water from rain barrel smells

judys_ont(z5-Ont)June 8, 2004

We have 3 interconnected rain barrels collecting rain off the roof. They are light grey in color and are made of heavy duty plastic. (formerly pickle barrels, apparently) Sometimes the water we draw from them will have a very rank smell. I could understand this if the water was sitting for awhile, but this week it was 2 days after the rain collected there, and the barrels were empty before that. The temperature was around 60 degrees at that time and they are protected from the sun a little, with latice.

Does anyone know if there is something we can put in the barrels that is safe for plants to prevent this?

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Peter_in_Az(Sunset zone 10)

Maybe there was something in the barrels before it rained. Have you checked to see if there is a critter or their droppings in the barrels?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2004 at 11:04PM
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The water from the roof passes through a very fine mesh screen. Not even sand can get in there. I know that to say they were pickle barrels might lead you to think that that would be the problem, but these barrels were re-sold to be rain barrels and are very clean and odor free. The smell was like that of stagnant water. I was hoping there was something, safe for plants, you could put in the barrel to help prevent that.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2004 at 2:28PM
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Peter_in_Az(Sunset zone 10)

The only thing I would think pickle barrels would smell like is vinegar.

As long as the water is clear and you can see to the bottom and there's nothing down there I have no idea what could be causing the smell. You could try tossing a couple of sprigs of mint in each barrel (that stuff roots anywhere) to make them smell better.

As for what to pour in to get rid of the smell that's safe for plants, sorry, I have no idea. I'll bump it up and maybe someone else might know.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2004 at 10:22PM
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You could try a little bleach...about in the concentration of pool water, whatever that is.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 5:08AM
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acernut(z8b CenTX)

I converted mine to an aerobic compost bin and the rank smell wa gone in 1 day

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 11:01AM
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mrsig(SC Zone 8)

I set up a 2 barrel system in my back yard about a month ago...haven't noticed any smell from mine at all. How long before the water in there goes bad and starts to smell? I haven't really used a lot of it yet (we've had lots of rain around here), but I know I'll cycle it alot more come summer. Just wondering if I need to empty it periodically to ensure it doesn't go bad. Thanks for the advice.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 8:25AM
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mojogardener(z6a / KS)

I have two drums that have had water in them for the last two years and haven't noticed any smell? I use the water pretty regularly,but have never emptied them. Do you have any moss or fugi looking stuff on the shingles of your house?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2005 at 9:49PM
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Tommyc(Mich 5-6)

Have you tried putting some goldfish in there and some oxygenating plants. Farmers do it in those large rain tanks.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2005 at 9:27PM
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My guess is that you had some type of moss or algea buildup in the rain barrel during the time that it was empty. Even though it was empty it was most likely still pretty moist in there, combined with a little heat from the sun on the barrel and a dark moist enviornment you would get something to grow pretty quickly.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2005 at 10:09AM
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thanks everyone-some wonderful suggestions here.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 10:10AM
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Does it smell like rotten eggs-sulfer? Mine does too.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 9:45PM
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I've had the same blue rainbarrel for 2 years.Last year no problem. I left it ouside- empty and covered with a tarp- disconnected from the downspout. This year, the water smells like rotten eggs. I've been using the water but wonder if I should empty the barrel instead.Any advice?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2008 at 10:32AM
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I got a new rain barrel about a month ago. We have had a lot of rain recently and the barrel was filled up so I decided to use some of the water to fill my bird bath. When I was filling the bird bath there was this horrible rotten egg smell. I dont know if it was safe to fill the birdbath, but the water in my rain barrel is only a month old and I dont think should smell that bad because it hasnt been sitting that long. I was so excited to get my rain barrel and now I'm really disappointed if I have to smell this everytime I use the water.....if it's even usable! Does anyone know if you CAN use the water if it smells like that?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2009 at 5:55PM
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Well crazy,

