If you’re a gardener, you’ve probably wondered how you can collect natural rain to water your garden. If you don’t know much about gardening, you still might love having a rain barrel. It can make you more self-sufficient, help you save money and let you water your yard even during a drought.
Before I bought my first rain barrel, I was confused by all the options. Couldn’t I just attach a hose to a really big bucket somehow?
Apparently not. This article explains what you should look for in a rain barrel. My favorite is the Kyoto Koolscape 75-Gallon Rain Barrel. I review it along with three more of the best rain barrels below.
- Top Pick: Kyoto Koolscape (75 gal.)
- Good Ideas Rain Wizard (65 gal.)
- RTS Home Accents Wood Grain (50 gal.)
- Algreen EcoCascata (65 gal.)
Can’t I Make A Rain Barrel Myself?
If you’re handy and motivated, you could make a DIY rain barrel. The concept is simple. However, in practice, it can get complicated.
First of all, you have to find a container that will collect enough water to make it worth it. You don’t want a barrel that has held chemicals, though. Residue from the chemicals can wash into your garden. Toxic vegetables, anyone?
The best rain barrel design includes a filter, cover or screen at the top to keep out debris and a spout at the bottom to which you can attach a hose.
If you don’t make the rain barrel properly, you could create a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests. Popular mechanics explains that homemade rain barrels can be dangerous to children if they tip over.
You can get much better bang for your buck by purchasing a rain barrel. You’ll save time and headaches. Plus, the best rain barrel designs are more attractive than a bright blue piece of plastic sitting at every corner of your home.
However, if you do want to make your own, here's a good resource:
What’s The Best Rain Barrel Material?
The EPA says that using a rain barrel is an ideal way to conserve water. Most rain barrels these days are made of heavy-duty plastic. While you could make your own out of a large planter or wooden barrel, those natural materials are prone to rot and decay.
Modern plastics are made to resist UV light and other elements. They won’t corrode or harbor insects, and they’re easy to clean.
You might want to know if the plastic that holds your water contains BPA. Many manufacturers don’t make that information public, so it may be necessary to contact them for a specific answer.
You can also consult my article: Which Plastics are Safe for Gardening?
What To Consider In The Best Rain Barrel Design
Some rain barrels come with flat backs, allowing you to place them flush with a wall. If they have a smaller area for accommodating a downspout, this can make it easier for you to place the barrel.
However, the flat back can warp and expand with the pressure inside a full barrel, especially in the heat. Rounded designs won’t become distorted.
Where Is The Spigot Located?
The spigot is the faucet through which you can access the water. If the spigot is too low, you won’t be able to place a bucket or watering can underneath it.
You can elevate the rain barrel on cinder blocks or a stand, but it must be stable. A heavy rain barrel could tip off of a precariously placed riser.
A high spigot is ideal for filling up a container, but debris and gunk might collect in the barrel below the spigot level. A drainage hole or a wide opening at the top will allow you to clean it out easily.
You can attach a hose to almost every spigot. However, the water will flow slowly out of the hose. For more pressure, a rain barrel with a large opening at the top can accommodate a pump.
What Is The Opening At The Top Like?
Some rain barrels only have a small rectangular opening for the downspout. These may be safer for use with children or pets because they don’t pose a drowning hazard. However, they may be impossible to clean out, leading to an increased risk of mildew developing inside.
A larger opening is more versatile. You can place it under a downspout or leave it out in the open, although it won’t collect rain as quickly this way.
Is The Spigot Already Attached?
Almost every rain barrel user contends with some leakage around the spigot from time to time. You can use waterproof caulk or specialized tape when screwing in the spigot to prevent this from happening. Some rain barrels come with the spigot attached. However, most of them require the buyer to attach it upon arrival.
Is It Safe To Use Harvested Rainwater In Your Garden?
Many online resources claim that rainwater can collect toxins as it runs off of your roof. Therefore, some people suggest that you shouldn’t use it to water edible plants.
However, according to the independent Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, using water from a rain barrel is fairly safe. Very few pollutants actually wash off of roof panels to make it into your water. Researchers in New Jersey have confirmed those findings. Tests conducted on vegetables grown from harvested rain water found that most were safe to eat.
You can take precautions to ensure that your exposure to toxins and bacteria is minimal when using a rain barrel.
You may not want to use a rain barrel to collect water from your roof if:
- Your roof has been treated with compounds that kill algae and mold
- Your roof contains zinc strips
- Your roof or gutters are made of copper
What to do if you don't have an ideal roof:
If you don’t have an ideal roof for harvesting rainwater, you can build a separate collection system with a slanted surface and gutter that can direct water into your rain barrel.
When it hasn’t rained in a while, the first flush of water that comes off of your roof might be more contaminated with animal droppings and residue than later runoff. Dump the initial runoff into the ground.
When you water the plants, pour the water on the soil. Soil filters many toxins and bacteria, preventing them from getting to the plants.
