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55 Gallon Drums – Engineering




Here is the most complete guide on the internet about 55 gallon drums.
You will learn:

  • What is a 55 Gallon Drum?
  • How 55 Gallon Drums are Used
  • How 55 Gallon Drums are Made
  • Types of 55 Gallon Drums
  • And much more…
Drums and Barrels
Drums and Barrels (from Rahway Steel Drum)

Chapter One – What is a 55 Gallon Drum?

A 55 gallon drum is a cylindrical container made of a variety of materials designed to hold 55 US gallons or 208 liters. They are used for the shipment of large quantities of liquids, chemicals, powders, granule compounds, and food ingredients. The types of materials shipped in a 55 gallon drum are determined by the materials used to manufacture the drum. In the early days of 55 gallon drum use, they were known as barrels and made of wood slats held together with bands of steel, as seen in the image below.

Antique Wood Barrel

The modern 55 gallon drum is far more resilient, sophisticated, and sturdier than its ancient ancestor. Made from plastic, fibers, steel, stainless steel, and other materials, the 55 gallon drum of this century is designed to last and be able to withstand the conditions found in long haul shipping.

55 Gallon Plastic Drum, Closed Head

Chapter Two – How are 55 Gallon Drums Used?

The applications for 55 gallon drums cover a wide range of industrial and commercial uses that include storage and shipping. Though they are primarily used for liquid shipments, they are also used to transport grains, powders, and food ingredients.

Uses for 55 Gallon Drums

Petroleum Industry

The 55 gallon drum and the oil industry have been close partners since the need arose to ship petroleum products. The original 55 gallon drum was designed and produced for the shipment of oil. With the rise of tankers and pipelines, the 55 gallon drum has been slowly phased out of the oil industry though it still stands as a means of measuring oil in barrels, and as a symbol of the industry.

Petroleum Drum

Food Drum

Food drums have to meet higher standards than the typical shipment drum. They are normally made from stainless or carbon steel and have interior linings to protect the contents from contaminants from corrosive or acidic components found in some food products. Drums for the food industry are designed for shipment of goods to later be packaged for public consumption.

Stainless Steel Drum

Pharmaceutical Drums

The production of drums for the manufacturing, storage, and shipment of pharmaceuticals has to meet the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CGMP has systems in place to monitor, control, and oversee the designs of pharmaceutical manufacturing processes and facilities. All companies that produce containers for the pharmaceutical industry have been approved by the CGMP and have the required proper quality and purity.

Chemical Industry

Stainless, cold rolled, or carbon steel are used to transport flammable chemicals and hazardous substances due to steel‘s high corrosion resistance. Industrial stainless steel is used for sanitary applications and is an FDA approved material. Rust resistant plastic drums are used to ship chemicals due to steel’s tendency to rust and corrode. Plastic barrels for chemical transport are referred to as blue barrels since they are normally blue in color and are used to transport and store acidic and caustic liquids and powders.

Waste Disposal

Drum waste refers to using 55 gallon drums to store waste materials. When the drums are collected, the contents are tested to determine how hazardous the waste is. These tests are the deciding factor regarding how to dispose of the contents. The key factor is to safely dispose of the materials to avoid damage to the environment. Two industries that rely on 55 gallon drum waste disposal are agriculture and medical facilities.


Leading 55 Gallon Drum Manufacturers and Suppliers

Rahway Steel Drum Company, Inc. - Logo
Container Distributors, Inc. - Logo
Jakacki Bag & Barrel, Inc. - Logo
Greif, Inc. - Logo


Chapter Three – How 55 Gallon Drums are Made?

The process used to manufacture 55 gallon drums depends on the material being used. Metal drums are commonly roll formed and welded, while plastic drums are manufactured by blow molding. The production of fiber drums takes a different form since the material is more pliable than plastic or metal.

How Metal 55 Gallon Drums are Made

The manufacture of metal 55 gallon drums involves three steps: forming the bottom, forming the top for a closed top drum, and rolling and welding the sides.

Bottom Forming: The bottom of the drum is formed by a punch press, which creates the edge to be used to connect it to the drum body.

Sealant: The formed bottom has sealant applied to ensure a tight seal to avoid leaks after being roll connected to the drum body.

Top Forming: The top of the drum is formed in the same manner as the bottom by a punch press. The formed piece is put through a set of rollers that turn up the edge.

