How to Upcycle Old Appliances for Function and Decor

empty refrigerator with clean shelves
  • 1-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-200

One person's trash is another’s treasure. When it comes to appliances, we’re talking about big trash, so turning them into treasure requires a bit of creativity.

By thinking outside the (ice) box, you could find yourself rewarded with a bespoke piece of furniture or unique storage from something that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill.

Before we dig into some inventive solutions for upcycling old appliances, let’s consider whether their time has come.

Should I Repair or Replace My Appliances?

In today’s disposable society, we’re quick to replace appliances rather than repair them. Most of us wouldn’t prefer it this way, but it’s a simple matter of economics. When it costs nearly as much to repair an appliance as it does to buy a new one, it makes financial sense to go with a new model.

However, many appliance repairs aren’t as overwhelming or expensive as they might seem. Before you trash your washing machine, dishwasher, or fridge, do some research to see if a DIY fix can prolong its life.

Another consideration, however, is that older appliances use more water and electricity than newer, energy and water-efficient designs. You might be doing your utility bill, and the planet, a favor by going with the upgrade.

At some point, they will stop working. However it happens, sending large appliances off to the landfill is a massive source of waste for our shrinking planet, so make good use of them whenever you can!

upcycled tea kettle planter

What Can I Use an Old Refrigerator or Freezer For?

When a refrigerator or freezer becomes dated, it may not fit into your interior design theme. However, if it’s still functional, you can move it out to the garage or shed and use it as a beverage fridge and food overflow option.

When it churns out its last breath of cold air, though, it’s time to convert it into something new.

1. Pantry

How about adding additional storage to your kitchen? The refrigerator and freezer both offer built-in shelves and a closing door. What more do you need?

To convert your appliance, allow it to defrost and cool completely. Thoroughly clean the interior and exterior to eliminate any bacteria that can lead to mold growth.

Since you’ll be keeping it upright and unplugged, you don’t really need to remove any parts or make other changes. Just make sure it’s clean and dry before adding your food for storage.

As a working pantry, your dated and broken appliance will likely be visible, so you may want to dress up the exterior look. This is where the artistic edge comes in.

Grab some appliance paint, large stickers, or faux paint materials to create a design that works for you. Go subtle with a solid color or bring out your inner hippie with some colorful flowers.

2. Storage

Need some blanket storage or a place to hide the pet supplies? Think of an old refrigerator or freezer as a closet. Leave it as is or dress up the exterior for additional storage space that also reduces environmental waste and keeps you from buying additional furniture.

3. Ice Chest

For this upcycle, you’ll want to remove the working components in the refrigerator or freezer, such as the evaporator cell and fan, compressor, and condenser fan.

You can remove the door or doors if you want an open cooler. Or you can leave them attached for additional insulation for your cooler.

Either way, lay the appliance on its back. From here, you can add a decorative wood accent to the outside, paint it, or add a mosaic if you like.

Since these appliances are insulated to keep in the cold, they work as a cooler without a lot of effort. The door becomes a lid, if desired.

Note—this is not intended to be plugged in. As a cooler, you will fill it with ice and watch it melt.

Hot Tip—Drill a hole in the bottom of the appliance for easy drainage. You can either let it drip out freely or you can insert a simple on/off drain plug to control the flow.

4. Gun Safe

With thick metal sides, it’s certainly not easy to get into. Plus, turning a fridge or freezer into a gun safe is an easy task. Simply convert it as with the other storage solutions above. For safety, you should keep guns and ammo in two separate locations.

To store longer guns, remove shelving and add padding. For handguns, leave the shelves in place.

Alternatively, store ammo in the door compartments and use the main compartment for other accessories such as targets, shoulder protectors, goggles, ear protection, etc.

Add a heavy-duty lock to the door and take care to keep track of the code or key required to open it.

5. Tiny Closet

With the door on or off, you can turn your old appliance into a closet with the addition of a clothing rod. Keep a shelf in the bottom for shoes or organizational totes. If you’re using a freezer-on-the-top type of refrigerator, the former freezer portion can also be used for shoes, purses, or other accessories.

6. Couch

Someone got really creative, or desperate, with this idea, but it’s become wildly popular across the internet. It started with Canadian designer Adrian Johnson and a design that relies on retro fridges adapted with upcycled car bench seats.

Expanding on that idea, any fridge or freezer could see a similar conversion. To achieve the look, start by removing the doors and hardware. Leave the look rustic or clean up the finish with paint.

Place the fridge on its back. Then cut away one of the long sides. This is where the seat will be. The other long side will be the backrest. For the ends of the couch, you can leave the top and bottom of the appliance intact or cut them halfway in height to create armrests.

With the frame built, add an existing automotive seat or equip your new couch with cushions. Remember the DIY throw pillows too.

7. Coffin

Yeah, we went there. It makes sense, though, right? We’re going to guess you can figure this one out on your own.

