Tips For Storing Water in 55-Gallon Plastic Water Barrels

Tips for Storing Water In 55 Gallon Water Barrels

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Tips For Storing Water in 55-Gallon Plastic Water Barrels

Storing water in 55- gallon water barrels is considered long term water storage. Long term water storage is a critical part of your emergency preparedness! Please, please do not put off your emergency water storage. You and your family would only survive a couple of days without access to water.

Today is the day to fill up your water barrels.

While there are a few larger options for water storage (totes and barrels around the 100- 300 gallon range), we will be discussing storing water in 55-gallon plastic water barrels for this post.

I understand that this whole process can feel overwhelming, but we have it broken down for you so that it is easy to get started.

Just Starting Your Emergency Water Storage Journey?

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How Much Emergency Water Storage Do I Need?

Family Size And Recommendations: recommends:

“Store at least one gallon of water per person per day for three days, for drinking and sanitation. A normally active person needs about three quarters of a gallon of fluid daily, from water and other beverages. However, individual needs vary depending on age, health, physical condition, activity, diet and climate.

Take the following into account:

  • Children, nursing mothers and sick people may need more water.
  • A medical emergency might require additional water.
  • If you live in a warm weather climate more water may be necessary. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.”

So if you are a family of five and you want enough water to last a week: 

5 gallons per day x 7 days = roughly 35 gallons of water*

*Keep in mind the considerations above including pets.

**Also consider what your food storage will consist of and how much water you will need to make your meals (consider freeze dried meals).

Bottom line: You decide how much water your family needs and for how long you’d like to store for. Determine how much portable water storage you already have saved and add the rest onto your “long term” water storage.

Water Barrels.

Preservation of food is also essential to homesteading & emergency preparedness! Freeze drying is the most lightweight option for food storage and has a shelf life up to 25-30 years. If you haven’t heard of them, Harvest Right is an excellent company that has in our opinion the best at home freeze dryers on the market. Check them out and see what you think:


How To Select The Right Barrel

A 55-gallon plastic water barrel is 36″ high and 24″ wide. They weigh well over 450lbs when completely filled.

Make sure that the barrel you are purchasing or using is made of food grade plastic. The most common plastic used to make 55-gallon water drums is called HDPE or High Density Polyethylene. Cheaper, non food grade plastics will leech toxic chemicals into your water over time.

While brand new barrels are expensive, they come with the peace of mind knowing that nothing toxic was stored in them previously.

If you get your hands on a used barrel, make sure you know what has been stored in it previous to your ownership of it. Regardless of its history, every barrel should be properly cleaned and prepped before being filled (see below).

What Other Supplies Do I Need?

Make sure that your barrels have bung caps for a proper seal.

Additionally, in order to properly tighten and loosen those caps, you will need a bung wrench.

Determine how you will have access to your water in an emergency. Either using a drinking water hose as a siphon, or a heavy duty pump that can be inserted into the barrel and pump the water directly into your water container. The pump showed below can pump up to seven gallons per minute.

A water pump will allow you to easily pump out the water when needed. Another option is a drinking water hose as a siphon.

Consider getting a 55-gallon water drum dolly so that you can get it up off the ground and have wheels underneath for portability.

Barrels should be off of the ground. Do not store them directly on top of concrete. A dolly is great, or simply wooden pallets will do. You can easily get wooden pallets for free from an online yard sale group or hardware store.

Where Should You Store Your 55- Gallon Water Barrels?

Live In A Small Apartment?

I have a friend who lives in a two bedroom apartment and is serious about being prepared in case of an emergency. She has her two 55-gallon plastic water barrels in her bedroom.

She’s cut a piece of plywood into a rectangle, placed them on top and draped a lovely tablecloth on top of them that goes all the way down to the floor. She uses the surface as a “nightstand” surface for things like books, glasses or photo frames. At a glance, you would never know she had her water stored there.

Bung cap and bung wrench.
Have Your Own Private Well?

Consider a family that lives in the country with their own private well. They have a spacious home and even a cold cellar where they store their harvested food year round.

One would think that they wouldn’t need to worry about emergency water storage… but they know better. They’ve got all the supplies they need in case they need to leave their property quickly. That includes some portable water containers, their own water pumps and filters, some rain water barrels for their livestock and finally their water barrels or totes in the cold cellar.

Why? They may need to evacuate their property. They understand that well water is a responsibility that they’ve taken on to make sure it is healthy and ready to drink. Well water can become contaminated just like water from the city, in fact it’s fairly common. It is recommended that private wells be tested once a year.

Sunlight, Temperature, Portability & A Way To Drain Them

Water barrels can present many challenges when deciding the right place to store them. Not everyone has a basement, and basements are not the easiest to access.

With that in mind (and though ideally you should rotate the water each year), as long as water is not being contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens it never really goes “bad” on its own. Run all that water through a filter before using and you should be fine.

Water barrels should never be stored in direct sunlight. Sunlight will promote algae growth and break down the plastic over time. In fact the ideal environment for them is in a cool, dark room year round.

