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Properly Painting the Perfect Rain Barrel

Properly Painting the Perfect Rain Barrel

Rain barrels are great, but blue plastic is a bit boring. Understandably, some folks are turned away from installing them because the barrels can stick out like a sore thumb in their outdoor space.

However, all hope is not lost. There are many different ways to decorate your rain barrels to make them fit your outdoor aesthetic. One of the cheapest and easiest approaches is by simply painting your rain barrel!

Don’t let the unsightliness of blue plastic prevent you from harvesting your own rain water — I’ve compiled the best ways to decorate your rain barrels.

Painting your plastic rain barrel

One of the most simple approaches to rain barrel customization is painting. However, how do you paint a plastic rain barrel? It’s a bit different than painting an exterior wall, so let’s explore the details.

Start by cleaning the barrel inside and out using a mixture of warm water and a little vinegar. Make sure you use a good scrub brush to remove all traces of dirt, soil, and debris. When you’re done, rinse it off and let it air dry.

Next, scrub the outside of the barrel with fine-grit sandpaper until it is dull-looking, then use a scrub brush and water to remove all of the dust left behind from the sandpaper. Rinse it off thoroughly from top to bottom and let it air dry once again.

Once it’s completely dry this time, it is ready to be painted.

Although it isn’t a necessity, it is highly recommended that you use a clear primer on the barrel before painting it. This will allow the paint to adhere better and last much longer without chipping.

If you’re curious about which paint to use for a plastic rain barrel, it is best to use a spray acrylic paint. Make sure to choose a color that you love! In addition, ensure each coat is allowed to dry completely before starting on another.

You don’t have to go this bright, but it’s an option!

Painting your metal rain barrel

Of course, not all rain barrels are made out of plastic. Metal rain barrels require a similar set of steps to paint properly. However, it’s just different enough to be tricky!

Like plastic rain barrels, metal ones need to be cleaned thoroughly before painting them. Like the plastic ones, metal rain barrels have to be super-clean and dry.

Instead of vinegar and water, try cleaning the barrel with mineral spirits instead, and after it dries, rub it down well with a cloth. If possible, allow the barrel to air dry overnight.

If the barrel has any rust stains on it, you’ll have to sand it down and remove those stains. You can do this with fine-grit sandpaper, making sure to remove every rust spot. Clean it off thoroughly once the task is complete.

Remember, the rain barrel has to be clean, dry, and smooth, free of any grit, dust, or other debris. Otherwise, the paint job will look uneven and sloppy.

You still need to apply an oil-based primer before you start painting. For a metal rain barrel, you’ll want to reach for acrylic spray paint as well. Use long, even sprays and ensure that the paint is evenly applied. You can find a variety of these paints at any hardware or home-improvement store.

How much paint

If you’re wondering how much paint is necessary to cover a rain barrel, this depends on the size of the barrel.

Keep in mind that as you’re spraying the paint over the barrel, the coats have to be thin to look right, and, depending on the shade or tone of the paint, you are likely to need a minimum of two to three coats to get it to look its best.

If you use too few coats, the color may come out too light. In the case of a metal rain barrel, part of the metal may even come through the color. Luckily, the stakes are low if you don’t apply enough paint.

If you use one to two coats of spray and find it to be too light, all you have to do is apply a few more coats to get a shade you like. As a general rule, however, two to three coats of spray paint are what you should aim for, adjusting as necessary.

Other decorating options

Of course, part of the fun of a DIY rain barrel is the decorating, because the sky’s the limit when it comes to your decorating options.

When you wish to decorate your rain barrel, regardless of the material it is made out of, you have a wide range of ideas. Hobby stores have everything you can think of to get your rain barrel looking just like you want it to!

Here are some basic ideas to get you started:

  1. Stickers
  2. Stencils
  3. Lights
  4. Planting flowers at the top
  5. Lattice


We wrote an entire rain barrel buying guide for 2020. If you’re in the market, consider giving it a read!

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