Ways to Paint and Decorate DIY Rain Barrels

Contributed by Sarah Smith

Many of us love arts and crafts. The process of making something yourself comes with a sense of accomplishment that feels good. Today we'll talk about ways to paint rain barrels—a creative and practical garden project! That’s right, painting and decorating an item that is used frequently in homes: plastic barrels. Your rain barrels are a staple in the garden, so why not give them some personal flare.

What is a rain barrel used for? A rain barrel is a large container that collects rainwater (or roofwater) from your downspout. A standard 55-gallon barrel can be filled in a matter of minutes in a rain storm – which is why BlueBarrel’s multi-barrel solution is so very popular.

sunflower painted rainbarrel

Water that otherwise would have run off into the sewer system can now be reused. People use water from rain barrels to wash cars, water veggies, or fill pools. As a result, rain barrels will help you save money on your water bill, improve the health of your garden, and reduce storm runoff. (Read more about the benefits of rainwater harvesting here).

With this guide, you will learn how to make durable plastic rain barrels beautiful!

White Rain Barrels for rainwater catchment
Can you believe these barrels started out blue? Painting is a great way to get the aesthetic you're looking for. Go for plain or read on for more decorative inspiration! Click here for more details and inspiration about single-color paint jobs like this one!

Things You Will Need

The following list contains everything you need when preparing to paint your rain barrel:

  • Plastic Barrels
  • Warm water
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Hose
  • Ultra-fine sandpaper (800-1000 grit)
  • Spray Paint (2-3 cans of acrylic)
  • 2 cans of acrylic plastic primer
  • 2 cans of polyurethane sealer
  • Artistic acrylic paint (for decoration)
  • Assorted paint brushes
  • Drop Cloths


Tips and Cautions: Before Painting

Below are some tips and cautions when painting rain barrels.

1. Create a spray guard when painting your barrel. Large cardboard boxes with the top and one side cut out to make for good booths to keep the spray from going on surrounding areas.

2. If you are spray painting your barrel indoors, do so in a well-ventilated area.

3. If you are spray painting your barrel outside, make sure to avoid windy days. The wind will distort the direction of the spray.

Rain Barrel Painting Steps

Here are the all-inclusive steps on how to prepare, prime, and paint your rain barrel.

1. Wash your barrel with equal parts warm water and white distilled vinegar. Use a scrubbing brush to ensure that all the dirt and grime come off your barrel. If a barrel is not clean, the paint will not stick well.

2. Use fine grit sandpaper to rough up the outside of the barrel. You can use an electric palm sander to speed up this process, but sanding by hand is perfectly fine. Sand the barrel until its outer surface looks dull.

plastic barrel painted with trees

3. Use water and a brush to clean off the dust from sanding. Use a towel to dry off the barrel completely.

4. Shake the spray can of primer well as directed by the label. Apply a light coat of primer to the outside of the barrel. Use a sweeping motion as you spray back and forth across the barrel. This primer is designed for plastics and will help the spray paint adhere better. Let the barrel dry as per the label’s instructions.

5. Spray the barrel with acrylic spray paint in the color of your choice. Use the same sweeping motion you did for the primer to evenly coat the barrel. Apply the paint in coats, allowing for drying time in between coast.

6. If you are happy with the color of your barrel, you can seal it with polyurethane spray sealer. Spray on three layers of sealer to ensure it is fully covered; use the same sweeping motion. Otherwise, keep applying coats of paint until you are satisfied with the color and then seal it in.

Optional Decoration

You can decorate your barrels after letting the spray paint dry, but before the sealer. Use acrylic paints with paint brushes to add a creative design. Stencils may come in handy, but these are optional if you prefer free-painting. Add any design you like and be as creative as you want. Your rain barrels will be on full display next to your house, so you want them to look good. Once you are finished with decorations, allow the paint to dry before sealing it.

Decorative painted rain barrels

This series of photos was submitted by BlueBarrel customers ShuShila and TJ (and Mal the cat!) from Fort Collins, CO. ShuShila painted the barrels crediting the style of Studio Ghibli & Natsume Yuujinchou, and TJ and Mal helped with the install. See here for more inspiration from BlueBarrel customers all over the USA.


BlueBarrel is your one-stop-shop for used barrels, DIY rain barrel systems, and gravity-fed irrigation.

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