water storage barrel

55 Gallon Water Storage Barrel | How-to Clean & Store For Emergency

It’s a smart thing to do. Emergency water storage in a 55 gallon water barrel / drum (or any size!). It is practical, reasonable preparedness.

Today I filled up and treated another 55 gallon water barrel for long term storage. Why? For emergency drinking water (or any other necessary water use).

There are many size water containers for storage. Various designs. Some, clever (stack-ability). I am writing this post today, clarifying how I clean / sanitize them first, and treat the water afterwards. Also to show you a unique stackable container (bottom of post).

I will let you know how I clean my 55 gallon drum for water storage. And, recommend a 55 gallon water barrel (below).

Water Storage Barrel

A backup emergency supply of water! It’s one of my highest recommendations for general preparedness.

Here’s what I did:

I have several food grade barrels that originally stored some kind of food (I believe it was olives). Later they were repurposed for rainwater collection – which is how I bought them. Instead, I am using them for emergency water storage. My home relies on well water. Actually it’s pumped up from a natural spring via a ‘dug well’. In the event that my well pump goes bad, I will have some water on hand to use in the house.

The repair could take awhile. So, better safe than sorry, right? Also, it’s just good preparedness in general. We cannot survive very long without any water!

I am fortunate in that my water source is from a natural spring here on the property. It produces about 7 – 10 gallons per minute, year-round. If I needed to, I could always walk down there (to the spring) and collect water in a container via the spring’s overflow spout. Then haul it back to the house to keep my 55 gallon drums filled. Note, that would be a major chore – given that water weighs 8 pounds per gallon and the source is about 600 feet from the house! Yard cart? Better yet, my ATV towing its utility trailer (grin).

This is one of the many various water containers that I have. Good for transport, camping, or general storage. Incredibly popular:

Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon
(view on amzn)


I wrote about it here:
Practical, Portable, Drinking Water Storage Container

In any event, regardless of your own unique situation, by keeping a water barrel filled – you will have an emergency source for drinking. Or filling a toilet tank for flushing. Or washing dishes, etc.. during an emergency.

Where To Keep Water Barrel Storage?

It’s heavy! Especially a 50 or 55 gallon drum! So be aware of that.

One ideal location is to keep it in the basement (if you have one). It doesn’t require much room (figure about a 3’x3′ footprint). Plus, the temperature there will be fairly stable and cool.

If you don’t have a basement, maybe you can clear a spot somewhere on the 1st floor slab. You might consider your garage if it doesn’t freeze in the winter (an attached garage?).

Wherever you decide, remember that a 55 gallon barrel filled with water will weigh more than 400 pounds – so you won’t be moving it afterwards unless you drain it.

Food-Grade | BPA-Free

Get a barrel that is food grade. For example, if you look at the picture above (of my barrel) it clearly indicates the symbol icon for food grade. If you purchase a barrel specifically designed for emergency water storage – it will almost certainly be food grade (just check).

Augason Farms 55 Gallon Water Barrel

The following 55 gallon water storage kit from Augason Farms is very popular.

Emergency Water Storage Kit
(view on amzn)

How to clean a 55 gallon drum for water storage (sanitize)

First, I clean and disinfect the inside of the barrel. If visually dirty, clean with soap and water.

Next, disinfect with a bleach solution. Bleach is commonly mixed with water for use as a disinfectant to kill germs. It is well established and recommended to use a 200 ppm (parts per million) solution for food-contact-surface disinfectant. Don’t worry, I’ve done the math…

Mix 3 teaspoons regular household bleach into a gallon of water (either in a bucket or dump it directly in the barrel).

Swish it around in the barrel. The idea is to get the solution sloshed over all the interior surface. Maybe roll it around. Whatever you need to do…

Then let it sit for 30 minutes before dumping it all out. No need to rinse afterwards.

Tip: Be careful because bleach will permanently stain your clothes!

Again, this bleach solution is for sanitizing container (NOT drinking water purification).

[ Read: Bleach – Water Ratio For Disinfecting ]

Pick a spot for your barrel, then fill it…


My barrels have a water spigot near the bottom. So I set the barrel up on concrete blocks to facilitate fitting a container underneath to collect water if and when I need it.

I didn’t really need to do that. Because even if directly on the floor, I could also attach a water hose to the spigot. It would be nice to have a short hose just for that purpose.

Note that you can get hoses which are safe for drinking water (designed for RVs and campers).

Some emergency water storage barrels come with (or you can purchase separately) a hand pump for extracting the water (no spigot on the bottom).

Fill-er up

Next, fill the barrel with your tap water. If you have municipal water, it will already be treated with chlorine to a level of about 0.5 ppm (a small amount), but apparently just enough to eliminate most harmful organisms. So you don’t need to be concerned about treating the water yourself for long term storage.

If you’re using untreated water (such as well water) or any untreated source, I would treat the water for possible organic contaminants for safe drinking later, if needed.

I will be using regular bleach (unscented – no additives except for sodium hypochlorite).

How To Treat Water For Emergency Long Term Storage

To treat water that has not yet been treated:
(numbers rounded for convenience)

The following will initially provide about 6 ppm chlorine. This will decay upon any interaction with organic matter. It will also simply naturally decay over time. But that’s okay, because your water storage barrel will be closed. No contaminates getting in? Then you’re A-okay.

This is not a very big deal. But regular bleach comes in mostly two concentrations of “sodium hypochlorite”.

