When I try to separate the lid from a can that has a pull-tab, the moment the lid separates from the can, the lid flings food everywhere. It's not always a lot, but it goes far because the lid has so much spring-tension.

I'd keep the last bit of the lid on the can, but sometimes I need the lid off to get everything out or to fully clean the can. (I don't want any remaining food in the can afterwards. My house pets will try to steal the can, and wild animals will try to steal the can from my recycling bin.

What methods can be used to avoid the mess and keep the kitchen clean?

Canned food with pull tabs
(Image from self.com)

  • 2
    Why would leaving the lid attached interfere with recycling?
    – Stephie
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 20:27
  • 1
    @Stephie Maybe it's not an issue with recycling. I guess it's more important for myself, should I need the lid off to get everything out or clean it..
    – Bort
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 21:04
  • 1
    @M.K. I keep a strong refrigerator magnet around specifically for the purpose of retrieving can lids that fall into the can (though generally not an issue on the kind with the pull-tab). Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:42
  • 2
    @Stephie if the lid is attached, and gets folded in, then that functions like a barb and can trap animals in the can. Wild animals may smell the food even after washing, and stick their heads in to see if its edible. Then the lid catches as they try to back out. The solution is to flatten the mouth of the can into a line to stop anything larger than an insect getting in.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 23:40
  • 1
    But it is so easy to clean one of these cans that still has the lid attached...
    – minseong
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 0:40

14 Answers 14


For most of the removal, leverage rather than brute force will give more control, so you don't accidentally pull the last bit off.

At the end while pulling gently on the ring, rock the lid from side to side, so you're only trying to open one side of the remaining seam. It's much less likely to flick that way. While my right hand does that, my left hold the can in such a way that it would probably be in the way of anything flying, but it rarely needs to.

Another approach is to open the lid most of the way, remove most of the contents, then push the lid inwards to finish breaking it off (or in/out until the metal fatigues and it breaks easily). This works well for things like beans or custard, that come out easily with a pour/scrape.

  • @Bort I second this for the leverage comment. I usually put a knuckle behind the tab while pulling to slow the opening velocity, to exert only the minimum force required to separate the lid from the can.
    – MDMoore313
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 3:49

This answer is not ideal, as it avoids the use of the pull-tab altogether:

Use a regular can opener instead. No flinging of food involved!

  • 8
    "sometimes I need the lid off to get everything out or to fully clean the can"... in that case, I would strongly recommend a side-cutting can opener. Besides solving the problem (and greatly reducing sharp edges), it won't leave a lip at the top of the can, which will allow you to get more of the contents out. Also, consider rinsing your cans before disposing of them.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 13:17
  • I do rinse my cans, the problem is getting the water stream in all the corners while the lid is still attached. Also - I have a side cutter and it's the only way to fly!
    – Bort
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 13:20
  • 1
    Ah, I missed you were answering your own question. Removing the entire top does help considerably with cleaning; I've totally "given up" using the pull-tops on my cats' food cans partly for that reason. (More because with no upper lip, the entire contents will slide right out...)
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 13:25
  • @Matthew Nice pro tip for sliding food out!
    – Bort
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 13:28
  • 2
    There's 2 other answers also suggesting to use a can opener. I wonder if they noticed you already posted that possibility.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 19:07

The lid isn't flinging the food around. That happens because the can is moving.

The simple solution is hold the can firmly in place on a table, worktop, etc, with one hand, while you pull on the ring with the other. If the can doesn't move, the contents won't go anywhere.

