After the popularity of our previous article sharing some of the most useful and creative ideas for upcycling a 5 gallon plastic bucket in your home and garden, we’ve now turned our attention to the underrated 55 gallon barrel.
Whether we are talking about a 55 gallon metal drum, or a plastic 55 gallon barrel, these are useful items that have a myriad of uses around your garden and homestead.
In this article, we’ll take a look at 40 of the best options out there for repurposing something that might otherwise be thrown away.
Finding new uses for a 55 gallon barrel is one wonderful way to move closer to a truly eco-friendly and sustainable way of life.
Read on to gain inspiration for your garden, for livestock, for your home, and for other things around your homestead.
Where To Find 55 Gallon Barrels & Drums
In order to make your garden and home as sustainable as possible, it is often best to try to source second hand 55 gallon barrels/drums, rather than buying them new. But where can you source such items?
Sourcing Free/Cheap 55 Gallon Barrels/ Drums
The first place to look is online. 55 gallon barrels and drums are often offered for free on sharing/ recycling sites such as:
You can also source used barrels/drums (sometimes for free, often for a small price) on:
It is also worthwhile asking around companies in your local area, to see whether they have any old 55 gallon barrels or drums that they might give away or sell to you. You could try approaching:
- Landfill sites/ junk yards.
- Car washes.
- Beverage manufacturers.
- Garages/ mechanics.
- Waste collection companies.
- Hardware stores.
- Logistics companies.
If you see old 55 gallon barrels/drums lying around, it never hurts to ask politely. Sometimes, you might be doing someone a favour by taking these off their hands.
See old barrels or drums on a neighbor’s land? It might not hurt to ask them whether you can use them.
Of course, second hand 55 gallon barrels and drums may not be in the best condition. You may need to clean them up and they may be dented or, in the case of metal drums, rusted in places. Whether or not they will be suitable will depend on what you plan to use them for.
Bear in mind that you will need to know what they have been used for, and should never use barrels or drums that have been used for hazardous materials around food production.
Sourcing Reconditioned/ New 55 Gallon Barrels & Drums
If you struggle to find a reclaimed barrel or drum, you could also consider buying one from a local Home Depot, or another hardware store. Online sellers on eBay, Amazon.com, and through a range of online commerce sites, sell 55 gallon drums and barrels.
Here’s an Amazon listing selling used/reconditioned 55 gallon barrels that have previously stored soda or fruit juice. They have been triple washed.
Uses for 55 Gallon Barrels in the Garden
Let’s begin by looking at some cool ways to use 55 gallon drums and barrels in your garden.
For example, you might use one:
1. For Rainwater Harvesting
One of the simplest and most obvious ways to make use of a 55 gallon plastic barrel is to collect and store the rainwater that falls on the roof of your home, or on the roofs of other buildings around your homestead.
Harvesting rainwater is an essential ingredient of sustainable gardening, and sourcing 55 gallon barrels for your project could significantly reduce the cost of setting up the collection system.
Rainwater Harvesting @ www.commonsensehome.com
2. For Greenhouse Heat Storage (Thermal Mass)
Collecting rainwater in 55 gallon barrels will not only provide fresh water for you to use in growing your own food. The water you store can also serve a secondary purpose.
The collected water will catch and store heat from the sun, and release it slowly over time. Water’s thermal mass means that it can be excellent for heat storage in a greenhouse or other an under cover growing area. It will help keep the space at a more constant temperature over time.
Water barrels in a solar greenhouse @ www.ceresgs.com
3. For Various Forms of Composting
There are also a wide variety of different ways in which you could use a 55 gallon barrel to create compost – a valuable material to start seeds, grow seedlings, fill containers and planters and maintain fertility in your growing areas.
You could simply cut off the base of a 55 gallon barrel and use it as a compost bin, to keep your composting materials neat and tidy.
However, you could also use a barrel of this size effectively to create a more sophisticated composting system.
For example, you could turn one on its side, fit it on a frame, and use it to create a large compost tumbler to speed up the composting process. You could also use one to create a wormery, or to create a hot composting bin for weeds, meat, dairy or even humanure systems.
4. As a 55 Gallon Barrel Planter/ Raised Bed
Cut a plastic 55 gallon barrel in half lengthways and you can use it to create a couple of raised planters for your garden. These can be placed on wooden frames to raise them off the ground to make gardening more accessible for elderly gardeners or those with limited mobility.