  • 5-6%
  • 8.25%

These concentrations slightly change the formula. Again, not a particular concern here. But for the sake of accuracy, here’s how much regular bleach to add with water…

Regular Bleach containing 8.25% Sodium Hypochlorite

1 Quart water, 1 drop bleach
1 Gallon water, 6 drops bleach
5 Gallons water, 1/4 teaspoon bleach
10 Gallons water, 1/2 teaspoon bleach
55 Gallons water, 3 teaspoons bleach

[ Read: How Much Bleach To Purify Water ]

Regular Bleach containing 5 – 6% Sodium Hypochlorite

1 Quart water, 2 drops bleach
1 Gallon water, 8 drops bleach
5 Gallons water, 1/2 teaspoon bleach
10 Gallons water, 3/4 teaspoon bleach
50 Gallons water, 4 teaspoons bleach

How To Store Water For Emergency Long Term Storage

After treatment, be sure that your water barrel is sealed (lid on securely).

You might label container as “drinking water” and include storage date.

Keep stored water in a place with a fairly constant cool temperature.

Do not store water containers in direct sunlight.

Do not store water containers in areas where toxic substances such as gasoline or pesticides are present.

I recommend that you drain and refill (and re-treat) your water containers every once a year if you can. That’s what I do. It’s generally not necessary (if treated, sealed, and stored properly). However it is good insurance (just in case) while being fairly easy to do, and will ensure quality water if you ever need it.

Stackable Water Storage

Earlier I mentioned how I came across a unique design. What makes it unique? You can stack one on top of the other. And, it’s made in the USA.

5 Gallon Samson Stackers
(view on amzn)

30 gallons of water storage on a approximate 3 square foot footprint.

  • PORTABLE: Drums are great but you can’t take them with you. Compact storage in handy 5-gallon units. Garage to pickup to kitchen counter to campsite, your emergency water is now a portable resource.

Purify your water:

And last but not least, it’s always a good idea to filter the water before you drink it. As most of you know, the Berkey countertop water filter system is one of the best. I’ve been using them for more than a decade:

USA Berkey Filters

One more thing… another ‘plug’ for a great sponsor, “Ready Made Resources” located in Tennessee. Anyway, they have a ton of listings on their ‘water storage’ category pages that might interest you:

Ready Made Resources


  1. Those sampson stackers, 6 pack, cost to ship is over $350 from Amazon, locally we have to improvise, had been buying 5 gallon plastic jugs from the local fiberglass shop, they work pretty good, cost is reasonable. Can get blue plastic 55 gallon drums from them too, are or at least were about 100$

    1. Well, I don’t know the situation for you, given that you live in Hawaii. However Prime membership is free shipping. Also, from the product listing, I found this:

      “The reputable Samson Stackers are Made in the USA by API/Kirk. Shipping is included in the Price.”

      1. I looked, they just dont have any with prime,, not sure why, will look more, stackable would be nice

  2. Remember too, that bleach breaks down over time. After about a year, it renders down to… salt water… Use FRESH bleach to sanitize and purify. For long term, SHTF, use powdered pool shock instead of bleach. Pool shock’s shelf life is pretty much infinite. Do a search for mixing and concentration and print it out for grid-down reference.

    1. Also, to clarify, yes bleach will eventually turn into salt solution. Strength definitely degrades over time. It will not be 100% salt in one year. I have experimented with this. My personal rule-of-thumb, double the dose if using 1 year old bleach. It’s not perfect, but close enough.

      How To Make Bleach From Pool Shock

        1. i may get some tide, bleach and some washed gravel. fill em up half to 3/4 full and push them down a 30 acre hill.
          that should do it.

          1. NYSCOUT,
            I’ve done something similar with rusty gas tank. Hung it from a limb with a rope, added a couple gallons of gas and an equal amount of gravel. Then spent an afternoon sloshing it around. Luckily I did not blow myself up, but did get the rust out. For a poly barrel you might try marbles or steel shot, they won’t scratch like gravel. Also might try One Step, which is what I use to clean poly wine barrels.

    1. I know this is late, but I just thought of it. I use a 6x6in square piece of chain mail to clean my cast iron. No soap on pan, then wash the mail after. If you put the chain mail in the bung with your choice of cleaner and do the barrel agitation it might clean it without damage. Good luck.

  3. I got some really nice and clean 5 gallon buckets from a restaurant that have resealable lids that have rubber gaskets around the lid. Their previous content was pickles, and I can’t seem to get the smell out, I’ve washed with soap and water and also a bleach solution, but the pickle is still there. Any suggestions? Trekker Out

    1. Mountain Trekker,

      You might try coating it with a baking soda/water paste and letting it set ’til dry, then rinsing. That’s worked for me sometimes.

  4. It’s my understanding that you should not put any plastic containers directly on concrete. Always put a barrier of some type between the plastic container or barrel and the concrete, such as a piece of plywood or even a partial sheet of styrofoam. Concrete can eat away at plastic and destroy the container over time. I used to set my gallons of vinegar and containers of laundry soap directly on the concrete floor of our basement; both bottoms of the containers got destroyed and leaked after about a year. I now just use scraps of plywood under them.

    1. It’s always a good general idea regarding concrete. For example I keep my chicken feed in the shop building. The bags are stacked on top of 1″ foam board insulation. Helps to keep that temperature differential between concrete and air-temp from developing condensation.

      With that said, I’ve had my 55 gallon water barrels on concrete for many years. No issues.

      1. Ken, thats good to know. I wonder if it’s the greater thickness of the plastic of the barrels? Most household items come in a flimsier plastic container.

  5. OH,
    I’ll be your Huckleberry for a few of them!!
    Let me know when and where!

  6. Glad to hear you got rid of them, Oregon would have been too far for me anyway. Thanks for the quick reply! Green Chiles and pinon nuts…….

  7. Thanks for this. We just got that same barrel (yes, it smells of olives). I washed it with Dawn liquid and hot water. I’ve let it dry out and will be sanitizing with the bleach solution next. My Farmer made a steel table to hold it. Thanks for the formula to keep the water sanitized.
    Be well.

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