DIY Soup Can Planters: An Experiment in Rust

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The project that I’m about to share is not for everyone.  But if you like rusty things, then this one’s for you.

A couple of months back, while at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, I noticed this cute little planter at one of the booths in the marketplace.

Cute planter as found at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

I just loved the rustic patina and wondered if I could duplicate it.

So for fun, I saved a few empty soup cans.  I removed the labels and cleaned them.


The Experiment Begins

The patina I wanted to copy looked like a mixture of paint and rust. The paint part was easy enough, but what about the rust?

There are some wonderful rust accelerators on the market, but I wanted to keep this experiment low-budget since, after all, it was only an experiment.

My husband, Chris, offered to whip up a rust accelerator for me using simple household ingredients.  So while he searched Google, I searched through our spray paint cans.

The paint

Since I wanted to experiment with different results, I thinly sprayed the soup cans with random combinations of Rust-Oleum Heirloom White and Rust-Oleum Matte Citron – both paints that I already hand on hand.

I sprayed some cans with only the Heirloom White, some with only the Matte Citron, and some with both colors.  I made sure to leave a few unpainted patches of raw metal – mostly at the top of each can.

Then I rubbed each can with steel wool, especially on the horizontal ribs, to expose even more metal.  The photo below shows it better than I can explain it.

DIY Rusty Patina - partially painted first

You can see that I wasn’t going for accuracy here, which is what is so fun about this project.

The rust

Meanwhile, Chris was mixing up his special batch of rust accelerator in a spray bottle, using a formula he found on this website.

The formula, which should be mixed in a certain order, calls for white vinegar, salt, and hydrogen peroxide.  All fairly innocent ingredients on their own.  But combined, they become a strong, wicked acid. Wear eye protection and gloves when mixing or handling.  Use this mixture in a well-ventilated area and away from anything that you don’t want to rust, stain, or inadvertently kill (sorry lawn). For more safety information, head back to this website.

Before I applied this mixture, I saturated each can with white vinegar. This etches the metal so it will better absorb the mixture.  Then I let the cans dry completely.


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Now it was time to apply the magic mixture.  Using a spray bottle, I saturated each can.

It didn’t seem to work – at first.  Then after a few minutes the rust started.  I let each soup can dry, and then I reapplied the mixture.

Soon I just filled a shallow plastic pan with about 1/8-inch of the rust mixture and rolled the cans in the mixture, let them dry, then rolled them again.

I rolled the cans about four times.  It seemed that the mixture was starting to eat through the spray paint a bit.

Finally I was happy with the patina, although I might have overdone it.  The cans did turn out rustier than my original example.



The finish coat

I rinsed each can off with water.  I noticed that if I rubbed the cans at all, the paint would flake off and expose the un-rusted metal underneath.  Not good.

So once the cans were dry, I applied two coats of a clear, flat acrylic finish by Krylon to stabilize the patina and prevent any more paint from flaking off.

All done!  I love the rustic results.

DIY rusty patina

A Planter or a Vase

My cans look like a vintage find from Grandpa’s tool shed.

DIY rusty patina - planter

Since some plants don’t take well to being planted directly into metal containers, I plant them in small plastic pots and then set those pots inside the cans.

The cans also make cute vases.  I think they would be fun as table decor for a rustic-themed reception.

DIY rusty patina - vase

I could also see using cans of varying sizes in groups as a centerpiece.

To avoid having the cans leave a rust stain on any surface, I will use little coasters under them.

Thanks for stopping by and, while you’re here, hop over and check out my brother’s fun DIY garage rebuild.  I’m so proud of his work!


This post is for entertainment only and is not a tutorial.



Love rusty metal?  Check out the huge supply of rusty things on Etsy.

I especially love these cute industrial planters from Mike and Art Design.

rusty planter
Photo courtesy of Mike and Art Design.

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24 Replies to “DIY Soup Can Planters: An Experiment in Rust”

  1. This is sweet. I love the combination of the fresh green, white lace and rusty cans.
    Won’t rust get into the lace beneath?
    Do you have any tips for rust removal when it stains things that you don’t want rusty?

    1. Peggy, thanks for bringing up a very good point. I revised my post to include that a little coaster should be used under these so they won’t leave a rust stain. Or gluing sheet cork to the bottom might work too. I did coat them with an acrylic finish, which I think will inhibit rust production. But just to be safe . . .

  2. your rusty cans are perfect! Looks like you found them buried in the back yard for several years, cleaned them up, and added a plant. I’ve rusted items with vinegar and salt…which takes DAYS to get the desired results, but never as rusty a look as you got. Come a summer day I will have to try your recipe while outside. Look forward to trying it on keys.

    1. Audra, sounds like you really “get it.” The look I was going for was exactly that – like I found them buried in the yard. What a great idea to try the mixture on keys. Now that I know about this mixture, I will be trying it on all sorts of things. Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

  3. These planters look fantastic! Don’t you just love projects that involve experiments? I always feel a little extra intelligent when I tell my husband “I’m doing an experiment” instead of “I’m making something [again].” Haha! Thanks for sharing at Inspiration Thursday!

  4. These look so cool. Makes me wonder what other items I can find around to rust up. Audra’s Key idea is a good one. There must be some others too.

    1. Hi, Maura: A little visit to a salvage shop or thrift store would net a bunch of fun things to rust up. I just saw a little metal bucket in my shed today and I’m thinking “hmmm.”

    1. Tarah, how fun that you already have rusted cans. They are great outdoor vases. Thanks for the Liebster award nomination! I’m flattered. I will visit your website.

  5. Heidi, these cans look really cool!! That’s neat that metal can rust quickly with just the right ingredients. I like your idea to use them for centerpieces at a reception. Thanks for sharing at Sweet Inspiration!

    1. Bonnie, I didn’t poke holes in mine, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. That is a good idea, actually.

  6. I would be afraid to put the rusty(salt & vin.) can on my pretty lace. Will it start eating away at the lace? However, I think the idea is great. I have several old cans I can use…..however, I am going to put some burlap ribbon around them and leave them with the silver look. Yes, I like the concept.

    1. Yes, good pooint Margaret. I mentioned in the post that I was going to use coasters under the cans to make sure they don’t leave a rust ring on anything.

  7. Will the rusting work on aluminum cans? I’ve looked it up and aluminum corrodes but it does not rust. Aluminum corrosion is aluminum oxide, so I’ve read. Not a scientist here. Will this experiment work only on steel cans?

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