It could also be a good idea for creating a garden where the ground below is unsuitable for planting.
Raised Planter Stand @ www.instructables.com
You could also simply use a barrel as a stand-alone planter in your garden, perhaps disguising its appearance by cladding the sides with wood, or another more visually appealing material.
5. As a 55 Gallon Barrel Vertical Garden
Another great way to use a 55 gallon barrel to make the most of all the space available in your garden is to use one to create a vertical garden.
To make a barrel vertical garden you can simply create some holes in the sides of the barrel, line it with hessian or other sacking material, fill it with your growing medium and then plant it up with salad greens, strawberries or other plants.
Barrel Vertical Garden @ www.greenbeanconnection.wordpress.com
6. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Hydroponic System
You could also use 55 gallon barrel or barrels as part of a hydroponic system, to grow plants in water rather than in soil.
Plastic 55 gallon barrels can make perfect grow beds for a hydroponic system when cut in half and plumbed into a hydroponic system.
7. As Part of an Aquaponics System
You could also consider going one step further and turning your hydroponic system into an aquaponic one – raising fish as well as growing plants.
There are a number of different ways to incorporate 55 gallon barrels in an aquaponics system – as planting beds and as fish holding tanks.
Barrelponics: Getting started with aquaponics @ www.instructables.com
(Note, if you plan on using a 55 gallon barrel in food growing systems, it is very important that you use only food-grade containers and not any that have been used to contain any hazardous materials.)
8. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Cold Store/ Root Cellar
In addition to using a 55 gallon barrel in food producing systems, you could also consider using one to create a place to store some of the food that you growe.
A 55 gallon barrel can be used to make a small underground cold store or root cellar.
55 Gallon root cellar @ www.homesteadinghub.com
9. As a Retaining Wall for a Sloping Site or Sunken Greenhouse
A sloping site can be challenging.
One way to turn a steep slope into a valuable part of your homestead is to create terraces. 55 gallon barrels filled with soil can be used as affordable retaining walls for steep slopes.
On a south facing slope (in the northern hemisphere) you could also consider creating an earth sheltered greenhouse using heat-storing earth filled barrels to form the north wall.
You could also consider, on many different sites, digging down to create a sunken greenhouse, using barrels to form some or all of the sides of the underground part of the structure.
10. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Charcoal Retort
Metal 55 gallon barrels or drums have just as many uses as plastic ones, if not more.
One interesting use for these reclaimed items is to make a charcoal retort, so you can make your own charcoal using wood from your property. The charcoal you make could be used for summer barbecues, or turned into biochar to fertilize your growing areas.
55 Gallon drum charcoal retort @ www.charcoalkiln.com
11. To Make an Outdoors Water Heater
You could also consider using a 55 gallon metal drum as an outdoor boiler or water heater.
This is a simple, off-grid solution that could be used to provide warm water for an outdoors shower, for a greenhouse piped water heating system, or for a range of other uses.
In addition to creating a wood-fired hot water heater, you could also consider using a plastic barrel to store water heated by solar energy.
12. To Make a Wood-Fired Hot Tub
For ultimate fun and relaxation, a wood fired hot tub could be the perfect low-key way to unwind after a long day on your homestead.
A 55 gallon metal barrel or drum can be used in the creation of this luxury item on a surprisingly small budget.
Wood fired hot tub @ www.instructables.com
13. For Garden Barbecues/ Grills
Another way to relax and unwind in your garden is, of course, by cooking up your home grown produce outside and enjoying a meal with family or friends.
Metal 55 gallon barrels can be used to make a home-made barbecue or grill.
55 Gallon drum barbecue @ www.lifehacker.com
14. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Smoker
Another outdoors food preparation device that you could consider making with a 55 gallon drum is a smoker.
A DIY smoker could be perfect for preparing a wide range of foods, and when you use reclaimed materials, you can make one for surprisingly little money.
No weld 55 gallon drum smoker @ www.instructables.com
15. To Make an Outdoor 55 Gallon Barrel Pizza Oven
A metal 55 gallon barrel could also allow you to make another cool item for outdoors cooking – a pizza oven.
This is a cool project that could allow you and your family and friends to expand your outdoors cooking repertoire.
