Coupon Sherpa Blog

20 Uses for Cardboard Tubes Beyond the Bathroom

Of all the necessities in my house, two things disappear more quickly than all else: food and toilet paper.

It amazes me how quickly a house with only four people goes through TP. Such quick turnaround means plenty of empty, unloved and seemingly useless cardboard tubes. The entire situation reeks of waste (no pun intended).

In response, several manufacturers want to stop using cardboard altogether. In late October of last year, Kimberley-Clark introduced “tubeless” toilet paper rolls under the Scott Naturals brand. Packs are sold at Walmart and Sam’s Club throughout the Northeastern U.S. According to USA Today, the trend could put a serious dent in the 160-million pounds of waste created annually by toilet paper rolls: and that’s just stateside.  

Until the day tubes go extinct, we’re left with the conundrum of what to do with empty rolls. As with many household products, creative types know a cardboard tube is more than the sum of it’s parts. Read on to learn 20 uses for cardboard tubes of every kind.

1. Glove Dryer
This comes straight from my childhood coat room. Place toilet paper tubes in wet gloves, attach to a hanger with clothespins and drape in the sun to speed up drying.

2. Cord Protector
Why pay for store-bought cord protectors when they’re typically relegated to life behind furniture? Split long tubes up one side, cut into various lengths, and slip cords inside to keep them neatly organized.

The benefits go beyond aesthetics. This trick protects cords from pets and children with curious mouths, as well as clumsy feet.

3. Kindling
A favorite trick of penny-pinching outdoorsmen; Keep several toilet paper tubes on hand to kick-start a fire. Cardboard isn’t as easy to light as paper but, once it catches, it burns longer.

This is a good solution for backpackers as well and one I use on week-long excursions. Pack tubes with small sticks, lint and newspaper for several night’s worth of homemade fire-starter kits. Wrap them individually in plastic grocery bags to protect from rain.

4. Maracas and Rain Sticks
Maracas and rain sticks are a mainstay of the kindergarten set. Take several tubes of various lengths, fill halfway with beads or dried beans, and duct tape the ends securely. Beige makes an ideal canvas for kids to later decorate with paint, crayons or glitter.

5. Quick Travel Storage
Use paper-towel rolls to wrangle underwear and toilet-paper tubes to store pantyhose or dress socks. It’s a convenient trick that also saves cash. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid the dreaded “whitey-tighties on the tarmac” scenario.

6. Compost Aeration
Ashes to ashes, cardboard to mulch. Cut tubes into small sections and throw in your compost pile. The cardboard decomposes rather easily while creating pockets for much-needed air.

7. Seedling Starter Pots
Home-growing is a favorite of frugal folk everywhere. Cut cardboard tubes in 2-inch sections, place into rows in a large foam container, fill empty tubes with soil and plant seedlings. This works well for gardeners looking to cut the price of store-bought starters or those who simply like to do it all on their own.

8. Christmas Wreath
There’s no problem decking the halls with recycled cardboard, but try and spruce it up a little beforehand. Bend two wire hangers into a large circle and slide toilet paper rolls along the wires. Glue or tie the tubes securely, close the wire loop, and decorate as you like. Ideas abound on how to create a festive piece. Browse examples from Good Housekeeping for a simple starter.

9. Grocery Bag Holder
A double-dose of reuse. Poke holes in the top of a long tube, lace with string, and hang in your pantry. Stuff with plastic grocery bags for later use.

10. Hamster Toy
Hamsters and gerbils are easily entertained. Drop a long or short tube in their cage as a tunnel or tear the cardboard into pieces for the hamster to use as a chew toy.

11. Candle Storage
Place tall candles in paper-towel tubes and votive candles in toilet-paper rolls to keep them organized and intact. Empty tubes are the perfect width and height for both. Coincidence? Probably, but no less convenient.

12. Document and Poster Protector
Transport fragile papers without folding, tearing or bending. Roll them gently and place inside a tube cut to the appropriate length. In my college days, this was a staple of the annual moving routine.

13. Clothes Hanger Cover
Dress pants can be obnoxious to store without a mandatory trip to the dry cleaners. Split a paper towel tube length-wise, lay over a wire hanger and tape in place. Drape your pants over the tube to keep relatively crease-free.

14. Knife Sheath
Flatten a tube of the appropriate length and wrap tightly in duct tape, making sure to thickly cover the sheath bottom. I have many frugal (aka broke) camping buddies with a kitchen’s worth of thrift store knives in cardboard sheaths.

15. Craft Organizer
Rather than let crayons, pencils and other craft supplies roll around unorganized in plastic boxes, cut cardboard tubes into sections and place them inside with the open ends up. It’s a simple solution when teaching young ones to respect their things and keep your home neat.

16. Bird Feeder
Turn your backyard into a topiary with the leftovers from your bathroom. Cover tubes of various sizes in peanut butter, sprinkle with bird seed, and hang from low-lying branches with string or wire.

17. Packing Material for Glassware
Moving mounds of glassware from house to house is nerve-wracking. Line the bottom of a cardboard box with long tubes cut to fit snugly and place drinking glasses in the rows. Separate further with toilet-paper rolls between each glass.

I learned this nifty trick after an old roommate threw away the box I used to transport drinking glasses. Improvisation isn’t just for musicians.

18. Linen Storage
Before relegating fine linen napkins to a musty drawer, wrap around a cardboard tube to keep crease-free until the next time dinner is deemed linen-worthy. It could be years.

19. Christmas Light Storage
Looking for a way to use empty wrapping-paper tubes? Save the cardboard rolls until after the holidays and wrap strings of lights tightly around the outside. You’ll be a happy elf next year when the lights aren’t a tangled mass in a too-tiny box. 

20. Boot Tree
Boots and shoes with soft or floppy tops need support when foot-less. Cut a longer tube to the appropriate length and place inside during storage. It holds the shape and prevents permanent creases and cracks.

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