How to clean chemicals out of plastic barrels

Blue Plastic Drum Family

Blue plastic barrels are one of the most enduring sights in the industrial packaging industry. Walk into any warehouse or inspect the cargo of any lorry, and you’ll find blue plastic barrels being used to safely store and transport everything from food to pharmaceuticals.

One of the most popular uses for blue plastic barrels is carrying chemicals. UN rated plastic barrels are safe and secure, and they won’t degrade when in contact with the vast majority of industrial chemicals, including many corrosive or hazardous substances.

Plastic barrels can also be used more than once. Chemicals and hazardous waste can be cleaned out of the barrel, and it can be put to good use for many more years to come. In this article, we ask our experts ‘how to clean chemicals out of plastic barrels?’ so you can extend the lifespan of your containers.


Plastic barrels have a fantastic range of uses, and they are well designed and manufactured to be used for transporting and storing chemicals. In fact, for many different types of industrial chemicals, blue plastic barrels are the best possible (or only possible) container.

Plastic barrels designed for industrial usage are produced from HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) a form of high-grade plastic that has many excellent qualities. HDPE is strong, it’s incredibly durable yet malleable and, perhaps most importantly of all, there are few chemicals it reacts with.

These qualities make it perfect for storing potentially dangerous, reactive or corrosive chemicals. Drop the plastic drum off the back of a lorry and it won’t crack and spill chemicals everywhere. Chemicals won’t react with the HDPE and the plastic won’t corrode (although always check this is the case). Plus, the barrels can be reused time and time again (which makes them very cost-effective).

Blue plastic barrels are easy to store and transport in an industrial setting, and they can be safely stacked and moved around with forklifts. The barrels can also be equipped with a number of useful attachments including nozzles and drum liners, which improve their usefulness and practicality immensely.


The vast majority of essential industrial chemicals can be stored safely in blue plastic barrels. HDPE can withstand the most popular chemicals, including ethanol, methanol, hydrogen peroxide, and more.

However, each chemical has unique properties, so it’s important to check if plastic HDPE is suitable before filling a barrel up. All plastic barrels are UN certified and have a range of ratings and labels to help you out with this.

HDPE plastic barrels can also withstand very acidic chemicals and corrosive chemical waste. Again, this depends on the strength of the acid, so it needs to be checked carefully before use. Some corrosive acids can eat through even the strongest of plastic barrels.

Safety is paramount when handling, storing and transporting chemicals in blue plastic barrels. Always have a health and safety check carried out, and ensure that the chemicals are indeed suitable for the barrel.


One of the major features of blue plastic barrels is their reusability. Blue plastic barrels have an exceptionally long lifespan, with many lasting for decades before being broken up and recycled again.

However, it’s important to realise that the lifespan of a barrel depends on a number of factors, including what’s been stored in it and how it’s been cared for. To be reused, barrels need to be cleaned out thoroughly after each use.

You also need to be careful about mixing goods. For example, it’s not a good idea to use barrels that have previously stored chemicals for storing food or drinking water. While blue plastic barrels are food-grade, chemicals can leach into the plastic over time and taint any food being stored. Equally, barrels should be used to store one type of chemical only to avoid any cross-contamination.

If you need to use barrels for different substances, then you need to use appropriate drum liners to stop any cross-contamination from occurring. There are many different types of drum liners, but they all act as a separate, inner lining that stops the liquid from touching the side of the plastic barrel.

Before reusing barrels, they should be inspected for any damage, wear and tear, or corrosion that may have been caused over time. Barrels that have visible damage should never be used to store chemicals. Broken barrels can be repaired however, or they can be broken down and repurposed into ‘new’ barrels.


Different chemical residues need to be cleaned out of plastic barrels using different substances. Using the wrong substances can cause unwanted chemical reactions. You can approach the chemical manufacturer to check which cleaning products can be used for which chemicals.

For many chemicals, water-based solvents (the solvent depends on the chemical) are the most appropriate way to clean. Using high-pressure hosepipes is the most effective method (and the easiest), but scrubbing may also be required. Acidic substances will need to be neutralised with an alkaline solution before they can be safely cleaned.

When handling and cleaning industrial chemicals, always wear personal protective gear to ensure you don’t get hurt. You should perform rigorous health and safety checks, and check with local authorities what needs to happen to any leftover chemical waste (where can you dispose of it safely and legally).


Blue plastic barrels are a versatile, long-lasting and cost-effective solution for industrial storage and transport needs. At ITP Packaging, we stock a comprehensive range of classic blue plastic barrels, including open top and tight head drums, offering a variety of capacities

Our friendly team can advise on the best industrial packaging for your business, and we’re happy to offer useful tips on cleaning and reusing plastic barrels. Contact ITP Packaging today for more information.

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