16. To Make a Solar Oven
You might also be able to use a 55 gallon barrel to make a solar oven, to cook food outside without needing any fuel at all other than sunlight.
There are a range of different ways in which you might be able to incorporate all or half a barrel to make a stand or container for a reflector solar oven for your off grid outside kitchen.
How To Construct A Heavy Duty Solar Oven @ Wikihow.com
17. To Make a Garden Water Feature
Fifty-five gallon barrels may not initially be very visually appealing, but with a little work they can be turned into a number of attractive garden features.
For example, you could use one to make a garden water feature. There are plenty of inventive examples online, one example of which can be found at the link below.
Barrel water sluice feature @ www.pinterest.com
18. To Make a Garden Bench Seat
Another attractive feature that you could consider making for your garden from a 55 gallon barrel is a bench seat. By cutting off the top front quadrant of the barrel and affixing wooden slats, you can make an appealing feature for a garden seating area.
Garden bench seat @ www.pinterest.com
19. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Wheelbarrow
One final thing that you could consider making with a 55 gallon barrel that could come in handy around your garden is a wheelbarrow.
This could be useful for moving things around on your homestead.
Why buy a wheelbarrow when you can make one yourself using reclaimed materials?
Made-it-myself wheelbarrow @ www.farmshow.com
Livestock Related Uses for a 55 Gallon Barrel
When it comes to raising animals, a 55 gallon barrel can come in handy in that arena too.
Livestock related uses for a 55 gallon barrel might include:
20. To Make Animal Feed / Water Troughs
Barrels or drums simply cut in half can be perfect for using as animal feed or water troughs and could be a low-cost solution for feeding and watering your livestock.
As when using barrels for food-related projects for yourself and your family, it is important if using barrels around animals not to use any that have contained hazardous materials.
21. To Make a Secure 55 Gallon Barrel Pig Feeder
Taking care of pigs can be a whole lot easier if you do not have to go into the enclosure to feed them.
A 55 gallon barrel pig feeder could be the perfect solution to this problem, making caring for your greedy oinkers a whole lot easier.
55 Gallon barrel pig feeder @ www.IAmCountryside.com
22. To Store Bulk Foods/ Grain/ Animal Feed Securely
Fifty-five gallon barrels might also be handy not only to deliver feed to your livestock but also to store the feed you buy or create for them securely.
For example, you might use a 55 gallon barrel to store your home-made chicken feed.
23. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Bee Hive
A more unusual use for 55 gallon barrels is to make a bee hive.
This might not be the most obvious way to make hives for home honey producers. But it could be an interesting low cost option, and another intriguing way to make use of things that you might already have lying around.
55 gallon top bar barrel bee hive @ www.instructables.com
24. To Make Chicken Housing
Another more usual way to make use of 55 gallon barrels is to repurpose them to make some custom chicken housing.
Making a coop from recycled barrels could be a low cost alternative to easy-to-clean plastic chicken coops that are on the market.
Barrel chicken coop @ www.lowimpact.org
Uses for a 55 Gallon Barrel in the Home
Of course, there are also a wide range of ways to use a 55 gallon barrel in your home.
Some ideas for metal and plastic containers of this size might include:
25. To Make an Inexpensive Wood Stove
One of the most impressive ways to make use of a 55 gallon metal drum is to use it to create an inexpensive wood stove, or super-efficient rocket mass stove.
There are a number of different plans available online to help you to make a stove to heat your off grid abode.
Rocket mass stove @ www.insteading.com
26. To Make a Small Septic System
Another intriguing low-cost solution for an off grid or sustainable home involves using 55 gallon barrels to make the tanks for a small septic system. The barrels are used to create both the holding and digesting tanks.
Small septic system @ www.wikihow.com
27. As Part of a Humanure System
As mentioned above, 55 gallon barrels can be ideal for a wide range of different forms of composting, and could be used to deal even with materials that are not ordinarily placed in the compost heap or bin.
In a sustainable waste management system, you might not even have flushing toilets at all. Instead, you might have simple composting toilets, and develop a humanure system.
55 gallon barrels could be ideal for managing your humanure and moving even closer to a zero waste lifestyle.
28. As Part of a Gray Water System
If you want to be as water-wise and sustainable as possible, gray water waste from sinks, baths and showers could be channelled into a gray water system and fed into growing areas or reed beds.