Many people use black tarps to completely cover the barrels and this works well to keep out unwanted sunlight. Or they have covers that are specifically made to cover 55 gallon water drums.

If you are storing them in the garage and have cold, freezing winters, do not fill up your barrels all the way because when the water freezes it expands and you’d likely deal with some cracking if the barrels are filled to the brim.

A water barrel dolly will allow for portability of your 400+ lb water barrel when filled.
Portability & Draining:

Think about the weight of this barrel once full. You’re talking over 400+lbs of water per barrel! It is not going anywhere once full so have a plan for draining and refilling in the future.

Some basements or garages have built in drains in the floor. You can use a drinking water hose to siphon the water out when needed or to refill from a sink.

Again, think about getting a 55-gallon water drum dolly so that you can get it up off the ground and have wheels underneath for portability.

Consider Your Space & Be Creative

Your basement, your office, bedroom, sun room, cold storage room, the garage etc. The bottom line is that if it is a priority to you, then you will be able to find a place for them to be.

Remember that it is better to have some water in a “less ideal” location or environment than to have none at all.

How To Prep Your 55-Gallon Plastic Water Barrels

Brand new barrel- If your water barrel is brand new, the only thing you should do to prep it is add a couple gallons of clean water. Roll the barrel around, turn it upside down making sure all parts of the inside have been rinsed. Drain and you’re ready to fill it up!

Used barrel that requires cleaning- Again, never use a barrel that once carried any kind of toxic materials.

If your barrel had an oily substance like vegetable oil, then using a bit of dish soap will really help. Just keep in mind that you will have to rinse and re-rinse over and over until you no longer get any suds from the barrel.

The best method in my opinion is to use a chlorine bleach solution to clean your water barrel because it eliminates odors, kills algae, molds, mildews and bacteria left in the barrel. Simply use 4 T of bleach mixed with 2 gallons of water.

4 T of Bleach to Every 2 Gallons of Water

Add the solution, tighten the bung caps and roll the barrel around, turn it upside down etc. Allow it to sit for at least an hour, with occasional mixing and rolling. Drain and rinse a few times until you’re confident it is properly rinsed.

Time To Fill Them Up – Yes, Just Make It Happen Already!

Don’t put off filling your water barrels. The time is now.

If you are using a hose for filling, again, it is wise to use a drinking water hose to ensure the hose will not contaminate your water supply.

If filling from a chlorinated municipal city source at a time with no contamination, you do not need to treat your water being stored. You can just fill the barrels and you are ready to go. Use the bung wrench to tighten properly and you’re ready to store them.

If filling with untreated water or with water you’re unsure about, it’s best to treat the water at the time of putting it in the barrel.

Here are 3 methods of purifying the water in your 55-gallon plastic water barrel:

  1. Aquamira chlorine dioxide water treatment. These ones are a bit more expensive but they actually enhance the taste of your water, won’t discolor it and use oxygen to disinfect. They also sell it in drops.
  2. Adding 2 Tablespoons of fresh unscented regular bleach. Sodium hypochlorite. Add the 2 T and then simply seal the water barrel and you’re good to go.
  3. 1/4 teaspoon of calcium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite is also called bleaching powder, chlorine powder, or chlorinated lime. It is very popular for water purification because it is very inexpensive and can be used to actually make your own fresh liquid bleach. If you already have a pool that you use it for, this may be your best bet. Unused on the shelf it has a shelf life for up to 5 years.
Aquamira water treatment.

How Often Do I Need To Refill Them?

It is recommended to rotate your emergency water storage every 6-12 months. That is the best practice to have if you can fit that into your yearly plans.

However, if that isn’t an ideal in your world, that’s okay.

Remember that in an emergency this water will likely be the best you’ve got and as long as it doesn’t smell or look discolored you will be fine, particularly with extra filtering if you’re concerned. Water is a stable compound that doesn’t just go bad on it’s own.





Remember that it is better to have some water in a “less ideal” location or environment than to have none at all.

I hope you enjoyed these tips for storing water in 55-gallon water barrels and that it was helpful to you. If it was, please share! Comment below and share how this whole process went for you and any questions you may have.

Wishing you and your family all the best in your self reliance journey.

All the best,


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Herbs, Birds & the Bees

Garden, Chickens, Bees & Homestead


8 thoughts on “Tips For Storing Water in 55-Gallon Plastic Water Barrels

  1. Great advice. We have smaller amounts stored in the basement. Sometimes, it is difficult for people to see the necessity in it, but in the end, peace of mind knowing it’s there is all you need.

  2. Great tips. We always try to be prepared especially since we’ve been getting crazy storms lately. I never knew how much water we needed til now.

  3. I would have never thought about being prepared like this but I am so glad you shared it! It is really important to be ready for an emergency especially for the sake of my 4 kids. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome Danielle! That’s certainly true, once you have kids there’s even more pressure and motivation there to be prepared. Wishing you all the best!