How to get the Best Price for your Scrap Metal

Written by Brian Sedasky
Published on the 3rd of October, 2022

After collecting scrap metal, the next question most scrappers ask us is, “how do you make money/ profit out of the materials you’ve collected?”

Do you just head out to the scrap yard if you already have a storage full of scrap metals?

As a beginner, I often thought that selling scrap metal was as simple as collecting materials, taking them to a scrap yard, and getting the payment. Most of the time, I ended up being frustrated because I couldn’t understand why I would get such a low payout, even though I had brought a tremendous amount of scrap metal.

Well, I learnt later that the answer to this question depended on so many factors. Like, for instance, how clean are the scrap metal you collect?

Let’s take Aluminum – for instance.

If you have several pounds of these items – let’s say aluminum cans or sheets, the scrap yard’s buying price can go higher or lower depending on how clean they are.

This tells you that a truck full of scrap metal may not translate to a good paycheck. If the materials you take to a scrap yard need further sorting or preparation to become high-quality scrap metal, the scrap yard may pay you less than you deserve.

We often feel extorted when this happens and may never consider doing business with that particular scrap yard. So, what should you do to get the best price for the materials you collect? How do you prepare your items? Where do you sell them? And, how do you sell them?

Here’s a practical guide to help you get the right price for your scrap metal.

How much can you earn with the scrap metal you collect?

Although the size of the US scrap metal market is worth $50 billion in 2022, this doesn’t mean you’ll walk out of the scrap yard with a good paycheck every time you take scrap metal to them. It’s never the case because scrap metal prices keep changing daily.

For instance -

Let’s say you have around 20 pounds of copper you’d like to sell. At the time of writing this article (September 2022), the average price of clean copper in the United States is $3.39 per pound. You’d probably get around 20 x $3.39= $67.8 if you sell it at this time.

However, in October, the price can change. If – let’s say, the cost of copper goes down by $0.97 that month, it means you’ll be selling each pound of copper for about $2.42 per pound. So, the approximate payout for the same amount and quality of copper (20 pounds) would be around $48.4.

Thus, the appropriate answer to this question is that it will depend on the price of scrap metal at the time of selling.

But also, other factors may come into play. If the scrap yard you go to deals with the type of copper you want to sell, then they’ll pay good money for it. Recycling centers that don’t major with the kind of scrap metal you are selling to them– such as copper in this case - might offer a lesser amount for your scrap metal.

Apart from that, how much you earn can go high or low if the scrap yard has to hire people to sort the materials you bring.

Let’s say you have around 40 pounds worth of aluminum cans. You’d expect the scrap yard to pay you about $1 for each pound if you take them in September 2022. But if the cans are dirty – guess what? They might pay a lower amount because they have to clean them before taking them through the recycling process.

What can you do to get the best price out of your scrap metal?

You’ll find a mix of different materials as you collect scrap metal. For example the following:

  • Auto parts such as brake rotors, rims, wheels, car batteries, catalytic converters, etc.
  • Scrap appliances such as dishwashers, microwaves, stoves, HVACs, etc.
  • Scrap metal such as copper tubing, insulated copper wires, aluminum cans, roofing materials, power supplies, brass, steel, etc.
  • E-waste, such as old laptops, phones, Christmas lighting, CPU chips, etc.

The list of common scrap metals is endless since there are many scrap metals you can find during collection. Just ensure you don’t leave anything ‘scrap-able’ behind, regardless of how small it is. Despite its current price, you can still make good money out of it.

Now, the next thing to do is to sort/organize them. Although scrap yards can accept scrap metal without sorting them, more often than not, sorted metals usually attract high prices. Expert scrappers often understand this trick, and this is what we advise most of our readers to do.

But how do you sort them?

Start by distinguishing ferrous and non-ferrous metals

Scrap metal can be either ferrous or non-ferrous. The best way to identify between the two types is by using a magnet.

Run the magnet on each item you collect. If the magnet sticks on the item, then it contains iron – which means it’s ferrous. Examples of ferrous scrap metal include iron, steel cast iron, and wrought iron. You can also identify these metal types using color and weight since most of them are heavier.

On the other hand, the magnet will not stick on metals such as copper, brass, nickel, copper alloys, lead, tin, aluminum, bronze, and zinc. Hence, they fall in the category of non-ferrous metals. You can also identify them by color. By the way, non-ferrous metals are more valuable than ferrous scrap metals.

Appliances typically contain different types of metals in them. For instance, a microwave may have a stainless steel cover, numerous copper wires, a steel transformer, etc. You can distinguish between ferrous and non-ferrous metals within such an item by tearing it apart and then running your magnet through the various components inside it.

Once you recognise the ferrous and non-ferrous metals, keep them separately in designated boxes.

Sort each metal and put them in designated bins

The next thing you need to do – an essential part of getting reasonable scrap metal prices- is to sort and clean the metals or remove any impurities or dirt that can degrade the value of the scrap metal. Scrap yards typically classify scrap metal depending on how clean or dirty they are.

When looking at ferrous metals, they will look at how much rust is on them and how much of the remaining part is recyclable. Then they’ll determine the prices using those two factors. If it has more rust, the price might go down; which is why you must invest in a proper storage space.