55 gallon barrels could be ideal for use as holding tanks in such a system, or as dry wells that allow the gray water to sink away harmlessly below ground level.
Gray water dry well @ www.hunker.com
29. As an Emergency Water Storage Solution
It pays to be prepared for the worst, even if you expect the best.
In our modern world, there are plenty of things that can go wrong.
55 gallon barrels can be ideal for storing water for emergencies, as long as they are kept in a suitable and secure location.
As well as being useful in a range of practical applications around your home, 55 gallon barrels can also be used to make a wide range of furniture that will make your home look great. Some of the best 55 gallon barrel furniture ideas are included below:
30. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Table
A metal 55 gallon barrel can make a great central support for a large round dining table. Affixing a large wooden circular top to the table, and perhaps some stabilizing wooden feet around the base of the barrel, you can make a practical and attractive dining table to seat the whole family.
55 gallon barrel table @ www.pinterest.com
31. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Chairs & Sofas
You can also use a 55 gallon barrel to make a comfortable and attractive chair or sofa for your home. You could upholster your chair or sofa in a range of different ways, so this idea could be adapted to suit almost any home and practically any interior design scheme.
55 Gallon living room furniture @ www.homecrux.com
32. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Desk
Two 55 gallon drums can be used to make the base of an attractive desk, with plenty of work space and storage. This idea could be perfect for those who work from home – and could be the crowning glory for a home office.
55 gallon barrel desk @ www.pinterest.com
33. To Make a Bathroom Vanity Unit
Another attractive way to make use of a 55 gallon drum is to turn it into a bathroom vanity unit. You could finish off your vanity unit in a range of different ways, so no one would ever be able to tell that it was made using something that might otherwise have been thrown away.
Bathroom vanity unit @ www.pinterest.com
34. To Make a 55 Gallon Barrel Cabinet
One final furniture idea is to turn a 55 gallon barrel into a simple storage cabinet. If you always feel like you need more storage space then this low-cost idea could prove the perfect solution for your clutter woes.
55 gallon barrel cabinet @ www.makezine.com
Other Uses for a 55 Gallon Barrel Around Your Homestead
If all of the cool ideas outlined above are not enough, here are a few more miscellaneous ideas for using a 55 gallon barrel around your homestead:
35. To Make/ Store Your Own Biodiesel
Fifty five gallon barrels can be handy for the various stages of the process of making your own biodiesel to use in your vehicles.
They can be used to collect used vegetable oil from restaurants and transport it back to your home, and to store the biodiesel that you make.
Start making your own fuel @ www.utahbiodieselsupply.com
36. To Create a 55 Gallon Barrel Bunker/ Secure Area
Earth filled 55 gallon barrels could also be used by security conscious preppers to create a bunker or secure area on a homestead. The thick walls these create could offer a high level of protection from whatever the future may bring.
37. To Make a Raft/ Floating Home/ Floating Garden
Either for fun, or for practical use, you can also use plastic 55 gallon barrels to provide floatation for rafts, floating homes or floating gardens.
Firmly tying these empty containers together can provide a surprisingly high level of buoyancy for a range of water crafts and water-top structures.
55 gallon barrel raft @ www.ourpastimes.com
38. To Create a Place to Store Bikes
An old metal drum cut in half, and with slits cut into it can make a bike rack big enough to house five bikes or even more. This could be a great storage solution for a family and could help you to avoid having bicycles lying abandoned all over the place.
55 gallon drum bike rack @ www.pinterest.com
39. To Make a DIY 55 Gallon Barrel Snow Plow
If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow over the winter months, you could also consider repurposing an old 55 gallon barrel to make a DIY snow plow. This could be a low-cost option for those times when you get snowed in.
40. To Make Toys / Play Equipment for Kids
There are also a range of ways to repurpose plastic 55 gallon barrels into toys for your kids.
For example, you could make wheel along trailers, a little car, or even a ride along train from half barrels.
You could also make a tunnel for a play area, or a tunnel slide. There are plenty of ways to use 55 gallon barrels to entertain the kids.
The Final Word
The forty ideas above are just some of many inspiring ideas for using a 55 gallon barrel.
When you use your imagination, this is just one more thing that is often thrown away that could instead be put to a range of amazing uses around your homestead.