its title and/or car registration to prove you’re the owner. They will likely always ask for your driver’s license, regardless of what kind of scrap metals you bring, and may even record your license plates. FYI: depending on state law, they might take your photo, as well!
- List of Scrap Metal Items They Take: You don’t need the whole list (which you might find on their website). Instead, ask them if they take the specific kinds of items that you have. Some facilities accept vehicles, others do not. Some facilities accept e-waste, others do not.
- Fees they Charge
As far as the process goes, it’ll look something like this:
Step #1: Check in
You’ll go to the front counter and provide all documents needed, register with their system, and get your photo taken, in order to cash in your scrap metal for the day. You may be fingerprinted, and you may have to sign documents stating that you own the metal.
Check out your state scrapping laws for more information.
Step #2: Materials Sort + Weigh-In
When it’s your turn, someone will sort through your materials and weigh them. The scale will either be a truck scale, a floor scale, or a mobile scale.
Pro Tip: You want to be able to see the read-out on this scale, as well as to make sure it is state-certified and recently calibrated.
Step #3: Redeem Your Voucher/Weight Slip at the Front Counter
You’ll get a voucher with a weight and price on it to take up to the front counter and cash in. On the other hand, depending on state laws, you might have a waiting period before you can receive payment by check.
How much you’re paid depends on the current market prices, your scrap yard dealer, the types of scrap metals you’ve brought, and the grades of those scrap metals (here’s a list of ferrous metal grades, and a list of nonferrous metal grades – keep these in mind as you figure out your buckets for sorting metals before you get to the scrap yard).
You’re likely wondering now, how much IS the price for scrap metals, and how can you know prices in real-time, since they fluctuate so much? I’ve got a solution for you.
What are Current Scrap Metal Prices Near Me (in Real-time)?
If you’re looking to get rid of old appliances for extra cash, or make extra cash from scrap metal, then you’ve probably wondered how much is a wash and dryer worth in scrap metal, or how much do you get for scrapping a refrigerator.
But if you’re looking to earn consistent extra cash from scrap metal, then you need to not only know TODAY’S prices, but the prices at any given time from your local dealers (the current scrap metal prices per pound and current scrap metal prices per ton).
Otherwise, how would you know if your loads were going to be worth the gas and time you put into collecting them?
There's a really cool, free app called iScrap that will find you ‘scrap metal prices near me' at any time. Install it on your phone to not only find your local scrap yards, but to find their prices in real-time. This information is golden, as it fluctuates from day-to-day and could mean the difference between $30 and hundreds of dollars for you.
Not only that, but keep the app on your phone, and you'll never have to google things like “scrap yards near me” or scrap metal prices near me” again. Score!
To give you an estimate of how much certain items can go for, here’s average scrap prices for common items:
*Remember, the prices also vary if you take apart the item and extract/sort the metals versus if you just bring the whole thing to the scrap yard to be done with it.
- Refrigerator: Between $15-$30 (we got $25 for the one left at our new home – previous owners had turned it into a kegerator, and we had a scrap metaling person pick it up).
- Vehicle: Between $150-$300.
- Washer: Between $18-$22.
- Electronics such as mouse, printers, CPU processors (check here)
But “average”? That’s not you. You want to get the BEST price for your scrap metals and scrap metaling efforts. I’ll show you how, next.
How to Get the Best Price for Scrap Metal
Forget average. Let’s try to get you the BEST price for scrap metal you've take the time to collect + source.
Best Price Tip #1: Clean metal – metal free from rust – will earn you more cash than “dirty” metal.
Best Price Tip #2: Learn when dismantling and extracting metals is worth it.
For example, there are over 5 types of metals found in a car. Rather than just handing it over to be recycled, you might find it worth your time to strip it and sort the metals out. You can also potentially find copper in a washing machine!
Pssst: not sure how to strip a specific item for scrap? Search on Youtube “How to Scrap a fill in item”.
Best Price Tip #3: You typically earn more money by weight if you bring in larger loads.
So, you might want to save up your metal and cash in when you have a decent amount (though, be wary of the price – check the price over several days to get an idea of when you should go).
Best Price Tip #4: Stripping Copper usually makes sense.
If it has iron or other ferrous materials adhered to it, then you might get paid a much lower amount because a magnet will stick to it (and the scrap yard person might not know it’s copper inside, or might know, but will give you the lower price because YOU don’t know any better. Now you do.).
List of Best Scrap Metal Items
Are you wondering what the best scrap metal items are – you know, what scrap metal is worth the most money? They’re the ones that get you the best price, and cost you the least in terms of labor (extraction) to get to it.
Obviously, if you’ve got copper wiring lying around in your garage, that’s a go-to. But usually, it’s not that simple.
You want to collect more nonferrous materials (that ones that are not magnetic), as they generally fetch a better price than the more commonly recycled ferrous materials.
Having said that, I still want to provide you with a starter list of scrap metal items from both the lesser profitable and more profitable sides of the profit spectrum.
List of Scrap Metal Items
- Bed frames and mattress springs
- Aluminum siding
- BBQ Grill pits
- Cast iron sinks/tubs
- Electrical wire
- Playground equipment
- Christmas Lights
- Small appliances (typically have copper wiring in them)
- Big appliances like refrigerators, washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, freezer, etc.
- Metal shelves
- Metal swings
- Metal railings
- Aluminum frames/gutters/doors
- Door handles/fixtures/knobs
- Power cords (extract the copper)
How Do I Find Money for Scrap Metal Near Me?
