What to Do With That Last Little Bit Left in the Container

We’ve all been there. You have a container of something and it’s almost used up. There’s just a little bit left in the container, but that little bit is hard to access. How far should you go to access that little bit? How much effort is worth it? Even better, is there anything creative you can do in that situation that minimizes effort and time and maximizes return?

Over the last year or so, I’ve been trying different techniques to figure out how to get the last little bit out of different containers, and I’ve figured out a few things that work well and quite a few things that don’t.

Let’s dig into that last little bit left behind in the containers in our lives.

It’s probably not worth it to put in significant effort to get out the last little bit.

In general, the value you get from extracting the small amount of remaining… stuff in the container isn’t worth it if it requires a lot more effort than the normal ways in which you use the product.

For example, with a tube of toothpaste, each use uses up perhaps two cents of toothpaste, so cutting open the tube to get one to three more uses out of it will only save you a nickel or perhaps a dime.

The only real reason to put in much effort to get that last little bit out is if it psychologically bothers you to waste it, in which case the sheer sense of feeling good about getting that last bit out is the reason to do it. Some people get a lot of personal value out of knowing that they used it all up. (I’m not really in that group, though I certainly sympathize with that kind of feeling.)

The best solution for toothpaste tubes is to start from the end and empty it gradually throughout usage.

Rather than having to force the last bit out of the tube at the end or try to mangle the toothpaste tube, a much better approach is to use a clip throughout the entire time you use the tube. Squeeze from the bottom of the tube each time and then roll up the tube every few uses, applying a clip to the bottom of the tube to hold it in place. That way, when you do get to the end, the tube is really empty.

This is a far more efficient way of getting every bit out of the toothpaste tube than cutting it apart or exerting a lot of force near the end.

(While we’re talking toothpaste, anything more than a pea-sized amount on your toothbrush is wasted. Get used to just getting an amount on there that’s the size of a pea and your toothpaste will last way longer. Ignore the ads that show a huge line of toothpaste on the brush – they want you to use far too much so you’ll buy tubes more frequently.)

For peanut butter jars, use the remaining bits as an ingredient in something you make in the jar.

For example, if you really like making cookies with a hint of peanut butter in the dough, literally make some of the dough inside the peanut butter jar, adding flour and water until you have a dough ball that will take all of the peanut butter right off the sides of the jar as you mix it.

If you like Thai food, you can use the jar to make a wonderful sauce right in the jar, with some great peanut flavor. Here’s a nice recipe, where you just mix everything in the jar and then dump it out, leaving very little of anything in the jar.

As an aside, my youngest son will take a nearly-empty jar of peanut butter and stick a slice of bread in there with his small hands, rubbing it around the inside, so he can have half a peanut butter sandwich. I’m not sure it’s particularly efficient, but it does get most of the remaining peanut butter out and it seems to make him pretty happy!

For many bottles, simply invert them.

If you notice that your bottle of shampoo or body wash or lotion is mostly empty, simply turn the thing upside down and leave it until your next use. This will allow all of that extra stuff to collect at the top of the bottle and usually get you one final nice use out of the contents.

For me, this is the easiest way to get the last bit out of a bottle. It doesn’t involve cutting anything and lets gravity do the work.

I don’t find it useful to add (much) water to the bottle. It usually dilutes whatever is inside to the point where it doesn’t work particularly well. Watered-down shampoo is pretty difficult to use well, in particular. It’s much better to use a small shot of gravity-collected shampoo built up from inverting the bottle. If the liquid or gel in the bottle is really thick, you can add a tiny bit of water before inverting it; just shake it really well before flipping it over.

This also works well for condiments and salad dressing. Just put the cap on well and store it in the fridge upside down. You’ll almost always get one more use out of the item before it’s truly empty.

If you have an almost-empty bottle of olive oil, make salad dressing right in the bottle.

If there’s a small amount left in a bottle of olive oil, it’s perfect for just making a salad dressing or marinade right in the bottle. Just mix in the other ingredients you need directly in the bottle, add a bit more olive oil from a new bottle if needed, then you can just shake it thoroughly in that old bottle and dispense it right from that bottle.

This not only gets almost all of the remaining oil out of the bottle, but it also saves you from having to dirty up another container for your olive oil for that meal.

If you have a bottle of honey or molasses, just run it under hot water for a while.

Just put the whole container in the sink under hot water for 15 or 30 seconds (perhaps while you’re doing something else) and the honey or molasses will suddenly be a whole lot runnier and will easily pour out of the container.

I often do this while running hot water for some other purpose, like filling up a pot for boiling or filling a sink basin for washing dishes, so the hot water isn’t wasted.

If you have a thick canned good, like tomato paste or cranberry sauce, cut the bottom off the can at the start.

This allows you to slide one of the can lids right through the can, pushing the stuff inside right out the other side and leaving almost nothing in the can.

Many cans with thick liquids in them, like tomato paste, come predesigned so that you can open both ends easily.

If you don’t need a full can of tomato paste, put the extra paste into a small container in the fridge. It’ll last a long time in there (tomato is acidic and the fridge is cool), so you can use the rest later on.

If you have expensive lotions and moisturizers in a tube, squeeze the bottom half (flat end) of the tube’s contents into the top half, cut off the bottom half of the tube, and use a cotton swab to remove the remaining contents.

Lotion tubes are pretty much the only containers I’ll bother destroying to get more material out, simply because the contents of those tubes are usually pretty expensive and there can actually be a lot of lotion in the tube when it feels “empty.”

The way that seems most effective in my trials (and many errors) is to squeeze the flat end of the tube thoroughly toward the cap, then cut off the flat end about a third of the way down the tube, and discard that flat end. The remaining tube usually has a fair amount of lotion/cream still in there, which you can remove with your fingers or a cotton swab. You can then cover that open end with a small bag or pinch the tube shut with a clip.

This seems to do a really good job of getting several more uses out of a lotion/cream/moisturizer tube.

Getting the last little bit out isn’t a big deal, but if you can do it efficiently, it spreads out your purchases a little.

If you can get another 5% of value out of a container without much additional effort or just by using a bit of creativity, that means you’re waiting just a little longer to replace that item, and over time, it builds up to a free container. Plus, you’re filling up the trash a little more slowly than before.

It’s not a big thing, obviously. Rather, it’s something very tiny you can do, and if you find lots of tiny things in your life, they add up to something surprisingly big. If you can save a quarter a month with little effort, that’s not a big deal. If you can find 50 of those things, you save $150 a year, and that’s half of a car payment.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Reviewed by

  • Courtney Mihocik
    Courtney Mihocik
    Loans Editor

    Courtney Mihocik is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, auto loans, and debt consolidation loans. She is a former writer and contributing editor to Interest.com, PersonalLoans.org, and elsewhere.