A water barrel may be used to store drinking water for emergencies like earthquakes or other natural disasters. These barrels may also be used to collect rainwater to use for gardening, cleaning and other tasks. The rainwater barrel has a spigot at the bottom. Water barrels are usually made of plastic.
Water Barrel Cleaning and Care
A water barrel is used to collect and store rainwater, or to store clean water for personal use during emergencies. A barrel with a spigot at the bottom is commonly called a rain barrel. Water barrels are usually made of plastic, but some are made of wood.
Standalone water barrels (without a bottom spigot) are designed to store water for emergencies and provide enough water for four people for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. They don't gather rainwater and will only have bung seals on the top, not on the bottom.
Most new and used plastic rain barrels are pre-sanitized. These barrels are usually 55 pounds. Use food-grade barrels to prevent contamination, and never repurpose a barrel that used to hold toxic substances. Buy a brand-new barrel instead.
Caring for your barrel starts right after you buy it. Installing it the right way will ensure fewer problems; choose a plastic rain barrel made of quality material designed to hold water. Cheap barrels may be unable to hold much water without leaking.
Here are some tips for installation:
- Set up the barrel on a firm base to prevent tipping
- Fasten the top to keep insects out and pets or children safe
- Place the overflow valve toward the yard, rather than near the foundation of a building
- Cleaning Your Barrel
There are several ways to clean a plastic rain barrel. Here are three of our favorites:
Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Water
Put a half-gallon of vinegar and a box of baking soda in a barrel one-quarter full of water. Adjust the bung caps. The baking soda and vinegar will foam like it does when you use the combination to clean your sink drains. The foam removes any algae or mold that has formed inside the barrel.
If you have a barrel that’s been neglected for awhile, let the mixture stay in the barrel til morning. Rotate the barrel a few times, or roll it around the yard to get the mixture sloshing through it.
You should turn the barrel upside down to clean the bottom of the lid, too. Empty the barrel and rinse it several times with water to remove the solution.
Bleach and Water
A second cleaning method involves filling the barrel one-quarter full of water and adding a cup of bleach. Close the caps. The bleach solution will kill any algae or bacteria inside the barrel.
Leave the solution in the barrel overnight for extra cleaning. Rotate it or roll it around the yard a few times to get the entire barrel clean. Empty the barrel, but be careful when you dump the water in the yard.
The bleach smell may irritate pets or neighbors, and stray drops may seep near bird or pet food. Rinse the barrel thoroughly with water until it doesn’t smell of bleach.
This cleaning method also sanitizes your storage-only water barrels or rainwater barrels. It uses bleach, like the cleaning method outlined in one of the previous sections. You need to use four and a half cups of bleach for a 55-gallon barrel.
Dish Detergent or Castile Soap
Use soap when the inside of the barrel is greasy or excessively dirty. You'll need to rinse the barrel as many as four or five times to banish the residue, depending on how much soap you use.
Dish detergent is an excellent choice if you are repurposing a vegetable oil barrel or any used barrel that had held a greasy, safe liquid. You can use few drops of dish detergent or even a quarter cup, depending on the amount of grease. Use a sponge or washcloth to clean debris stuck on the walls or lid bottom.
Spray the inside of the barrel with a garden hose several times to rinse off the detergent residue.
If the barrel is somewhat greasy, try using a few tablespoons of castile soap and vinegar to every gallon of water. Cap the barrel and roll it around the yard to get the walls and bottom lid clean. The castile soap is easier to rinse than dish detergent, so you won't need to give it as many passes with the garden hose.
Bleach or vinegar and baking soda will clean algae or mold from the side of a rainwater barrel, but you’ll need to use elbow grease to dislodge debris stick to the sides or underneath the lid. Use a scrub brush with a long handle, a washcloth or a scrubber sponge to clean the side and bottom of the barrel.
If you have a storage-only water barrel with a few holes on the top, poke a dryer lint brush through the holes. This flexible brush lets you scrub the sides and bottom of the barrel. Use a bottle brush or a pipe cleaner to get rid of debris on caps or openings.
You want to keep the outside of your barrel, clean, too. Use a soapy sponge to clean off dirt and debris, then rinse the outside of the container with your garden hose.
General Care for Rain Barrels
Check for debris occasionally in the gutter where you connect the downspout. Homeowners with spruce or pine leaves should look at the downspouts more often to prevent leaves from causing problems.
Add a screen to block debris at the gutter/downspout connection to leaves and pine needles from entering the drain and stopping up the barrel.
Protect your water barrel by placing it on a stand for easier access to the spigot. You’ll also be able to fit a sprinkling can under the spigot without a struggle by using a platform.
A stand keeps bacteria and moisture from destroying the bottom of the rain barrel.
After cleaning your water or rain barrel, check it for leaks. If you find one, use sandpaper to “rough” up the areas around the crack.
Cover the crack with a small plastic sheet and put a patch with drywall adhesive over it. Use a plastic spatula to place waterproof sealer around the patch. Let the patch dry for six to 24 hours.
Put some dish soap or a thimble-size capful of bleach into your barrel to get rid of insects that got through your filter. Disconnect your rain barrel for two weeks after insect-proofing your roof to keep treatment solutions out of your barrel.
During a storm or heavy rainfall, you should make sure there's one hose measuring 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inch connected to the overflow port of the barrel. The hose must send the water six feet or less from the house foundation.
Some homeowners use overflow hoses with soaker irrigation devices. A soaker irrigation system sends water from the barrel to parts of the yard that need water. Keep track of weather reports and slowly empty your barrel before storms if you don't want to use an overflow redirection system.
Oak Barrel Maintenance
Barrels made from French or American oak look like indoor furniture you might use as a side table or decorative piece, but they are practical water receptacles. They will last for 20-30 years or more with proper maintenance.
Wood barrels are built to last for decades, especially if you use barrels that were originally designed as wine barrels. However, you should cover your barrels if you live in a region with cold or harsh winter weather, even if the wood is weather sealed.
In the late fall, before the weather gets cold, drain all water from the barrel to prevent it from freezing and expanding. Disconnect the adapter from the downspout and cover all openings with packing tape.
Cover an oak barrel with a tarp in the winter to stop the wood from becoming dry. The cover will help it retain the humidity needed for staves to become engorged once rain returns in the spring.
Water might leak between your barrel’s staves when you first fill the container in the spring. Avoid this by keeping your barrel covered with a tarp during the winter. The barrel will expand and become tight a few days after you’ve filled it with water.
Dry weather will affect your oak barrel by causing rungs to slip. Press the rungs in their original position and add water to the barrel. Wait a few days for the water to become tight and wood to expand.
Some people prefer to let their wooden barrels age naturally and turn gray, while others apply a sealer to bring out the barrel’s grain. You can also use a wood finish to stain the barrel in an attractive color to match the building’s exterior.
Storage-Only Barrel Tips
Regular cleaning and maintenance will keep your emergency water barrel clean and keep the water in it pure and usable. If you store the barrel in your basement or garage, place in on a wooden pallet to prevent contamination from the bare floor. Use a specialty drinking water hose to fill up the barrel instead of a garden hose.
Use water treatment drops or a one-eighth teaspoon of chlorine for every gallon of water to prevent algae or bacteria from forming.
Food-grade polyethylene is the best material for a 55-gallon water storage barrel. Don’t buy wooden barrels or cheap, used barrels to store drinking water.