Today I had a disaster...

I was searching through a tray of small washers (for a M3.5 size screw for those interested) and I knocked it accidentally and the tray fell out... Needless to say I just wanted to leave it to someone else to clear up but alas it was my wrong doing. So I spent ages picking up all of these tiny washers and other small metal pieces from the floor and I thought there must be a better way.

How can I quickly and easily pick up lots of small metal objects (in this case specifically - washers)?

Methods I have tried:

  • Picking up individually - long time
  • Sweeping into a pile and then picking up - a more localized long time
  • Curling up in a ball and hoping for it to be a dream - not a dream

6 Answers 6


The best choice is to use a magnet. All you have to do is is get a magnet bar that is about the length of five of your washers (bigger is better). Now just run the magnet over the washers and it will pick them up. Depending on the strength of your magnet, it may take more than one run.

It will look something like this, but with metal washers

Metal bar picking up paper clips

Image Source

You can also make your own electromagnet if you don't have a magnet. Just get a battery, a rubber band, stripped metal wire (see here for how to strip metal wire), and a bar of metal maybe a little longer, but thinner, than the magnet I described. Now wrap the wire around the metal bar as many times as you can, but leave a few inches so you attach the wire to the battery. Now put the ends of the wire on the battery and lock them into place with the rubber band. Note: Most batteries will work. The bigger ones are more powerful, but make get hotter faster, so find a good balance. This can get hot so handle with caution. If you are not able to get all the washers up quickly, disconnect the battery and let it cool down. I also recommend working with gloves.

It will look like this, but with a metal bar.

Homemade electromagnet

Image Source

  • 1
    When doing this, wrap the magnet with a paper or a thin piece of plastic. Otherwise you'll still have to pick/scrape all the pieces off the magnet. The electromagnet is a good choice too, since you can turn it off and have everything drop off.
    – Jacob
    Mar 19, 2017 at 4:05
  • What if they are non-ferrous (don't contain iron) such as copper, bronze, fibre, plastic, and aluminum? You cannot us a magnet for non-ferrous materials. Sorry.
    – Stan
    Mar 21, 2017 at 16:35

Masking tape is another trick that may be convenient if a magnet isn't on hand. Take a big piece, pick up as many as you can, pull them off, repeat. Use a new piece of tape if it loses its stickiness.

Edit: The technique is to use one hand, slowly pull the length of tape through the air and gently put it down so it lays flat and touches as many items as possible. Use your other hand to glide down the length is the tape, pressing it down onto any objects underneath. Then pick it up whichever way seems to not drop the items.

  • This method will work when a magnet does not, when the objects are not of metal or of the wrong kind of metal. +1
    – Willeke
    Mar 19, 2017 at 9:35

Use a vacuum cleaner and attach an old panty hose / stocking on the front of the inlet. If the parts are small enough o be sucked in the vacuum, they will stick to the thin fabrik and you can peel them of or simply shut down the cleaner with the inlet over your container. http://www.instructables.com/id/25-Unique-Uses-for-Pantyhose/step4/Vacuum-Find-Lost-Objects/?comments=all

enter image description here

  • This will work for many different sizes and materials including than those made with iron.
    – Stan
    Mar 21, 2017 at 16:37

I rely on the efficiency of a plain ole broom and dustpan. I've successfully used the combo to pick up smaller and larger things from flat and irregular surfaces for years. No electricity is necessary and they can be used repeatedly without being replaced.

Stiff bristle brushes work better than soft ones. A dustpan that has a true edge that contacts the surface evenly without dents will catch even the thinnest objects. Alternately, you can use a piece of thin but stiff card stock such as used in flyers and advertising that comes to many homes for junk food and real estate.

The pan can be used to slide the pieces back into the container or you can use a funnel for the return.


The tool built for what you're trying to do is called a "Magnetic Sweeper" or a "Magnetic Pickup Tool." They are generally built for cleaning up around construction sites (e.g. finding all the roofing nails that have fallen into the grass) and can be found in most hardware stores. They have the benefit of letting you stand and walk around and can hold an impressive amount of metal material before you need to collect your findings into a bucket. Some models even feature a button/lever that disengages the magnet, allowing you to dump everything off without even reaching down for that.

The downside is that you'll need to procure one (typical retail would be $15--50 depending on size and other features). See this model at Home Depot for an example of a basic model. Edit: note that this will also obviously require the items you need to pick up to be attracted to a magnet, so no aluminum or plastic.

  • This only works for materials made with iron.
    – Stan
    Mar 21, 2017 at 16:45
  • @Stan question seems to make clear that we're in the context of steel washers, but I will edit.
    – erfink
    Mar 22, 2017 at 3:14

Dabbing the area with a damp paper towel may enable recovery of the non-ferrous tiny parts that a magnet would ignore.

  • This works best with very small items light enough to "stick" with the cohesion inherent by water surface tension.
    – Stan
    Mar 21, 2017 at 16:43

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