Did you get the barrel new or used and from where? Did you have it screened off while it was empty. I think you can use the water but if you find dead birds stop using it(just kidding). Rotten egg smell can be IMHO two things; one, the container was used for some kind of sulfur product storage, but you should have smelt the RE smell before when you bought the barrel; second, something has crawled into thew barrel while you were'nt looking and died. If you have a cat, he/she might have stashed something in there for a later meal. The decay of dead rodents can cause that smell. I suggest for either cause just put some chlorine bleach solution into the water and let it sit for a couple days for the chlorine smell to be gone and see if you get that smell when you pour the water out. You could also pour out the water clean out the dead whatever it is and then clean it with chlorine bleach. The main thing is to make sure all the bacteria is dead. Aloha

    Bookmark   May 13, 2009 at 7:29PM
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Thanks lehua....I bought the barrel used from a reputable company and according to the barrel, it was previously used to store greek olives. The barrel was completely clean and screened from the get go, so I know that no animals got into the barrel (and I have an indoor cat!!!) The water did have a yellowish tinge to it when I poured it out, so I'm going to take your advice and use the chlorine bleach to see if that makes any difference. Thanks for the help.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2009 at 8:24PM
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nohandle(6a swON)

Sulfur (rotten egg) smell occurs in my rain barrel from time to time, but it is not from sulfur storage or dead animals...it is simply the anaerobic (without oxygen) breakdown of organic matter in the water. If there were leaves or other similar material in your gutters then your rain barrel probably received a load of organics...evident in the yellowish tinge you saw. The breakdown of the organics uses oxygen (aerobic). When all the oxygen is depleted, the breakdown of the organics will occur by a different mechanism. The time it takes will depend on the amount of organic matter, temperature, size of the rain barrel etc. One of the possible byproducts of this is hydrogen sulfide gas. The same thing can be smelled around stagnant swamp water (due to higher organic load and no aeration). Some of the byproducts of anaerobic respiration aren't ideal for your plants, but at levels likely to be found in a rain barrel, I have never worried about it myself and haven't had any problems.
The way to avoid this altogether is make sure your barrel and gutters are clean...something not easy to keep on top of all the time.
If you have a way of aerating your rain barrel, then you can avoid using the bleach. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 1:29PM
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hydro4me(z5 IN)

Excellent info in that post nohandle.

I just bought a Great Amerian Rain Barrel, am very familiar with hydroponics, pH, tanins in leaves, aeration of water, disolved O2 levels, good bacteria, bad bacteria, etc...and cleaning the gutters...what a pain they can be.

If build up occurs, my gutters can smell like death and the bottom of a stagnant lake.

I'm waiting on my diverter to hook it all up, and heard a great tip from a Master Gardener up in MI. He said to use a small fountain pump and some 1/2 tubing run to the top inside, to aerate rain barrel water.

I guess the trick will be getting an extension cord safely near the barrel, with a "drip loop" in the cord, e.g. aquariums...and a GFI outlet freed up from my outdoor hydro systems.

Deep aeration is always key in ANY water...pools, ponds, birdbaths, sisterns, reservoirs, rainbarrels, etc...

    Bookmark   June 8, 2009 at 3:27PM
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I have had the same problem. It smelled like rotten eggs.
The problem was, the pollen from the tree was fermenting in the barrel. I don't think it is good to use. This year I covered the opening until the pollen is way down. I hope this information helps.

Bobby Rice

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 5:09PM
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I have the same problem with anaerobic activity in my rainbarrel this spring. Does anyone know if I put a bit of bleach in it will it be safe to use on my plants? Or can I presume it's safe when the bleach smell has dissipated?

Also I want to make some compost tea and read that I couldn't use my city water because of chemicals in it that might kill the beneficial organisms. If I treat my rainwater with bleach then I suppose I can't use that to make my compost tea either, eh?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:42PM
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My old rain barrels smelled really bad when left for a long time. I'm sure most was caused because the gutters had not been cleaned out. It doesn't hurt the plants. They love compost tea, and and grow real tall to get away from the smell.
I put the water in a milk bottle. After a while the inside in green. When I put some city water in the bottle the green left.

Check out my new rain barrels on Flicker.


Here is a link that might be useful: My new rain barrels.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:42PM
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System looks great. Big help to others. Aloha

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 9:38PM
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