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55 Gallon Drums – Metal VS Plastic – Which Is Better?

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We are often asked which type of 55 gallon drum container is best for storing, heating, transporting water, food or other use. This article is primarily for 55 gallon drums, however much of the information will work for any size container. Here are some tips on which container is better for each purpose.

Best drums/barrels for food and water for consumption:

Both plastic and metal drums are available in food grade versions. If you buy used, be careful of the plastic drum’s previous content.

Plastic, or polyethylene barrels, may retain some of the flavor of the previous contents, which can leech back into the new contents.

A way to avoid leeching is to not buy used barrels, however if the barrel previously held say a lemon lime soda and not soy sauce you may be ok.

If you use smaller containers, you will want to get slightly opaque jugs. Translucent jugs may allow for algae growth.

Do NOT use milk jugs as these are bio-degradable and will begin breaking down in about 6 months. Do NOT use juice jugs either as the sugars in the jugs are nearly impossible to remove and are a breeding ground for bacteria.

Treated water normally contains some chlorine and this is corrosive to most metals, making long term storage in a metal container unwise. Glass is also not a suitable solution because of the weight and they break easily.

Smaller containers are made of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) and normally have Polypropylene (PP) caps. These are excellent small storage options.

Consumable food and water winner: Tie

Rain barrel

USDA NRCS South Dakota, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Containers for shower water:

The most common question we get is “which is better for storing and creating hot water?”

A study by Small Farm Today magazine concluded that there was not enough statistical difference to pick a winner. The study measured the temperatures of poly and metal drums, painted black, left inside a green house under various conditions. The overall mean difference was just 0.1°F with the slight edge going to the poly drum.

Shower water winner: Tie

driendl/Adobe Stock


55 gallon drum weight:

The weight for 55 gallon drums varies depending on thickness and material used.

Metal drums, on average, weigh about 40 pounds, whereas poly drums average about 20 pounds.

Water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon, which means each drum will have 460 pounds of water, added to the weight of the drum itself.

A 55 gallon poly drum, full of water, will weigh in at 480 pounds whereas a metal 55 gallon drum will weigh in at a whopping 500+ pounds. Knowing these numbers is crucial when transporting water or when building a platform for storage.

Weight winner: Polyethylene

Anton Dios/Adobe Stock


Metal vs. plastic price:

Prices vary greatly depending on materials and grade and new vs. used. Overall we found that Polyethylene prices are significantly lower and do not require any special lining to protect against the elements. Stainless steel drums are over $700 new.

Winner: Polyethylene

Justin/Adobe Stock


55 gallon drum accessories:

Finding accessories for either metal or poly barrels yields nearly identical results. Both use similar fittings, plugs, siphons and so forth so there is no clear winner here.

Winner: Tie


Multiple or alternative use:

When think of alternative uses for 55 gallon drums, both have plenty.

Poly drums are easy to cut and drill holes into making them perfect for planters, floatation pontoons, and more. Metal drums make great grills, smokers, and fire pits or stoves.

Winner: Tie


So who is the overall winner? Well like we said earlier, it truly depends on the intended use. Hopefully you found this guide helpful in making your decision.

Use our comments section and tell us what uses you have found for 55 gallon drums or other containers.

Prepper News Watch for June 23, 2014 | The Preparedness Podcast

Monday 23rd of June 2014

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