Plastic barrels have hundreds of uses, from storing industrial materials to helping people save rain, create compost, build gardens, and more. But if you plan to use them to store food, water, or anything else that should remain toxin-free, you must learn how to keep the barrels clean and pristine. Here are the different ways to keep 55-gallon plastic barrels clean to protect your health.
Assess It and Know Its Source
If you’re recycling a found barrel, you should know where it came from and what was in it before. Obviously, if there are warning stickers—poison, flammable, corrosive, and so forth—leave it be. Avoid discarded barrels found near industrial sites or that contain unknown substances. In fact, if you find unidentified barrels that appear to have been illegally disposed of, report them to the authorities. If the barrel contained food, water, or another non-hazardous substance, it should be safe. But be sure you know where your drums and containers came from by buying new, clean barrels from a respected vendor.
Start with a preliminary rinse using a garden hose or pressure washer. Set the barrel on a sturdy surface and use bricks or similar obstacles to keep it from slipping. Rest the barrel on its side on an elevated surface, such as a table or set of chairs, so the water can run out. You could fill it with water, but that will make the barrel heavy and hard to tip or otherwise handle. Hose it down, making sure the inside and outside are washed free of dirt, rotating the barrel to reach every part.
Depending on the level of cleanliness you’re seeking, you have several options when it comes to cleaning solutions. If you intend to use the barrel to store potable water, use bleach. This kills bacteria, algae, mildew, and mold and keeps them from growing in the water. You don’t need much, just a tablespoon of bleach for each gallon of water. Add the water, filling the barrel halfway, then add the bleach and slosh it around before spilling it out (do not spill the water on your grass or near any sewers leading to fresh water). Dish soap is effective for cleaning out drums and containers that previously contained cooking oils. Use the same ratio of soap and water, and again, avoid spilling it out near plants and sewers. Baking soda and water is good for cleaning and removing odors, but follow it up with the bleach method because it doesn’t kill germs. Whichever method you use, give it a good cleaning with a new scrubber sponge.
Rinse and Dry
Those are the different ways to keep 55-gallon plastic barrels clean, but now it’s time to finish. Prop up the barrel again and get the hose out for a final rinse. Be thorough, removing all the soap, bleach, or baking powder, then wiping it down with a clean rag. Tip the barrel so the water runs out, and it dries faster. Leave it out in the hot sun, which further helps to kill off microorganisms and molds. When it’s done, it’s ready for reuse!