Inserting Fittings: Two fittings are inserted in the top. One is for giving access to the contents, while the other is for allowing air flow or venting.

Thickness of Metal: The thickness of the metal for the body of the drum varies depending on the purpose of the drum and its contents.

Forming the Body: Large sheets of rolled metal are cut to the size of the body of the drum and put through rollers that form it into tubes. The tubes are sent through a welder that welds the inside of the seam and outside to form a tight seal.

Flanging: The tubes are passed to a flanging machine that creates a lip on the top and bottom of the tube.

Forming Rolling Hoops: In the middle of most 55 gallon metal drums are grooves for rolling the drum and are placed in the drum tube to add rigidity.

Inserting the Top: The top is placed on the drum shell. The edges of the flange on the drum body and the top are rolled together to form a perfect seal, which is called a chime. The chime passes through a second set of rollers that flattens the chime to enhance the seal. When the bottom is added, a chime is formed, which is sealed using the same technique.

Testing: A critical factor for metal 55 gallon drums is how well they are sealed. A complete seal is necessary especially in cases where the drum will hold hazardous or volatile materials. To ensure the tightness of the seal, air is forced into the drum to check for any leaks.

How Plastic Drums are Made

The production of plastic 55 gallon drums involves the use of plastic blow molding technology where molten plastic is blown into a die or mold. The blow molding process forms seamless drums that do not require any form of sealing and eliminates weak corners that are susceptible to cracking.

There is an endless number of sizes and shapes that can be produced using blow molding. The raw materials for blow molding drums are thermoplastics such as acetal, polyamide, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, low or high density polycarbonate, and polypropylene.

The three forms of blow molding are extrusion, injection, and injection stretch. All plastic molding begins with pellets or resin that are melted and shaped into a parison, which looks like a long plastic tube with a hole at one end.

The parison is lowered, open end first, into the mold cavity, it is clamped tightly so no air can escape. Compressed air is shot into the parison which inflates it, forcing it against the side of the mold. As the heated plastic expands, it fills the space in the mold taking on the molds shape.

Once the form piece cools, the mold is opened to release the formed barrel. There are protrusions at the top and bottom of the barrel that are removed manually or by machine.

Extrusion Blow Molding

How Fiber Drums are Made

Fiber drum manufacturing begins with huge rolls of paper that are unwound and fed into a machine that clues and winds it seven times around a large cylinder to form firm cylinders that are eight feet long. Before the cylinders can be used to produce drums, the clue is allowed to dry and solidify.

The lever clamps and steel rims are made from strips of steel that are formed into an oval and welded. The dried drums are cut into four foot lengths to have the rims attached. The oval metal rims are crimped to connect them to the base and top of the drum, which increases the rims strength.

A ring of fiber is pressed into place, forming a tight bond with the metal ring at the bottom of the drum cylinder and the cardboard walls. During the quality check phase, the lid is attached, which has a metal clamp.

Though the majority of fiber drums are used for the transport of dry goods, such as powders and granular materials, they can have liners installed or be coated on the interior, which allows them to hold liquids.

Fiber Drum Rolling Cylinder

Chapter Four – Types of 55 Gallon Drums

The 55 gallon drums of the 19th Century have progressed rapidly to become an important staple of modern shipping from the transport of oil and fuel to the storage and movement of food ingredients and pharmaceuticals. What was once thought to be the foundation of oil production has become an essential component in material and substance handling.

Types of 55 Gallon Drums

Closed Head Drum

Closed head drums are used for hazardous waste and are required to meet strict standards. They are tested to meet drop, stack, leak, hydrostatic, and vibration requirements as established by the United Nations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has four categories of hazardous waste.

  • Listed:
    1. F – manufacturing and industrial processing
    2. K – other industrial waste
    3. P – chemical products
    4. U – chemical products
  • Characteristic: Ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic.
  • Universal: Batteries, pesticides, mercury containing, and lamps
  • Mixed: Radioactive

Closed drums used for these purposes have to meet the EPA standards and requirements.

Closed Head Drum
Closed Head Drum (from

Open Head Drums

Open head drums are very popular, reliable, and are normally used for storage or shipping. They are designed for harsh conditions and constant use with the ability to survive the demands of shipping. Open head drops are highly durable and can be used indoors or outdoors depending on the job requirements. They come in a variety of colors and can be easily labeled for easy identification of the contents.

