How Do Rain Barrels Work?

How Do Rain Barrels Work?
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How Do Rain Barrels Work?

An image of a blue rain barrel next to a house with stone siding.

Rain barrels are an easy and environmentally-friendly way to collect and store rainwater. Not only can they save you money on your water bill, but they also reduce water pollution and provide naturally beneficial water for your plants and other uses.

In this article, we will explore how rain barrels work, the components of a rain barrel system and how they can benefit your property.

What Are Rain Barrels?

Rain barrels are typically made from plastic or steel and come in a variety of sizes with the sole function of collecting water from the rooftop of your home or other structure and storing it for later use. Rain barrels come in all shapes and sizes, from simple plastic drums to complex systems incorporating pumps between multiple linked barrels.

How Do Rain Barrels Operate?

They typically have a large opening at the top to collect water and a spout or hose at the bottom to dispense the collected water. When it rains, water runs off the roof of your house and into the gutters. 

From there, it is directed into the downspout, and then into the rain barrel. As the barrel fills up, the water level will rise. When it reaches the top, the water will either overflow out of the barrel and onto the ground or get diverted through a connection to another barrel to continue the collection process.

Basic Components of a Rain Barrel System

A blue rain barrel is pictured outside against a white house.


Rain Barrel: The main container that holds the collected rainwater.

Gutter: Collects the rainwater and directs it into the downspout.

Downspout: The pipe that carries the water from the gutter to the rain barrel.

Diverter: A device that attaches to the downspout and redirects the water into the rain barrel.

Overflow: Usually a connection at the top of the barrel that allows excess water to flow out of the barrel where it can be connected to another barrel.

Spigot or Hose Connection: The outlet at the bottom of the barrel for connecting a hose.

Screen: A mesh or screen that covers the top opening of the barrel to prohibit debris, leaves and other contaminants from entering the barrel.

Stand: Some rain barrels come with a stand, which raises the barrel off the ground to make it easier to access the spigot or hose.

Linking Kit: The parts that allow you to connect multiple rain barrels to increase water storage capacity.

Some rain barrel systems may include additional components such as a pump or a hose reel, but the above-mentioned components are the most basic and are common in a rain barrel system.

Benefits of a Rain Barrel System

Gardening: Watering Indoor and Outdoor Plants

A variety of planted flowers and greenery inside of a greenhouse. The table in front of the flowers has gardening tools and terracotta pots on it.


In many areas, water for irrigation is one of the most significant expenses for homeowners. By collecting and using rainwater for your garden, you can reduce the amount of water you need to buy from the municipality. Using rainwater in your garden also benefits your plants, as it is naturally soft and does not contain chlorine or other chemicals that can be harmful to your plants.

Washing Outdoor Tools and Equipment

Collected water can be used to clean lawnmowers, gardening tools and other outdoor equipment. You can also use it to clean outdoor furniture, patios and decks. Using a hose or bucket, you can easily transfer the water from the rain barrel to a cleaning area.

Filling Outdoor Water Features Such as Fountains, Ponds and Bird Waterers

A small brown bird standing on a stone water fountain or bird bath. The bird and the bird bath are in focus, while the background of the picture is out of focus and a bright green color.


Using rain barrel water to fill up fountain ponds and bird waterers is an efficient and environmentally-friendly way to provide water for these features in your garden. The collected rainwater is free of chlorine and other chemicals found in tap water, which makes it a natural and safe source of water for aquatic plants and animals.

Reducing Water Pollution

Another benefit of rain barrels is that they can help to reduce water pollution. When it rains, water running off of hard surfaces like streets and parking lots can pick up pollutants like oil, pesticides and fertilizers and carry them into local waterways. By collecting and using rainwater, you can reduce the amount of runoff that enters these waterways and decrease the risk of water pollution.

The water collected in a rain barrel is not treated and may contain debris, leaves or other contaminants. It is not normally recommended for drinking, but it is safe to use for irrigation and other outdoor uses. However, with proper treatment, rainwater can also be used as a reserve source of potable water. Standard practices today include UV treatment, distillation and reverse osmosis systems as well as other treatment processes.

Maintenance of Rain Barrels

Once installed, they require very little maintenance, but these tips will help you keep your rain barrel system producing the highest quality water.

  1. The screen at the top of the barrel should be cleaned regularly to remove debris and prevent clogging.
  2. Make sure that the gutters and downspouts are clear of debris and that water is flowing freely into the barrel.
  3. Drain the barrel: Before the winter, it is a good idea to empty the barrel to prevent any damage from freezing water.
  4. Keep the barrel clean. If you notice any mold or algae growing inside the barrel, clean it with a solution of water and vinegar. Regularly clean the outside of the barrel with mild detergent and water.

Setting Up A Rain Barrel System

Three large metal rain barrels outside of a brick building.


There are a few considerations to take into account when choosing a rain barrel.

  1. Consider the size of your roof and the amount of rainfall in your area to determine the size of the rain barrel you will need.
  2. Make sure it is in a location that is easily accessible for filling watering cans or connecting a hose.
  3. Check with your local government to see if there are any regulations or restrictions regarding the use of rain barrels. Some areas may have restrictions on the amount of water that can be collected or used, and some may require a permit for installation.

Tank Depot Carries Rain Barrel Kits to Handle Any Quantity of Water

Water is essential for so many daily tasks, including drinking, washing and even emergencies. Fortunately, the Tank-Depot Rain Harvest Kit helps you to make the most of your water sources by collecting them sustainably for storage. 

We also carry small units that handle 55 gallons and large tanks that hold over 1,000 gallons. Our inventory includes tanks for water, septic, chemical storage and many other uses to ensure you find the solution you need.

Contact us today for more information!

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