55-Gallon Water Storage Tanks – Tips, Tricks and How-To Use Them

55-gallon water storage tanks are probably the most common way to store large quantities of water. They’re not overly expensive, take up a lot less space than larger storage tanks, and are relatively easy for people to store in their homes.

55-gallon water storage tanks are commonly made of some type of food-grade plastic and are also commonly referred to as 55-gallon drums or water barrels. For preppers and other preparedness-minded individuals, they are one of the best ways to store enough water for your family during a disaster.

Storing enough water for your entire family is tough, but using 55-gallon drums for water storage can make it possible for the average family to store enough water for weeks, months, or even longer.

Using 55-Gallon Drums for Water Storage

For the most part, storing water in a 55-gallon drum is pretty straight forward. There just isn’t a whole lot to putting water into a container and using it later down the road, but there are some tips and tricks that can make water storage a lot easier and less involved than you think.

Start by choosing the right type of water barrel.

What to Look for in a 55-Gallon Water Barrel

When you’re choosing a 55-gallon drum for water storage, there are a few things that you should take into consideration. You’re going to want to make sure they haven’t been used to store any kind of chemicals, are made of food-grade plastics if possible, and clean the barrels before you use them.

Don’t use 55-gallon drums used to store chemicals

It probably goes without saying, but you want to make sure that you’re not using any 55-gallon drums that have been used to store chemicals in the past.

All kinds of chemicals are stored in 55-gallon drums, from pesticides to cleaners, acids to poisons. They’re all transported and distributed in 55-gallon drums. This means that we need to be careful that we know where any used 55-gallon drums come from.

If you can’t trace the origin of a 55-gallon drum, I’d suggest not using it for water storage. Even when you clean out the barrel it can still contain a residual amount of chemicals that you don’t want to drink.

Selecting food-grade containers

Any time that you start looking for plastic containers to store water in, you’re bound to hear about food-grade plastic. Most plastic containers have what looks like a recycling symbol on them with a number inside. This is what’s known as the resin identification code (RIC).

Plastic containers with RIC #2, 4, and 5 are safe for use with food and water and shouldn’t leach chemicals into your water even after long-term storage. RIC plastics #1 and 7 can be used but should be avoided if you can.

Plastics #3 and 6 should not be used as they can leach toxic chemicals into your food and water.

As long as you have a container that isn’t #3 or #6 you’ll be okay.

Good Places to Look for Used 55-Gallon Water Barrels

One of the best ways to get 55-gallon water barrels is by reaching out to companies in your local area. Wineries, soda bottling plants, candy factories, dialysis centers, bakeries, and classified ads are all great places to get cheap used 55-gallon water barrels. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find them for as low as $10 or $20.

Just make sure that you’re getting 55-gallon drums that haven’t been used to hold any kind of non-food item.

Suggestions for 55-gallon water barrels

If you want to buy new water barrels, you’re better off picking them up in person at a hardware store or country store.

If you want to order one online, you’re going to pay a lot more. You can try something like this if you’re interested in getting one sent to your front door.

How to Clean Water Barrels Before You Use Them

All water barrels should be cleaned out before you use them. This includes brand new water barrels that have never been used before! You’d be surprised at how many plastic shavings (and worse) will come out when you clean them.

There are a lot of ways to make sure that a water barrel is clean before you fill it, but I like to just use regular household chlorine bleach and water. It’s the most convenient way that I’ve found to get a water barrel clean.

Start by filling the barrel up about 1/4 of the way with clean water. Then, add a cup of chlorine bleach.

Once you have the diluted bleach mixture in your water barrel, roll it around on its side and slosh the water around to make sure that the entire inside of the barrel is getting exposed to the bleach mix. I like to leave it overnight and then do the same thing again in the morning just to be safe and make sure that the bleach has time to kill anything on the inside of the water barrel.

When you’re happy that the inside is clean, rinse the barrel out with fresh, clean water.

Where to Store your Water Tanks

Before you start filling your water tanks, you need to figure out where you’re going to put them.

You can store your water tanks inside or outside, but you should try to keep them out of direct sunlight and try to keep them from freezing. Direct sunlight will increase algae growth inside your water barrels and freezing can lead to leaks when the water expands as it freezes.

If you’re storing them outside, you should cover them with a tarp to keep the tops as clean as you can.

