How to store backup water in your garage in 55 gallon barrels

December 01, 2017

In this article we’ll discuss the following:

  • Where you can get 55 gallon drums
  • We’ll discuss what you’ll need on hand to prepare to store these barrels long term
  • How to disinfect and clean them
  • How to properly fill them with water
  • How to store them away
  • How to siphon water out of them

Where can you pick up 55 gallon barrels?

I found the best deals so far on The price often fluctuates between $50 to $60 USD on their website. You can also pick them up on Amazon and other various websites.  Be careful not to pick these up used on websites like Craigslist unless you personally know or trust the seller as you won’t know what has been stored in the barrels in the past.

Here are the items you’ll need for this project:

How to disinfect the barrel before storing them with water

First, we’ll wash the inside of the barrel with dishwashing soap and water. I just put a little soap inside along with water. Enough to get the inside soapy without making it a hassle to get the soap out. Roll the barrel around to make sure the entire inside gets soap on the surface. Be sure to flip on the top to get soapy water there as well. Next rinse them out with copious amounts of water to make sure we’re getting all the soap out. Filling them up with water after initially emptying them and then rolling them around again and rinsing them out 1 more time is not a bad idea to ensure we get all the soap out.

Next, we’ll sanitize the barrels with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of unscented chlorine bleach in a quart of water. Roll the barrel around to completely coat the inside as we want to sanitize the entire inside of the barrel thoroughly. Wait for 30 seconds, then pour the solution out of the barrel.  You can now air-dry the barrels before filling them up or rinse with treated, city water.

How to properly fill the barrel

Use a drinking-safe water hose, not your typical water hose you use to water your lawn (you know, the one we all drank from as kids). I just used the hose we use in our RV. Tap water treated by the city does not require extra treatment. But well water, capture water, or other water from an untreated source must be treated. If storing untreated water (water that hasn’t been chlorinated by your local city water provider), use water treatment drops as instructed or add 2 tablespoons of fragrant-free liquid chlorine bleach to the 55 gallons of water. You can also use 4-6% sodium hypochlorite, aka pool shock, mixed at the correct ratio if you don’t have liquid bleach.

How to store them away

Avoid storing the barrels directly on the concrete, but instead, place them on something like 2×4’s to keep them off the concrete. This is recommended in the event the concrete heats up and releases any chemicals that could be absorbed into the barrels.

Once you’ve got the barrels positioned exactly where you want them, start filling them up. If you fill them up in the place where they’re not ultimately going to be stored, they’ll weigh over 400 pounds and be extremely difficult to move. Next, screw the bung nuts into the fill holes, being sure they tighten smoothly without crossing the threads. Use the bung nut wrench to tighten the bung nuts, effectively sealing your water and protecting it from outside contaminants.

Also, it’s a good idea to write on the side of the barrels information regarding when you stored them, if you added any additives to the barrels and if the water is potable or not. I have a few barrels that I purchased at garage sales that I do not use for drinkable water, but rather keep water in them for other purposes and I clearly mark them as non-potable.

I also put a rope between the 2×4’s to secure the barrels from tipping over. Living in earthquake territory, I don’t want these to easily fall over if there’s a big enough event.

For my setup, I decided to cover the barrels with a black plastic liner for 2 reasons:

  • I don’t want direct sunlight hitting the barrels. While they are blue barrels which will prevent bacterial growth, I wanted 1 extra layer of protection to keep sunlight from hitting the barrels as opening our garage door causes a flood of sunlight to pour into our garage.
  • Secondly and just as important is OPSEC. OPSEC simply stands for operations security and in the context of this article, I simply do not want these barrels observable from the street. Reason being is that I don’t want to be remembered as the guy with all the water stored in his garage. In the event of a disaster when people are looking for resources, I want don’t want desperate neighbors lining up outside of my door.

I simply went down to my local Home Depot and picked up a black plastic liner. I got 3.5 mils thick which is thick enough…this doesn’t have to be overly sturdy. Before I hung up the plastic liner, I measured the height of the area I need to cover, cut the liner for the height I need and then using sturdy thumbtacks designed for furniture, I hung this up. I used Gorilla tape to put a backing on the places on the plastic sheet where I drove the thumbtacks through in order to prevent tearing in the plastic sheet. I went around the entire shelf hanging this up and then circled back to secure the plastic sheet at the very bottom as well.

How to siphon your water

Position a bucket or similar water container near the water barrel so the siphon hose will slope downward. Insert the siphon end (copper valve) into the barrel and the bare, plastic end into the smaller container. Keeping the siphon end fully submerged in the water, shake the hose in a vertical, up-and-down motion. After a few seconds, water will flow on its own, and you may stop shaking the siphon.


And there you have.  Water is critical for long-term survivability and having fresh water stored in your garage is a critical first step.  If you have any comments or feedback, please post in the comment section below.

As always, be safe out there!

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1 year ago

Curious, would you treat the 3.5 gallon containers in the same manner with the bleach water for a wash? Would the drinking water need to be treated if I’m using distilled water?
Thank you,

Last edited 1 year ago by Al
2 years ago

Great article. I love your Youtube Channel and all your resources!
How often do you rotate your water, and do you perform any specific steps to re-clean the water storage containers?


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