  • 12
    Um...the lid is definitely flinging food. When the lid detaches, all the food on the lid is now moving with the same velocity as the lid. Are you really suggesting that if the can is stationary, the oils and solids on the lid will magically stay on the lid after departure?
    – Bort
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 12:58
  • @Bort I think you may be pulling the lid too violently if that's what you're experiencing. You can try applying less force and restraining the lid with your thumb from the top so it moves slowly and doesn't transfer too much kinetic energy to everything that's stuck to it.
    – undercat
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:51
  • 1
    This was my answer too. The OP's comment here is not clear in the original post. In light of this, add "wipe the lid down before pulling the last bit".
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 16:16
  • 1
    Lids are springy, some more than others. They store up energy while you are pulling on them, no matter how slowly you pull, and when they detach, the lid springs back quite quickly. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 19:10
  • 1
    @undercatapplaudsMonica There is no violent force involved. I either apply too little force and the lid does not detach, or I apply just enough and it violently releases from the can. This is similar to breaking a (dry) wooden stick. It either breaks or it doesn't. The built up potential energy is released suddenly.
    – Bort
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 19:28
  • Remove the lid slowly.
  • Hold a paper towel around the opening at the last moment when the lid detaches.
  • Minimise the quantity of food on the underside of the lid by storing the can upright, and perhaps tapping the can on a surface (keeping it upright) a few times before opening to dislodge the remainder.

One useful trick I've found is to judge the point at which the lid is close to detaching from the can, and then rotate it 90 degrees. Keep pulling it in the same direction as before to detach it, but now:

  1. The edge of the lid now rests against the edge of the can, like a lever, and you've got much more control over it, meaning you can apply a more gentle force and carefully lever it off
  2. The force you're applying doesn't bend the lid, so when it detaches it won't spring back and fling food everywhere.
  • That's how I do it as well, works way better than just rocking back and forth.
    – MaxD
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:51
  • This kinda work and is what I used to do too, although you have to be careful not to cut yourself on the sharp edges of the lid.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:24
  • Yeah, I just keep my finger in the ring pull, and maybe use a finger or thumb on one side of the lid to steady it, but stay away from the edges
    – canton7
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 23:32

The crucial thing is, don't put your finger through the loop and pull straight up. It's essential to put your thumb on the lid, then use your middle finger in the loop and lever the lid over your thumb.

  • 1
    The thumb may or may not be necessary (depending on how strong you are and maybe how flexible the metal is, that can also vary), but key point (worth my +1) is to pull the loop back rather than up. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:38

On the same approach as what @Chris H is suggesting about pushing the lid inwards.

Once I opened the lid as far as possible, what I tend to do is:

  • Push the lid back down.
  • Pull the lid back up.
  • (Try to push it inwards after several back and forth)
  • Repeat until it wears down and break off by itself.

You don't need to do it fast. Do it at your own pace and it will eventually wear down.

The advantage of this approach is that you don't need to apply strength nor anything, so you avoid having food flying around, or accidentally cutting your hand with the sharp edge of the lid.

  • When I tried this on several cans, it worked because the remaining small tip holding the lid wasn't too big. I have yet to see a lid with a big tip, but something tells me it would take much longer to wear it down.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:08
  • 1
    The time to break should be a function of the thickness of the metal being broken, and how far you’re moving it each time. The width attached would change the force that you need to apply, so only has an indirect effect as maybe you can’t push it as far as quickly. So it might be slightly longer, but not significantly unless the thickness changes (The materials science concept is called ‘cold work’ which leads to a brittle fracture if done too much)
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 3:43
  • As a side note, it seemed to be much easier when I opened the lid in a way that it didn't get bent (i.e, the lid was still flat), which might not be possible with every cans.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 5:10
  • 1
    I think what happens is that the curl acts as a spring so the force you’re applying is absorbed there and not transferred to the seam where you want it to break
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 12:00

I put the handle of a wooden spoon through the loop, and lever it thus, while holding the can down firmly on a surface.

A top view picture of a can. The loop has been lifted up perpendicularly to the unopened lid. A wooden stick has been inserted through the loop. The edge of the stick has a dent, which allows it to sit firmly against the edge of the can, when it's used as a lever to open the lid.

Although the lever is inefficient, it gets you nearly all the way. Once there, you can floor the end of the handle on the surface, and, while still holding the can down, a few back-and-forth bends on the remaining hinge does the rest.

