The Do’s and Don’ts of Gold Panning at Home

There are lots of reasons to get into panning for gold.

Gold prospecting and mining begins and ends with a gold pan.

To me, the obvious reasons are that gold panning is a lot of fun, especially when all you must do is place an online order and be panning for gold within just a few days. Unlike most hobbies, you have something of real value to show for your efforts...few things are more beautiful than gold. So, let’s say you have decided to try your hand at gold panning.

How do you go about it? Here is my list of Do’s and Don’ts for folks new to the gold panning hobby:

As a newbie, don’t

Don’t buy gold paydirt an investment. If you want to invest in gold, buy bullion bars or bullion coins. Bullion bars will carry the smallest premiums depending on what size you are buying. If you buy coins, buy bullion coins, not numismatic (coin collecting) pieces which carry high premiums in most cases. 

1. Don’t run out and buy a bunch of equipment. Mining the miners” has been around for a long time and apart from the lucky few, the only people who get rich prospecting/mining for gold are the suppliers of the tools and equipment necessary to recover gold. Sam Brannan of California was a good example in the California Gold Rush of 1849. Read more: Samuel Brannan - Wikipedia 

2. Don’t classify (by using sieves or screens) your paydirt before you start panning unless the paydirt has really large rocks in it. Why? The whole point of panning for gold – as a hobby – is to experience the Eureka moment...the moment the gold first reveals itself from under the black sand and heavies in the bottom of a gold pan! You SHOULD pick out any large rocks by hand which will interfere with the flow of the panning process, but don’t obsess about it. The best place to find a beautiful nugget is when it comes to light in the pan, not in a classifying screen! Savor the moment you first see the gold! It’s awesome! It’s why we pan for gold! Read more here:  

Note: By all means, do everything possible to recover ALL the gold in your gold pan, but don't miss the thrill and enjoyment of having that Eureka! moment. Savor it, enjoy it, experience the thrill of discovery! Have your Eureka moment first! Then move on to the recovery process and focusing on how much gold you end up with. Don't confuse the Eureka! moment with the satisfaction that comes from knowing you got all the gold out of your paydirt. These are two different things.

3. Don’t stop to pick through the material in your pan, looking for pieces of gold while there is still a lot of material in the pan. Finish the panning process until little or no material is left in your pan except the “heavies.” Newbies are notorious for this and it demonstrates immediately that they don’t really know how to pan. 

4. Don’t buy gold paydirt that doesn’t guarantee a “not less than” amount of gold you can expect to recover. 

5. Don’t buy gold ore that needs to be crushed before it can be panned. In most cases, this is a labor intensive and disappointing process. 

6. Don’t buy paydirt that contains a lot of black sand until you gain some panning experience and become confident in your skills. Some people thrive on the challenge and it’s ok to test your panning skills…once in a while

7. Don’t buy “unsearched” paydirt. If it has decent gold in it, then it is most likely not “unsearched.” Most paydirt is “seeded.” That is the guaranteed minimum is added to the paydirt to ensure you get what you pay for. And by the way, “seeding” is not the same as “salting.” Salting is a deceptive process used to make a gold mine appear to be worth more than it really is. It involves hiding some gold in a particular spot and then leading a prospective buyer to dig it up from that spot. Thus leading the prospective buyer to think he has found the motherlode! In the old days, this was accomplished by loading shotgun shells with gold nuggets and firing them into the walls of the mine, ready for the unsuspecting buyer to “find.” 

8. Don’t ignore paydirt reviews when trying to decide which paydirt companies to do business with – they can help keep your expectations in check. However, beware of any seller whose reviews seem “too good to be true.” +Miller Prospecting - YouTube, Klesh - YouTube, and Bill’s Trash and Treasures (YouTube) provide valuable insights into what to expect from various paydirt sellers. 

9. Don't inhale any of the dust from dry paydirt. Over time, this may result in silicosis which, once it gets into your lungs, can cause serious health issues. Therefore iPan4Gold is always just a bit moist to cut down on the dust gold panners are exposed to.