Open Head Drum
Open Head Drum (from

Salvage Drums

Salvage drums hold materials that have been damaged, are leaking, or are not in compliance with shipping regulations. They are designed to transport with closures that provide safety and security for transport of damaged, possibly harmful, materials.

Overpack Drums

Overpack drums hold packages or materials that are sealed and meet safety and shipping regulations. They contain consolidated materials and are designed to handle non-leaking packages. One definition of an overpack drum is that they are a larger container into which another sealed container may be placed.

Overpack Drum

Wine Barrels

The wine industry is shifting its focus to the use of stainless steel drums for the development, fermentation, maturation, and storage of wine. New designs are made to fit into wine barrel racks.

Wine Barrel Drum

Taper Sided Drums

Taper sided drums are lighter and easier to handle than other forms of drums. The tapered sides allow for nesting for easy storage. Taper sided 55 gallon drums are normally open headed and come in a variety of colors, though blue is the most common.

Taper Sided Drum

Rain Barrel

A rain barrel drum collects rainwater. They have a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, and a screen to keep debris out. Rain barrel drums have a simple design, are easy to use, and can be conveniently placed anywhere rainwater collects. The basic rain barrel is installed to make use of soft rainwater, reduce public utility water use, and help in self-sufficiency.

Rain Barrel

Reconditioned, Refurbished, and Reusable

A growing industry is repurposing, reconditioning, and refurbishing discarded 55 gallon drums that no longer have industrial use. Though they may have outlived their industrial usefulness, they are still viable and sturdy containers. The process for repurposing 55 gallon drums involves a complex set of steps to ensure that a durm can be safely used for other applications.

Steps to refurbishing 55 gallon drums:

Step One – The previous contents of the drum must be completely evacuated and washed from the drum to avoid contamination, hazards, and spoilage. There are a wide variety of chemicals, cleaners, and methods for cleaning 55 gallon drums. The choice of method depends on the former contents of the drum. The best method is to use a biobased cleaner that will remove the residue without harming the environment.

Open head drums can be sent through a furnace to burn off any residue, which is followed by a spray chemical cleaning that is similar to the process used on closed head drums.

Step Two – In the professional cleaning of drums, the next step is to immerse the drum in a chemical acid bath that removes any potential contaminants that may have clung to the sides or interior of the drum as well as remove coatings such as paint. This aspect of the process is designed for metal 55 gallon drums and not required for plastic or fabric drums.

Step Three – Drums that have been in use for a long time have suffered dents, creases, and other bruises to the exterior. Though these may seem to be harmless, to be able to sell a reconditioned drum, they have to be removed. Also, any damaged parts of the drum may contain unsuitable or harmful materials. If the drum is going to be resold, removal of dents and creases enhances the drum‘s appearance.

Step Four – As an extra safety measure, the drum should be steam cleaned, rinsed, and dried. At this stage of the process, it is essential that the drum be thoroughly inspected, especially the plugs.

For open head drums, the cover and sealing gasket should be inspected for dents, bruises, creases, or other damage. Only the exterior of a closed head drum can be inspected. The welds on the top and bottom of a closed head drum should be thoroughly examined as well as the bottom welds of open head drums.

Step Five – Stage five is a continuation of the examination process. Though it is possible to visually check the exterior of a drum, small, minute, and tiny punctures may not be seen. To ensure a complete and tight seal on the drum, it should be pressure and leak tested by being submerged in a tank of water. This final check will determine if the drum is tightly sealed or if it may need small holes repaired.

Step Six – During the cleaning process and acid bath, the exterior coatings were removed that protected the walls and sides of the drum from rust and corrosion. Those coatings must be reapplied.

The interior of the drum should be coated with a rust inhibitor, epoxy coating, or with some form of rust and corrosion resistant material. To harden the interior coating, the drum can be put through a curing process. Once the interior coating is sufficiently hard and set, the exterior can be coated as the final step.

There are several benefits to using refurbished and reconditioned 55 gallon drums, the most important of which is saving them from being placed in a dump site. Refurbished 55 gallon drums are used for planters, rain barrels, compost bins, horse feeders, deer feeders, rodeo barrels, and flotation devices, to name a few. Drum manufacturers refurbish and recondition their products for resale to be used as storage and shipping containers.