  • 1
    I've used a butter knife for this purpose. About any strong stick like object that will fit through the hole should work. Commented May 16, 2021 at 21:13

Are you opening some super industrial strength cans or something?

  1. Set the can on a table
  2. Lift the tab up so the front pokes down into the food and breaks the vacuum seal.
  3. Pull the tab backwards, not upwards, so the lid 'peels' off the top of the food inside.
  • 2
    This is perfectly good advice for people without a relative weakness due, for example, to arthritis. There are plenty of folks out there who can't do this. Commented May 1, 2021 at 18:57
  • 1
    @RobinBetts Oh! I wondered so much about the question, because I have never had my food getting flinged, and only after reading this answer and your comment, did I realize that this is the way I have always opened them, and that other ways (beside a can opener) are possible at all.
    – rumtscho
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 17:55
  • @RobinBetts Yeah but people with disabilities would use a can opener, perhaps even an electric one.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 10:23
  • @Frank Sure. Everyone will find the most suitable solution for themselves. Speaking as someone who cares for a hemiplegic with arthritis in the working side, in our case, we have found that it's better to keep the number of contraptions to a minimum, and as simple and generally useful as possible. A clamp for holding items still is one such. Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 10:45

Open the can inside a clear plastic bag.


When I try to do this, I use a combination of things I have seen here in the other answers:

  1. Start by lifting the tab so that the corner of the lid separates inward while giving increased attention to the pressure inside the lid

    • a paper towel around and over the top might be used to prevent the overpressure discharge of slightly pressurized cans
    • This point might not always be possible, as the ring might be weakly attached or the lid might be attached too much

  1. Rest the back of your palm or your thumb as a leverage point against the part of the lid opposite to the ring
    • what I mean by that is to pull your middle finger or pointer finger through the ring from the top
    • rest the back of your palm against the back of the lid (the place directly opposite to the ring)
    • if the can is too small or your hands are weak, place your thumb at the middle or back part of the lid instead
    • Open the first half/two-thirds of the lid by pressing the middle finger against the back of your palm and gently lifting your palm from the back of the lid
    • If you used your thumb instead, use the thumb as the fulcrum point

  1. Open the last bit by gently placing the thumb on top of the remaining attached part opposite the ring and use it as leverage and to control the flicker of the part as it separates from the rest of the can
    • you can also open the remaining part by SWAYING your palm left and right with the thumb as a leverage
    • The thumb now ensures that the lid does not "spring" away while it separates from the can and does not fling food to undesirable locations

I am feeding our dog and cat daily with wet canned food in combination with the food we cooked/prepared ourselves and this is the way I developed to prevent flickering the food off of the lid under spring tension.


A pair of hand can be seen opening the lid of a can with a can opener. Notice that it isn't a standard can opener that simply cuts off the lid, but a side cutting can opener, which cuts the lid off the can from the side, instead of from the top

Just use one of these (non-standard) bad boys. (A smooth edge can opener)

  • 1
    It's worth noting that the picture is not a standard can opener -- it's a side-cutting can opener. (note how the cut lid is not flat, it has a lip to it)
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:29
  • This may actually be the current "standard". At least these are the only ones I see available for purchase in stores anymore. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:38
  • @Joe Thanks, I actually had no idea what was on the picture until I saw your comment.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 19:12
  • This answer was also already given.
    – Bort
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 19:29
  • @Bort : using a can opener was given ... but there are many types of can openers, and I'd be reluctant to use some of them with all types of pull-top cans. Although we also get into the question of what's a "can", as there are plenty of non-round metal containers (eg, tinner sardines or spam) where this style of can opener probably won't work.
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 20:14

Firmly hold the can down against a fixed surface so that it cannot move when it separates from the lid, preventing spills.

To capture material flicked from the lid, do this at the bottom of a sink rather than a table or countertop.

Or drape a cloth over your hand to capture the splatter.


On the odd occasions when the ringpull has failed, I resort to the humble can opener. Never let me down yet ! But as far as your problem is concerned, you can resort to the same for the last part of the circumference. That gets the whole top off with no drama.

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