You can add one ounce of unscented chlorine bleach to 55 gallons of water to eliminate bacteria before using the water on your garden. Wait 24 hours after mixing the solution to allow the chlorine to dissipate.
Rain Barrel Hygiene
Even if you don’t have an open top rain barrel, it can collect sediment from the roof.
- Empty it out and spray it with a hose periodically.
- Clean the interior with a solution of 1/8-cup chlorine bleach to 5 gallons of water or ¼-cup castile soap and ¼-cup vinegar to 5 gallons of water.
- Rinse thoroughly after cleaning a rain barrel with one of these solutions.
The Best Rain Barrel Systems: Reviewed
This rain barrel has a natural style that can blend in with the features of your home and garden. The terra-cotta color provides an organic look, while the durable polyethylene holds up to the elements.
The top of the barrel contains a recessed area in which you can place plants or flowers. Some users said that they drilled additional holes into this area to allow for better drainage. However, if you add dirt to this section, it could fall into any openings.
Overflow valves in the back can be drilled out. Connect a hose to the holes to direct runoff somewhere else if the barrel is full.
- A screen where the downspout meets the rain barrel prevents mosquitoes and debris from entering.
- UV-resistant heavy plastic material resists fading and won’t corrode or disintegrate.
- Large capacity allows you to store up to 65 gallons of water.
- Easy to install.
- The top of the urn does not open for easy cleanout.
- The spigot is too low to fill a watering can if the rain barrel is not propped up on a stand.
- If you plant something directly in the top, dirt and soil can spill into the barrel.
- Some users said that the inside became lined with dark mildew.
This barrel looks like authentic oak but is made from a durable plastic. The material won’t be subject to rot or insect infestations. Many users said that the inside of the barrel stayed clean even after long-term use.
The barrel has a flat back to allow for better access to the downspout. Because the opening for the downspout is screened, insects will be kept out. The rain barrel has no large openings into which children or pets could crawl.
Although the 50-gallon capacity may not be large enough for your needs, you can link this rain barrel up with others to collect more water.
- A screen where the downspout meets the rain barrel prevents mosquitoes and debris from entering.
- Durable plastic material resists fading and won’t rot like regular wood.
- Easy to install.
- Front-side overflow prevents excess water from dripping down the wall of your home.
- The barrel is made from one piece of molded plastic, making it difficult to clean out.
- The barrel must be raised to place a watering can underneath the spigot.
- Some users say that the flat back bows when the barrel is full, especially in hot weather.
- Filter screen may become dislodged with hard rain flow.
This rain barrel has the biggest capacity of those we reviewed. The thick plastic is resistant to UV damage but looks like natural stone.
The top of the rain barrel is wider than many, allowing for more versatile placement. Instead of a screen, a plastic lid with several holes covers the opening to prevent debris from getting in. However, the holes are large enough to allow mosquitoes and other insects in.
The overflow opening at the top is large enough to divert water in a heavy rain. You must attach a hose or pipe to direct overflow away from the house or barrel. This is the only product we reviewed that came with the spigot already attached.
- Spigot is high enough to fill up a watering can without raising the barrel and can also be attached to a hose.
- An additional plug is placed lower than the spigot to drain out debris and muck.
- The filtering piece at the top can be removed, and it’s big enough to direct spray from a hose for cleaning.
- Wide top is versatile and can be placed under a roof corner or downspout.
- Rounded design does not sit flush with the house.
- Some consumers said that the plastic spigot was low-quality and clogged easily.
- Filter has large holes that can still allow some debris and insects to enter.
This rain barrel is made of plastic but has the look of terra cotta. It features a sleek shape that’s rounded on all sides. Even though it doesn’t have a flat back, it’s tall and slim and will sit close to your wall.
The molded plastic is resistant to fading, warping or chipping. It’s also double-walled for added durability in a variety of weather conditions.
You can use this rain barrel with or without the removable crown planter. It also has the convenience of a hook on which to hang the hose when not in use.
There is no drainage hole at the bottom, making it more likely to collect sludge below the level of the spigot. However, you can direct a pressurized spray into the large top opening to clean the barrel.
- Two overflow valves make it easier to redirect excess water.
- Comes with its own short hose that attaches to the spigot.
- Large top opening makes it easy to clean.
- Large top opening makes it convenient under a downspout or in an open area to collect rain.
- Some users say that the hose is too flimsy.
- Spigot is too low to fill up a watering can.
- Planter attachment doesn’t have a drainage hole, making it a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes.
My favorite was the Kyoto Koolscape 75-Gallon Rain Barrel. It’s large enough to hold plenty of water after a rainfall, giving me peace of mind that I’d still have water available for our garden in a mild drought.
I like the fact that I can fill up a bucket or watering can directly under the spigot. Plus, it has the added benefit of drainage holes at the bottom to get rid of any sludge that collects below the spigot level.
It’s easy to clean, which makes me feel good about watering my garden with the collected water. Plus, you don’t have to mess with attaching the spigot when it arrives. Simply put it outside, and start saving water.