Looking to cash in on scrap metals at a location near you? The perfect app for you to use (that is also FREE) is iScrap App. You can put it on your phone, and at any given time check scrap yard pricing near YOU.
How to Collect More Scrap Metal for Cash
Many years ago, I decided to recycle a month’s worth of Coca-Cola cans (about a paper bag and a half—yes, my husband used to be addicted to Coca-Cola!), and see how much I could get for them. My true intention was to obtain information on how scrapping metal can be a legitimate way to earn a side income.
But over the years I’ve grown even MORE interested in not only ways to earn extra cash by scrap metaling, but also to earn a whole living.
To do that, you need way more sources of scrap metal than one person’s soda addiction!
In this section, I’d like to share with you how to get your hands on more scrap metal (as the more you can source, the more you can earn).
- Get in with local construction companies. They have to pay upwards of $500 per dumpster onsite, so if they can get rid of scrap metals – and have the convenience of you picking them up – that’s worth something to them. You’ll want to contact the General Contractor for any site you’re planning on sourcing scrap metal from – you should never just take scrap metal from a dumpster, even after hours, due to insurance liability and safety reasons. Another way to source construction sites is by finding your city’s permits and combing through them (building and/or demolition permits may be at your local courthouse). You’ll also want to check foreclosures and condemned properties, where people might be motivated to get rid of stuff quickly.
- Create a business card for yourself. That way, when you approach places you’d like to source metals from, you look more legit.
- Get in with auto shops. Ask them to haul away things like rotors.
- Host a collection event. This can be for your town, an organization you’re part of, or really anywhere. You’ll need to pay for advertisements, but you can market the event as helping others get rid of the waste in their homes + helping the environment (both of which you are doing!). Be specific about what you will and will not accept on the day.
And my sister’s husband, who gets around $100 per truckload? He had the following tips for sourcing more scrap:
- Bulk trash pick-up day is when a lot of people put out old appliances/scraps for pickup (call your trash service or township to find out the date for your area)
- Craigslist—look in the free section, or place an ad for free detailing the types of scrap metal/appliances you are willing to pick up
- Place an ad in a newspaper or on line to pick-up unwanted, used appliances (you will probably get more responses than you think)
- Put an ad on the bulletin board at an apartment complex building (with people consistently moving in and out you might find some who want to ditch appliances before moving)
- If you have a place to store your scrap metal finds, you may wish to build a stockpile until the scrap metal market price goes back up.
Tips on Scrapping Metal for a Living
If you’re looking to take your scrap metaling to the level of earning full-time income, then you’ve got to get a step above the hobbyist.
You need to put more time and energy into it, but you should also reap more rewards.
I’ve got lots of tips on scrapping metal for a living:
- Specialize. You can really get to be known for something, such as the person who recycles free e-waste for local businesses (with pickup, of course), or the person who accepts anything, or the person who keeps construction site dumpsters clear. This will also help you to learn your craft quicker, and be able to make more money.
- Shop around. Use the iScrap app to find several local scrap yards and see who has the best price to offer you. And don’t be afraid to negotiate, especially if you are a large supplier to a certain scrap yard. See if you can get a better rate!
- Build rapport with 1-2 scrap yards. You want to build a relationship with the people you’ll be working with. They’ll be more apt to help you, negotiate with you, and give you tips on what they’re looking for/will pay more for.
- Know how to factor in all your costs to make sure a scrap job is worth it. You have to think about your gas costs, your vehicle upkeep costs, vehicle insurance, general liability insurance, your time’s value/amount of time the job will take (including if you need to break things down to reap a higher price), advertising costs, and the cost of tools (if you’re going to break things down).
- Understand your tax situation for scrap metaling. The IRS actually created an entire guide for scrap metaling (as a supplier, you’ll want to skip ahead to page 15 of that document) so that you can understand what taxes you’ll need to pay and what pitfalls many fall under during a tax audit of scrap metal sellers.
- Understand your state’s scrap laws for metal recycling in the US. This is really important – whatever profession you pursue, you need to become an expert in the laws that will keep you legal.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Scrap Metaling for Cash
Read below to get ahead and sidestep some of the common mistakes when scrap metaling.
- Not paying taxes on money earned: Unreported income is a big problem among IRS audits of people who scrap metal for extra cash. Remember that income taxes are taken on gross income received for the year, minus the cost of goods sold (such as your gas + extra vehicle expenses).
- Not checking for scale calibration: See that the scale has been calibrated recently
- Not shopping around for the best price: There are market fluctuations, but there are also scrap yard fluctuations. Find the best price by looking at several local scrap yards at once using the iScrap app.
- Taking Scrap Metal to Community Recycling Center: Your community recycling center is not going to pay you for scrap metal. They’ll just take it off your hands (which sometimes, is a great thing!). If you want to be paid, then you’ve got to find an actual scrap yard.
- Traveling Too Far for “Free” Scrap Metal Sources: Remember that you have gas + vehicle upkeep expenses (not to mention your time has value). So, traveling too far to pick up “free” sources of scrap metal is probably not going to be worth it.
Do you have a pick-up truck, or know someone who does? Then you might want to consider scrapping metal as a way to earn some extra money. Not only does this offer a ‘hobby’ income stream, (potentially helping you pay off your truck loan faster) but it is also an environmentally sound way to reuse a natural resource.