On the side of non-ferrous metals such as copper, aluminum, and brass, they’ll look at how clean they are. For instance, scrap yards categorize copper into several grades, which include:

  • Bare bright copper
  • #1 Copper
  • #2 copper
  • #2 insulated copper
  • #1 insulated copper
  • #1 burnt copper wire
  • #2 burnt copper wire

Bare bright copper is the highest quality of copper scrap and usually costs more. No. 2 burnt copper is one of the lowest copper qualities and will cost less.

Sorting insulated copper cables depends on the thickness of copper underneath and the grade. For instance, removing the insulation on a cable with a thick bare bright copper can increase the price by several cents.

If the wires are as thin as Christmas lights or coaxial cables, you may need to call several scrap yards ahead to know whether they’d like to buy the wires with the insulation or if they’d prefer them removed because different facilities have different requirements and prices for that matter.

This is the same case with aluminum and brass. During scrap collection, you’ll come across different types of aluminum: dirty aluminum, aluminum rims, aluminum gutters, aluminum wire, cast aluminum, and aluminum cans.

Dirty aluminum scraps have non-aluminum attachments, such as plastic and steel. Taking an item like this to the scrap yard will cause the scrap yard to lower its price.

You can ‘clean’ it by removing the impurities and putting the aluminum in the high-grade bin to activate a higher price when you go to the scrap yard.

Sorting auto parts is also easy. For instance, if you collected wheels with rims, detach the wheel from the rims and put them in your rim collection. Also, remove the screws, especially if they do not contain the same metal as the rims.

You can watch the following video to learn how to sort your items like a pro.

The best time to sell your scrap metal

You don’t just wake up one morning and decide take your sorted scrap metal to the scrap yard, no. Doing so can be a huge waste of time, money, energy, and – most of all – fuel. So, with that in mind, when is the right time to go to a scrap yard?

When you have enough scrap metal to make a good profit

After sorting your scrap metal, the overall weight of the scrap metal will reduce. For instance, when stripping the insulated copper, the weight will reduce. Again, if you take a small amount of copper, the payment won’t be much to compensate for the energy and time lost waiting for your turn.

Let’s say you take about 15 pounds of clean copper when the average price is approximately $2.42 per pound. If you only have a small amount, you may only earn an average of $36.3 for the entire amount. For many scrappers, this is a loss.

Therefore, try accumulating as much copper (or scrap) as possible, and then start thinking about going to the scrap yard.

When the market prices are high

As mentioned earlier, scrap metal prices keep changing. Today, the price can be high, while tomorrow, the prices can be low. You can use several ways to know how much you can expect on your next trip to the scrap yard.

The first method is using free online tools such as our website. We always keep an eye on the price of scrap metals in different markets around the world daily and update them on our site. Feel free to contact us if you need more information on the prices.

You can also call several recycling facilities to know about their services and prices. Note that scrap yards will give approximate prices depending on the demand for the metal. Mention the type of metal you want to sell and its grade, the approximate weight you'd like to sell, and inquire about their scrap metal requirements.

When the season is right

Demand for different scrap metals goes high or low depending on the season. And this affects the price that the scrap yard will buy your items.

For instance, steel production is low during the winter because there’s less construction during this time. Most scrap yards will also have a lot of steel inventory since demand from manufacturers is low. Even if they buy from you, they’ll offer low prices for them. So, it’d be wise to hold on to your steel during this time.

A good example is when China banned steel scrap imports in 2019, it affected prices of scrap steel, aluminum, copper. Scrap yards had a lot of these items in their facilities. This meant they had to buy at lower prices as they looked for other viable markets.

On the other hand, cash for gold places will offer reasonable prices for scrap gold and ornaments during winter. So, if you have gold in your store, this would be an excellent time to sell it.

Another thing you can do when the season is low is work on your existing inventory to increase the value.

How to sell your scrap metal

If you notice that the price of scrap metal is ideal for you and the market prices are high, you can start thinking about how you can sell the items you have. Again, don’t make the mistake of taking all your materials to any scrap yard that comes to mind.

You can instead research the best places to take the scrap metal. For instance, if you notice that there’s a high demand for copper around your area, and you have a good amount – let’s say around 50 pounds - of scrap copper in your inventory, you can call scrap yards that deal with copper scrap metal and ask how much they’d be willing to pay for your scrap metal.

Then pick the best offer. Most scrappers skip this part and regret it after discovering they could have gotten a better price if they went to a different scrap yard.

Another thing, take your items to scrap yards that deal with that particular metal. If you have several rims you’d like to sell, you can take them to a salvage yard that deals with auto parts. Dealers that don’t specialise in auto parts will lower their prices – which is a loss to you.

Final Thoughts

That’s it, fellow scrappers. We hope this guide provides the tips you need to get the best price for your scrap metal.

Remember to sort your items properly, sell them when the demand is high, and call several scrap yards to inquire about the price before taking your collection to them. If the market prices are low, hold on to your items and don’t throw away the low valuable scrap. Instead, wait for the prices to soar.