Chapter Five – Materials Used to Make 55 Gallon Drums

Most 55 gallon drums are made from plastic, steel, stainless steel, or fiber. The first 55 gallon drums were made from wood but were quickly replaced by steel since wood leaked. The original metal 55 gallon drums had the same problems as wood until methods were developed to tightly seal the steel seams.

The type of material used to manufacture modern drums depends on the use of the drum, where fiber can be used for dry powders and granular materials, while plastic, stainless steel, and steel have a more varied use including storage of hazardous materials.

55 Gallon Drum Materials

Stainless Steel Drums

Stainless steel is used in drum manufacturing for its corrosion resistance, tensile strength, durability, and longevity. It is the perfect material for conditions that require superior cleanliness and purity. They can be produced as open or closed headed using grades 304, 316, and 409 stainless steel in different gauges.

Stainless Steel Drums

Plastic Drums

The plastics used in the manufacturing of plastic drums include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), nylon, and polystyrene. The strength and endurance of plastic makes it capable of storing chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, liquids, cosmetics, electronic parts, hardware, and household products. The sturdiness of plastic makes it ideal for all drum applications from shipping and storage to dispensing and mixing. Plastic meets the standards of the FDA and USDA and is toxin free for safe storage of food ingredients.

Plastic Closed Head Drum

Steel Drum

Steel is used as a material for the manufacturing of drums due to its endurance and strength. The fact that steel is such a strong material and has a long life span makes it particularly attractive to drum producers. The resistance of steel to chemical damage makes it ideal for storing hazardous materials.

Fiber Drum

The fiber in fiber drums is heavy paperboard, which is thicker and stronger than ordinary paper, though it has a similar appearance as paper. Paperboard has a permanent foldability and rigidity with a grammage of 250 g/m2. It can be cut, shaped, formed, and conditioned to fit multiple applications. In some cases, paperboard used for fiber barrels is sometimes confused with cardboard due to its weight and thickness.

Fiber Drum

Chapter Six – 55 Gallon Drum Standards

The regulations for 55 gallon drums are both national and international since they are used to ship products around the world. The system that most nations follow has been established by the United Nations.

The classification system for the United Nations consists of a series of letters and numbers that identify the type of container, its materials, and the substances that it can contain.

The rating of a container is established by its testing, which can be done several times. Each time a container is tested it receives a new set of letters and numbers to identify its rating.

Numbers for the types of containers:

1 – drum
2 – wooden barrel
3 – jerrican
4 – box
5 – bag
6 – composite receptacle
7 – pressure receptacle

Letters to identify the containers construction material:

A – steel
B – aluminum
C – natural wood
D – plywood
F – reconstituted wood
G – fiberboard
H – plastic
L – textile
M – paper, multiwall
N – metal other than steel or aluminum
P – glass, porcelain or stoneware

Open or closed headed codes:

1 – closed head
2 – open head
T – leak proof

Container packaging groups:

X – groups I, II, or III
Y – group II and III only
Z – group III only

Hazard ratings:

I – most hazardous material
II – medium to low hazard
III – low to minimal hazard

Along with the above United Nations‘ categories are four other categories, gross mass for solids and specific gravity for liquids as well as hydrostatic test pressure for solids and liquids.

Gross Mass for Solids – For single or composite packings containing solids, the markings indicate the maximum gross mass in kilograms that the package can weigh when filled.

Specific Gravity for Liquids – For liquid hazardous materials in single or composite packings, the grade indicates maximum specific gravity allowable.

Solids – For hydrostatic test pressure, S is used to indicate that the packed material is a solid.

Liquids – For liquid hazardous materials, the markings indicate the hydrostatic pressure to which the container was tested to and is described using kPa or kilopascals to the nearest 10 kPa.

The final three sections of the rating number include:

  1. Year of manufacture
  2. Country of origin
  3. The certifying agency or manufacturer

The United Nations rating system provides a complete understanding of the history and qualifications of a container that can be rapidly scanned and understood.


  • A 55 gallon drum is a cylindrical container made of a variety of materials designed to hold 55 US gallons or 208 liters.
  • The system used to establish the standards for 55 gallon drums was devised by the United Nations.
  • Most 55 gallon drums are made from plastic, steel, stainless steel, or fiber.
  • The process used to manufacture 55 gallon drums depends on the material being used.
  • 55 gallon drums, which were once thought to be the foundation of oil production, have become an essential component in material and substance handling.


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