Water Butts STINK!

I haven't needed the water from my butts until this month and the water has been left to stagnate all winter.

The water absolutely stinks - putrid. I am afraid to use it on my plants, in case it infects them with a disease or something, especially young plants.

I have a new, young Rhododendron and Camellia too, which I have been told I should not water with tap water as an alternative. (Sussex: chalky, alkaline)

Am I right in thinking I can just pop in some sort of tablet into the butts to clean them?

Or do I have to empty and scrub them?

Any tips would be absolutely brilliant thanks!



  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,868

    I don't know of any tablets that will do that - don't know if others do - If you need to water anything with rainwater right now I'd dip a bucket into the top to get clean water and avoid the sludge which will be at the bottom.  Then  I'd empty the lot and give it a good scrub - some people use a very dilute Jeyes Fluid, but I'm not keen on using it for environmental reasons - I've just googled and found this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-Green-WATER-BUTT-CLEANER/dp/B000O5DV52 - - has anyone else tried it?????????? 

    Does your water butt have a lid on it?  Mine do and I find that keeps the gunge to a minimum.  

    By the way, don't use water from water butts for seedlings and very young plants - use your tap water - it'll help prevent fungal infections etc. 

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
  • Alan4711Alan4711 Posts: 1,569

    Morning all ,i agree with Dove a good scrub which we do every winter with our buts and a little Jeyes  (lots of rinsing) ,i used a lot of water so the buts were quite clean,also in large buts ( 40 gallon )a table spoon of rapeseed/veg type  oil on the water surface to keep midge stuff out, water buts with tops tend to keep clean anyway if the water is used often enough, rain water we collected in winter lasted well into summer with no smell,so scrub em and top em.image

  • Rotten eggs whiff is hydrogen sulphide gas so decaying organic matter is in the butt. Just in case it is from bird poop, dead snails etc I would clean out the butt as Dove suggests.

    Then try cutting a pair of old tights into two leg sections; fill one leg with charcoal lumps (Nora Batty memories) and suspend that in the water then use the other leg section to stretch over the inlet hose to catch gutter debris. This should help keep the next fill sweeter. oh yes a garden peg on the nose to empty the butt then to secure the twist in the tight tops image


  • Alan4711Alan4711 Posts: 1,569

    Marinelilum r u suggesting us allotmenteers wear Nora Batty tights, and whos been talking thenimage

  • Hehehe! What happens on the allotment....stays on the allotment Alan.

  • Thank you for your replies and solutions!

    I imagine, as suggested, that this is not so much of a problem if you use the water regularly, have clear gutters, etc.

    @dovefromabove Thanks for the tips. Also, that cleaning fluid seems reasonable as a preventative measure.

    The butts do have lids. As Marinelilium suggests, debris from the gutter is possible. Liking the tights idea!

    Unanimously, good old elbow grease (and possibly some diluted disinfectant) will do the trick.

  • GWRSGWRS Posts: 5,110

    Temporary measure I would add some cleaning liquid , we bought some from Anglian Water , called " Refresh" which is made for Rainwater Butts & Storage Tanks

    However I do try and clean out the water butts at home  each year which I prefer to using chemicals but may not be possible for everybody

    Best of luckimage

  • I get from 6 to 20 pigeons on my roof and I presumed the smell coming from my newly installed water butt was because of their droppings. I thought bird poop was a fertilizer so have been watering my rhodos and pieris with this water and they seem to be thriving. If I carry on doing this will it become detrimental in the long run do you think?

  • nodlisabnodlisab Posts: 394

    Is the smelly water detrimental to the plants or is the smell just annoying?

  • I've been told this is good for keeping water butts smelling better... http://water-butts.net/acatalog/Water_Butt_Water_Freshener.html

    Haven't used it myself though but worth a try! image

  • lydiaannlydiaann Posts: 209

    We clean out our water butts (3) every year.  Remember also to clean the lid thoroughly and to ensure that it fits snugly.  We don't use any chemicals or organic materials to clean them, just a good scrubbing brush and a strong hose and we've not had any problems so far (almost 4 years).  The water butts are attached to the shed and greenhouse gutters and these are kept clear, my husband doing the biz once a month, particularly in the autumn, winter, as we have a lot of trees around.

  • There is always the possibility that a rat or mice have somehow fallen in to cause the smell. Empty and a good scrub will do the trick.

  • 1Runnybeak11Runnybeak1 Posts: 7,026

    Talking about Butts.   What happened to the butt that was bunged up ????

  • I always empty 1/4 out of my water butt every month to stop sludge build up. I live on the west coast of scotland so Rain water is not a problem to collect. image

  • GWRSGWRS Posts: 5,110

    Hello , I clean my water butts every year but it is the moss/lichen that comes off the roof into the butts that build up and gets smelly image

  • I added scrunched up copper wire balls to each of our water butts, about the size of a cricket ball and our smelly water problem disappeared  soon after. The copper has an anti-bacterial effect on the water, without poisoning it. If you try this, maybe run the copper wire through some sandpaper, to remove any coatings that may stop the copper making contact with the water. I've heard of people throwing a few copper coins in each water butt, I don't know how effective this may be, as flat coins may just get buried in silt in the bottom, and perhaps also rust, as most copper coins also contain other metals beside copper. Worth a try I guess, for a few pence.

  • LynLyn Posts: 8,105

    Thanks for the tip, sounds good.

    Gardening on the wild, windy west side of Dartmoor. 
  • we empty ours if it looks murky in the bottom& clean it out. good luck

  • lydiaannlydiaann Posts: 209

    Early spring (around last week of March), we empty our water butts (3) - onto the garden using watering cans, trying to ensure we do it after up to a week of dry weather.  Then we scrub them out using plain tap water and a good brush.  They are usually done again some time in the summer as ALL of our watering is done using this water while there is any in there.  At some point, usually around the end of August, as each one empties once again, , they get a good scrub out.  All gutters are kept clean by Himself once per month.  Whole emptying/scrubbing/reassembly in spring takes around one hour - only a few minutes is required for each one as it is emptied in autumn.

  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,115
    I keep my water butts closely covered at all times. I never deliberately empty them except by watering can for the garden. They never need scrubbing and some of the water in one or two of them must be years old and completely clear. And I never add chemicals or other devices to them.
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