8. Bookshelf

refrigerator with books inside

Large appliances such as a refrigerator or freezer are just the right size for a bookcase. Proudly display your collection by removing the doors and painting the interior. If you’d rather keep the doors on, that works too.

For a soft appeal, add some sheer curtains via a spring-loaded curtain rod. Similarly, add pleated curtains if that better matches the room’s theme. Get creative!

9. Make a Fish Pond

Pond liners are expensive, and not nearly as durable as a metal appliance. Remove the working components so there are no toxins that can leach into the ground. Then remove the doors and lay it on its back.

There are several ways you can convert a refrigerator or freezer into a pond.

For example, you can keep it above ground and build a deck around it. Or, you can bury it, leaving the top edge level with the surrounding landscape. Place rocks and plants along the edge to cover the frame.

Be sure to integrate a pump and filter into your design, for the health of the fish and for ease of water maintenance.

10. Watering Trough

If you have livestock, they need water. An old fridge or freezer can be converted into a watering trough, just like old bathtubs that have done the job for generations.

11. Pet Rest and Bench

Since these appliances are so large, they can accommodate pet beds. Dogs, and maybe even cats, can happily lounge in a shady area where they feel protected.

Even better, the upper part of the system makes a usable bench.

To achieve the look, remove working components and the doors. Decorate to match your preferences. Then lay the unit on its side with the back of the fridge against a wall. Organize your pet supplies inside the unit.

The side of the appliance is now your bench. Add cushions for comfort. You can also add curtains to the lower part, so your pet has some privacy.

The same design is effective for storing shoes, games, or other items too, so you can use it as a bench/organizer inside or outside the home.

What Can I Do With an Old Dishwasher?

Dishwashers are even easier to convert than refrigerators and freezers because they don’t contain coolants to contend with.

Unlike their larger kitchen mates, dishwashers are open on the bottom as well as the back. However, the housing inside the dishwasher can be used in the same way as the others, in a much smaller scale.

For example, an old dishwasher can be filled as a watering hole or small fish pond.

1. Compost Bin

When it’s time to ditch the dishwasher, remove it from the cabinet. Remove all the mechanical components, such as the pump, and dispose of them properly. Leave the door attached. Then stand the unit so the door is now on top, making a lid.

Station your dishwasher outdoors where you can fill it with food waste, leaves, and grass clippings. If you aren’t sure what to put in your composter, we have many articles on the topic, such as What to Compost and What Not to Compost and How to Speed up Your Composting.

You can use the same technique to start a vermicompost bin.

2. Drain Rack

In addition to using the basin, other parts of the dishwasher are useful for household activities. Simply removing a rack from the dishwasher and placing it on the counter turns it into a handy and effective dish drying rack. Place an absorbent cloth or mat below it to catch drips as dishes drain.

Similarly, if the broken dishwasher isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, leave the racks inside and hide dishes while they dry instead.

3. Cupboard Storage

In fact, if you’ve decided not to replace the dishwasher, it can easily function as long-term dish storage.

Since it already features rolling shelves, and often a height adjustment, you can sort and store pots on the bottom with lids on the top, storage containers on the bottom with lids on the top, or an assortment of plates, glasses, or bowls.

4. Utensil Holder

That silverware holder can perform the same task outside the dishwasher. Use it to hold utensils in a small kitchen without many drawers. Place it in the boat cabin, the camper, or on the outdoor cooking station.

5. Arts and Crafts Organizer

You can use the organizer for a number of things besides utensils too. Put in the kids’ playroom to hold markers or set up a craft station where it can hold glitter, tape, and glue sticks.

In the garage, use it to hold screwdrivers, paint brushes, chisels, wrenches, sockets, different types of glue, rolled sandpaper, and more.

What Can I Use an Old Washing Machine For?

washing machine drum fire pit

1. Fire Pit

Smokeless outdoor fire pits are all the rage. Inasmuch, they come with a hefty price tag. Granted, they are ultra-efficient, but you can make a reasonably similar fire pit out of a washing machine that’s no longer functioning.

The most challenging aspect of this project is cutting through or otherwise removing the components that hold the wash basin in place. It can also be quite heavy, so make sure you have a helper to safely remove it.

Once out of the casing, the basin can be used as is. However, if you want to change the look, you can use hi-heat paint to make it colorful, decorative, or muted.

To raise your firepit, create legs out of metal pipes and mount them to the sides of the wash basin. You can also create a metal stand. Just be sure you don’t block the airflow.

Place a few paver bricks below your new fire pit to reduce the fire hazard. Then check out How to Make Homemade Marshmallows so you can get to roasting!

2. Stool

You can also turn your wash basin into a stool. Simply turn it on its side for stability. Then make or buy a round cushion for the top.

You can also paint the basin to enhance your decor.

3. Planter

The wash basin also makes a durable and convenient planter. Again, you can paint it or place it inside a wood planter box to create the look you want. Then simply fill it with dirt and your favorite plants.

Check out Appliance Refinishing for more information.