The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

Ewwwww, What’s That Smell?

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The marketers of the rain barrel say this is a good spot for a plant. I don’t think so. It would block the overflow hole (see picture below). Also the front has a lip of sorts to also allow rain to cascade down the front. 

Here’s a rain barrel update. The water stinks.

In about one short month’s time, I have noticed that the water coming from  each of the two barrels has an malodorous quality. There’s also a slight greenish/yellowish tinge to the water. This was not the case the first couple of weeks of use.


The barrel relieves itself of water when full. The lip at the top also releases water when full.

While I knew there’d be some maintenance needed, I didn’t think it would be so soon.The barrels have a small screen in the top where the water drains in. Other than that, the system is completely enclosed. There is no removable lid, which in hindsight may not be ideal for dealing with clean out issues. I do know that there is no critter in there and there is no leaf/treat/plant debris in there because the opening in the screen is too small.


It’s amazing the amount of debris that comes off the roof.

I immediately turned to the Internet for help in diagnosing this problem.Probably causes: pollen in the water, algae growing in the water. Apparently it is not uncommon for the barrels to take on an odor during the spring pollen season as the pollens are deposited in the barrel along with the rain. The common antidote seems to be to drain the rain barrels or to quickly use the water following a rain.

I’m not going to do that. Both remedies seem counterintuitive to having them in the first place. I don’t want to get rid of all that water I am capturing in an effort to keep it out of the sewer system. And, my garden doesn’t typically need to be watered right after it rains. Especially in the spring when the temperatures are mild.

Another common cause for stinky barrel syndrome, as I’ve decided to call it, is standing water at the bottom of the barrel. Obviously that is not my problem. My barrel has two spigots–one up high and one down low. The lower spigot is near the bottom so that should not be a problem as I get into the dog days of summer and am draining them to water my thirsty garden.

What to do? What to do? I needed to find a remedy for the smell before it became too awful. And there are lots of ideas out there. Add baking soda to the barrel. Add vinegar to the barrel. Add baking soda AND vinegar. Add bleach. Install the barrels in a shady spot (now you tell me!). Add cedar oil or cedar chips to the barrel.Use a commercial algae killer. And there are those who say leave it alone, the microorganisms in the water are good for the plants.

Further research poo-poo’d the vinegar idea, saying it will only make the problem worse. I decided to add 1/4 cup of bleach to the barrel. It seemed the quickest solution I have on hand. I have only taken a small amount of water from them since I did this because we’ve had lots of rain (about 2 inches this week) but I didn’t notice an odor. Is it because of the fresh water coming in and displacing the funky water or is it the bleach? Time will tell.

How do you keep stinky rain barrel syndrome in check?




Author: mjarz

Welcome to the Arch City Gardener. My name is Mimi and I started this blog to share my journeys in learning to garden in St. Louis County, Missouri and learn more from my readers who garden. Thanks for reading The Arch City Gardener.

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