It’s always good to place the tanks on 2x4s or pallets. This helps keep dirt and water from pooling around the base of the barrels and it helps keep insects off of them.

Will storing plastic water containers on concrete cause contamination?

A lot of people say that storing sealed plastic containers will somehow absorb chemicals from concrete if they’re stored in direct contact with it. Some go so far as to say that the lime from the concrete will absorb into the water… Don’t worry about it!

I’ve searched all over and the only place that you can find anyone saying this is on prepping websites that cite each other as the source of the information.

Putting water barrels on pallets or 2x4s keeps water and dirt from collecting around the bottom of them, you can also argue that it would separate the barrel from the changing temperature of the concrete (even though the air temperature will be changing as well) but doing it to prevent chemicals from leaching into the water doesn’t make sense.

Make sure you have a drain nearby!

If you’re going to store your water in the basement, make sure that you have a drain in the room in case the barrel breaks! 55 gallons of water may not seem like a lot of water but it’s still plenty to damage drywall, carpets, electronics and other preps that you may have stored in your basement!

Stacking 55-gallon water barrels

A lot of us would like to be able to stack our 55-gallon water barrels, but most barrels aren’t designed to support the weight of another barrel on top of it. You can buy stackable water containers if you’re really limited on space and need to stack them. You can also put one or two 5-gallon water containers on top of the 55-gallon drum and you should be fine.

Don’t try to stack normal 55-gallon water drums on top of each other when they’re full!

How to Fill Your 55-Gallon Water Tank

Filling your 55-gallon water tank actually takes more planning than you’d think. The first thing to consider is the hose that you’re going to use.

Traditional garden hoses have brass fittings and can contain up to 8% lead. Time Magazine did a study and found that water from certain garden hoses left the water with lead levels up to 18 times the level that’s acceptable for drinking.

Garden hoses also allow an increased level of BPAs (the chemical used in plastics that are linked to certain health conditions) to be introduced into the water. If you’ve gone out of your way to find a 55-gallon water tank that’s made of food-grade plastic and then taken the time to clean it, you’re undoing all that work by using a using an old garden hose. Ideally, you want to use a drinking water hose to fill the tank.

Before you start filling the tank, make sure that it’s sitting where you plan to keep it! One gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs. That means that 55 gallons of water weigh 458.7 lbs! Most 55-gallon plastic drums weigh about 20 lbs empty which means that you’re going to have close to 500 lbs once you fill your drum and you’re probably not going to be able to move that much weight.

Rainwater collection

Rainwater collection is an option to fill your water barrels and makes a great way to keep collecting water after a disaster, but you have to understand that the water is dirty and not suitable for drinking until you filter it. The Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter is a good option to filter large amounts of water relatively quickly.

Disinfecting Water for Long Term Storage

There are a lot of questions about how to prepare water for long term storage. Some people say you need to add chlorine or some kind of water additive. Some say you don’t need to add anything. Some people say water is good forever and some say it’s only good for 6 months. What’s the truth?

Let’s talk about the easiest thing first. Water doesn’t expire. It can grow algae or get contaminated from an outside source, but it’s still drinkable water. You just need to get the other stuff out of it before you drink it.

If you’re filling your water tanks with water that’s already been treated with chlorine then you don’t need to do anything to the water before you store it. You can still add chlorine if you want to but it’s not necessary. I still usually add bleach even if it’s treated water.

For water that isn’t treated, you should add 1/8 teaspoon of regular household bleach per gallon of water. For 55-gallons of water just add 7 teaspoons of bleach.

If you’re filling your 55-gallon water tanks with cloudy water for some reason, then you should use 1/4 teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water.

Water additives

You can buy special water treatment additives for your 55-gallon water storage tanks that claim to keep your water good for 5 years or more. Some people swear by them, but I think it’s really just a waste of money. You’re just as good going with household bleach for a fraction of the cost.

How to Get Water Out of Your Tank

Once you finally have your water stored and waiting for a disaster, you have to be able to get the water out of the barrel.

Most water storage tanks have the lids that can’t be removed so you’ll need a pump that can get your water out of the barrel. Something like this hand water pump will let you siphon water from the bottom of the barrel.

The other option is to have a spigot installed in the barrel.


55-gallon water storage tanks are one of the best ways to store water for you and your family long term. They aren’t for everyone since they take up a lot of space but if you have the room they’re probably the best way to get into water storage.