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

Here at Off Grid World we are often asked which 55 gallon drum container is better 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.

Food and water for drinking and eating: 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 content and this can leech back into the new content. A way to avoid this is to not buy used barrels, however if the previous content was 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 breading ground for bacteria. Treated water normally contains some chlorine and this is corrosive to most metals making long term storage in a metal container not very wise. 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 Polyprolyene (PP) caps. These are excellent small storage options.

Winner: Tie
55-water-storage

55-water-house
Water for showers: 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.

Winner: Tie

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.

Winner: Polyethylene
55-water-storage

55-prices
Price: Prices vary greatly depending on materials and grade and new vs. used. Overall we found that Polyethyene 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

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
55-planter
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
grill-1

So who is the winner? Well like we said earlier, it truly depends on the intended use but we hope 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.

Images: Amazingribs.com humgardens.com
Credit: Small Farm Today Magazine
Story by: Mike Turber