Rain Barrel System 101: Installation, Cleaning, and More

Jane Marsh - February 6, 2023

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

Almost every innocuous household activity requires water, including washing hands, dishes, and laundry. Humans should regularly consume water to stay hydrated and shower for personal hygiene. On top of these minimum requirements, households must water plants, flush toilets, and bathe their pets. These activities amount to around 60 gallons per person daily, though they can vary based on geographic location and water accessibility. Although water is renewable, humans use it intensely, and the world is having difficulty keeping up. Therefore, more people are interested in a rain barrel system.

Water treatment plants are under more stress than ever to filter out new threats like microplastics, on top of quality treatment of chemicals, toxins, and bacteria. The water crisis is real, and rain barrel systems give agency to households to harvest found water for home use. It decreases the stress on the environment while reducing water bills. 

How Do You Install a Rain Barrel System?

You can either buy a premade rain barrel system or DIY. Buying from a company could involve additional costs like installation and labor. However, the only effort required on the home’s part is research. It also provides household’s an asset if they have any questions regarding maintenance and care — they will have access to a professional to make notes.

If you want to go the DIY route, here are the basic steps and what you’ll need, suggested by HGTV:

  1. Find some opaque barrels and clean them out.
  2. Cut holes in the first barrel in the system. One is for overflow, and the other is the pipe connecting to the roof to collect the rainwater.
  3. Add mesh filters if desired.
  4. Use PVC pipes and PVC glue to connect all the barrels.
  5. Build a platform for the barrels to sit.
  6. Attach a spigot and hose.
  7. Seal everything with putty or silicon.

This is only one method of many, so find the one that works best for your land and assets.

How Do You Keep Rain Barrels Clean?

You can choose to have an open rain barrel system or barrels with lids. No matter what, systems must be in place to keep the water as clean as possible. Netting on entry holes can prevent bugs, leaves, and larger debris from the barrel. If your home intends to use the water for potable purposes, consider adding filters or purification methods.

Not all barrels need aeration, but yours might. If you’re worried about stagnant water attracting insects like mosquitos, implement an aeration method, like a water pump, to add more oxygen to the water and keep it moving. Aeration will easily prevent unwanted bugs from infesting the water and algae from blooming. Getting opaque barrels also helps with this since preventing light from entering the basin will stop other species from reproducing.

You will also want to rinse and clean the rainwater once a month or more with bleach, vinegar, or another cleaning agent. These, alongside regular movement, can keep the water fresh and reduce potential odors. Occasionally you will need to wash out the entire barrel and connecting pipes, but you should only need to do this occasionally.

What Are the Top Uses for the Rainwater?

The two most prominent benefits of a rain barrel system are that it’s ideal for the planet, and it reduces water usage and expenses in a household. The way a home uses rainwater can vary. Still, it’s vital to note federal governments have no regulations over rainwater harvesting and usage — that doesn’t mean state or local laws don’t exist. Always research your country or state to ensure legal rainwater collection and applications. 

If these uses are allowed, these are some of the most compelling ways to use rainwater to conserve water use and put less stress on the natural water cycle. Some uses require no treatment or filtering, and some do.

Watering Plants and Gardens

It is one of the most prominent applications but also one of the most impactful. Regardless of garden size, plants require a lot of water to flourish, and especially if you’re feeding a household, it’s critical to keep the produce happy. Your farm or garden could be the top water user of the home, costing you countless dollars when the plants would be just as delighted with rainwater from the barrel. You can either fill sprinkler systems with the water, put it in a classic jug, or create an irrigation system.

Fire Safety

Keeping extra water stores around in case of a natural disaster could be a household’s lifeline, especially if utilities get cut off during a crisis. If wildfires or lightning storms strike, causing debris or fire to enter your land, you can use rainwater — after calling the proper authorities.

Flushing Toilets

If your home is serious about decreasing its water footprint, having rainwater available for flushing toilets could save every home around 44 gallons a day. Filling a toilet bowl with water will force it to flush without using energy to generate new, clean water.

Dispersing for Animals

Outdoor animals constantly seek water sources. If you accept wildlife on your land, such as birds and other critters, consider using rainwater to supply their daily drinks. It is an excellent option for saving countless gallons of new water generation if you have livestock. You can also put it in bird feeders or top off human-made ponds to help out wildlife.


You may be living on a homestead or are a casual gardener needing to make nourishing compost. Rainwater can help decomposition efforts in open-air bins, though water isn’t necessary for all compost methods. Compost tea is another way to use rainwater if you want to infuse some of the nutrients of the pile into the water. 

Uses Requiring Treatment

Naturally, the most significant way to use rainwater would be for drinking, cooking, and washing. Water has several hidden uses around the house, for vegetables or wiping windows. However, it’s not always allowed by states and cities for safety reasons. Some enable households to use it for potable purposes, but they have standards for filtering and treating. To ensure bacteria, bugs, debris, and chemicals aren’t in the water damaging human health, create systems in the home to make it safe.

Using Rain Barrels to Conserve Water

Water conservation is a hot topic for environmentalists as geothermal energy becomes more popular and sustainability goals revolve around water equality and access. Rain barrels remedy some aspects of the water crisis, making it more available and clean for homes worldwide. Whether you want to seek professional advice or make it a family DIY project, a rain barrel system can help the house and the planet.

Share on

Like what you read? Join other Environment.co readers!

Get the latest updates on our planet by subscribing to the Environment.co newsletter!

About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.