***Be advised, there are some paydirt reviewers who offer a positive review in exchange for free paydirt from a seller. You can’t trust unethical people.***

 As a Newbie, here are some “Do’s” 

1. Do have the right basic equipment. To successfully pan for gold, you only need a few:

  • Two gold pans – a 12” to 14”pan to be your safety pan, and a 10”-11” primary cleanup pan. 
  • A snuffer bottle – to vacuum up the gold out of the gold pan
  • A vial - to hold the gold you transfer from your snuffer bottle
  • A gram scale – so you can measure your success
  • A supply of gold paydirt – you can’t recover gold if it’s not in the dirt to begin with.
  • A water-filled tub or other water supply
  • You don’t need a pick and shovel if you purchase gold paydirt that is ready to pan.

2. ALWAYS pan into a safety pan. That way you should never “lose” any gold. Too, remember, “good panning is re-panning.” Keep panning until you stop finding gold. I recommend the Pioneer Blue Gold Pan. Don’t buy a Garrett Super Sluice gold pan for panning gold on your patio. The riffles are too deep (approx 1”) and retain too much waste material, thereby requiring more panning time than the 3/8” and 1/8” deep riffles of the Pioneer pans.

You don’t really “need” anything else, but no doubt you’ll be attracted to some kind of gizmo that just resonates with you. My advice is simply…go slow. Let someone else buy and maybe they’ll let you use it to test it out. 😊  

3. DO buy blue gold pans. Gold and Blue are “complementary colors,” that is, they are opposite one another on a color wheel. That means gold usually shows up best against a blue background While there are exceptions and personal preferences, ultimately you have to use the equipment that produces the best results for you…buy blue pans. Read more here: 

4. Do practice. Perfect practice makes perfect execution. As with anything else, you need to practice panning until you become proficient enough to have confidence in your panning skills. Confidence means you can pan your paydirt aggressively without fear of losing any gold because you know everything that washes out of the pan will be captured in your safety pan – again “good panning is re-panning.” The tendency for many novice gold panners is to be so afraid of “losing” gold and so they are so timid in the panning technique that they take way too long to pan out a pan of paydirt and they miss more gold as well. Remember: you can’t lose any gold if you are panning into a safety pan. Watch the videos on our iPan4Gold YouTube channel and practice, practice, practice! 

5. Do join a GPAA Chapter (Gold Prospectors Association of America > Home) if one is nearby. You’ll meet some friendly people who will be happy to help you learn the ropes of prospecting and panning. They may even invite you to go along on their next outing. If you do, make sure you do your best to be helpful and considerate of your hosts and to do everything you can to help out. By doing so you will gain some friends for life. 

6. Do search YouTube for gold panning videos. You can learn a lot by watching lots of videos. Some of my favorites are those found on YouTube: Dan Hurd, Ask Jeff Doc at GoldHog has a lot of videos and if you invest the time, you will learn some important principles that will make you a better gold panner for sure. Start with this one: My favorite video of course is found here: 

7. Do set up a comfortable panning station on your patio, in the shade, with a comfortable chair, and a tub of clean water on a sturdy table. You will be panning with water and it could get a little messy so be sure and set up in a location where a little spilled water won’t create a problem. 

8. Do obtain a good gram scale that can accurately weigh to within the 1/100 of a gram. This will enable you to gauge how efficient you are becoming with your panning skills as well keep a running tally on how much gold you have accumulated. 

9. Do keep your tailings (the material left over after removing the gold). Re-pan your tailings after a few months. You may be surprised to find gold you had missed as a novice. 

10. Do keep a record of your gold paydirt purchases and how much gold is recovered from each vendor/shipmen This will enable you to gain knowledge into which paydirt sellers offer the best yields, quality, and other characteristics.

11. Do share your thoughts with us, we’ll add to the list!

 Send me your feedback at


  • Hi Michael, I subscribe to a slightly different approach to panning I sieve everything to sub 100 mesh. I realize your pay dirt contains very little sub 30 mesh but some of my material is dredge concentrates that carry gold as fine as 300 mesh. To extract as much gold as possible i believe in Mike Pung’s comment to me at a gold show, " if everything in the pan is the same size then gold wins". This has worked very well for me. Where your dirt is concerned, I have never recovered less than 10% more than quoted. WhichI greatly appreciate. Please keep up the good work.

    Mike Gearon on
  • All very good advice!!!!

    howard e metiva on

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