Stinky Rain Barrel Water: Should You Be Worried?


What do you do if your rain barrel starts to smell?

One of the most common questions rain barrel users have is, “Why is my rain barrel so stinky?”

Rainwater itself doesn’t “expire,” so rain barrel water won’t technically go bad, but you may notice that when you are watering your plants with it, it’s rather stinky.

But why do rain barrels and rainwater smell? This question usually depends on how much you harvest and what your storage container looks like; not all rain barrels are created equal. For a shorter-term solution, storing in an open bucket or drum with a lid will do just fine.

However, if you want something that lasts for years and can collect hundreds of gallons of rainwater per year, you should consider investing in some sealed barrel system like those made from food-grade plastic barrels.

There are also many other ways to make sure your harvested water doesn’t get stinky, which we’ll discuss below! However, following my tips will help prevent unpleasant smells from your stored rainwater and ensure it’s safe for use around plants and pets.

Pssst: Are you looking to buy a rain barrel? Wayfair has so many rain barrels, and most are not hideous.

stinky rain barrel graphic

Stinky Rain Barrel Water: Should You Be Worried?

To recap, rainwater itself doesn’t “expire,” so rain barrel water won’t technically go bad – so even though it may be smelly, it’s not necessarily “bad.” However, that doesn’t mean it’s safe for drinking, as stagnant water can be a breeding ground for algae, mold, and insects. For this reason, rain barrel water should only be used for lawns, houseplants, and gardens. Trust me; your plants won’t care if the water is a little smelly.

However, I recommend watering around the base of your plants and not directly on the vegetables, and of course, always rinse your vegetables before consuming them. So, in summary, no, you do not need to be worried if your rain barrel water smells a little stinky.

Keep reading: I will help you learn everything you need to know about storing water in a rain barrel and the precautions you should take if your barrel smells incredibly bad.

girl holiding watering can that is stinky

What to Know About Storing Rain Water in a Barrel

It’s important to note that rainwater hits your roof first before it hits the barrel. Unfortunately, this allows plenty of opportunities for the water to pick up bacteria like E. Coli, plant debris, bird droppings, chemicals, and other organic matter. This can be a huge problem if you let the water sit for a month or more.

Bacteria itself and the odor it gives off when feeding on algae can cause your rain barrel water to smell bad. You might experience a foul, rotten egg smell or a strong sulfur smell. Stagnant water may also result in algae growth or a mosquito infestation.

While these common problems can be highly unpleasant, they don’t render your rainwater totally useless. You can still use it on your plants. But if you use it on vegetable plants, make sure you water near the plant base and avoid the actual vegetable and foliage, especially on leafy greens. Are you in need of a rain barrel? Wayfair has so many rain barrels and most are not hideous.

woman watering garden

Practical Rain Barrel Water Maintenance Tips

Here are some best practices for maintaining clean water in your rain barrel.

1) Maintain Your Downspouts and Gutters

Rainwater that collects in the barrel comes straight from the downspouts and gutters. So if branches, pinecones, pine needles, leaf debris, dead leaves, and other organic matter collects in these areas, they’ll go straight to your rain barrel. This is why it’s so important to keep your gutters and downspouts clean so you can easily collect gallons of water.

To make your life easier, it is a good idea to install gutter guards on top of your downspouts and screens on top of the barrel. This will greatly minimize the number of leaves and sediment that enter the rainwater barrel.

We had gutter guards installed this summer, and it has been a life changer! I’m so happy Caleb doesn’t have to climb up a high ladder multiple times yearly to clean out our gutters anymore!

2) Limit Bacteria and Algae Growth

Regularly using the water in your rain barrel is the best way to avoid smelly water and organic material accumulation.

This also helps ensure that there is enough room in the barrel to collect rainwater during the next storm, which helps prevent overflow and damage to your home’s foundation.

Also, if it’s practical, try moving your rainwater barrel to a shady area. Bacteria and algae grow slower in areas with little sunshine.

girl getting water from rain barrel

3) Drain Your Barrel

At the end of summer or the end of fall, before the frost comes, it is important to drain the water from your rain barrel.

Not only will this help prevent the water in the barrel from freezing and damaging your rain barrel, but it will also stop any bacteria or organic material that may have collected in the barrel to continue growing.

To drain a rainwater barrel, simply open up or detach the spigot/hose attached at the bottom of the barrel. Allow all the water to flow out, and then get rid of any remaining organic material in the barrel.

What to Do If Your Rain Barrel Water Has Already Started to Smell

If you already have stinky water in your rain barrel and you need help getting rid of the bad smell. Here’s how to clean out your rain barrel, so it stops smelling.

  1. Empty the water.
  2. If you’re not concerned with bacteria or algae contamination, you can use baking soda or vinegar to scrub down the sides of the barrel. To kill these organic compounds, use bleach. The CDC recommends 1/8 tsp to 1/4 tsp of bleach per gallon of water.
  3. Rinse out the bleach solution in the barrel with your garden hose.
  4. If necessary, clean the spigot.
  5. Fill the barrel back up with fresh water and follow my tips above to help prevent build-up on the bottom of the barrel and the gross rain barrel stink.

While rain barrel water doesn’t go bad per se, the foul odor that standing water gives off can be a huge nuisance, especially if you’re always in your garden. Following my tips is an effective way to prevent stinky water in your rain barrel. Happy Water Harvesting!

Are you looking to buy a rain barrel? Wayfair has so many rain barrels, and most are not hideous.

woman smiling in front of garden in yard


Rain barrel water can have a smell for various reasons, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the water is bad. In fact, you can still use the water on your lawns, houseplants, and gardens safely.

To prevent an unpleasant smell from developing in your rain barrel, take precautions to keep the area clean and be sure to empty it before winter comes.

If your barrel already smells bad despite these measures, follow my tips above to get rid of that stinky odor. With these simple steps, your rainwater will smell fresh again in no time!

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Join the Conversation

  1. Mario Marrese says:

    Very good article

  2. In Colorado, harvesting rainwater is illegal. Every house is allowed to collect two rain barrels with a capacity of up to 110 gallons, however, anything greater than that is considered a breach of the law.

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