Guide to Steel Drums

The Composition of Steel Drums

Most steel drums are made of either carbon steel or stainless steel. Stainless steel offers better chemical resistance than carbon steel and is an ideal solution for products requiring drum purity and compatibility of materials, depending on their composition. Due to unique properties, stainless steel drums can outperform carbon steel drums in terms of corrosion resistance, tensile strength and reusability.

Types of Steel Drums

The Cary Company has a variety of drums to meet your shipping needs, whether that's solids, liquids, or hazardous materials. Drum sizes are available from 4 gallons to 110 gallons and can be used throughout a variety of industries. These drums are made of carbon steel, stainless steel, or composite material. Drum accessories are also available for your needs. Below are 5 styles of steel drums for your shipping or storage needs. 

Open Head Steel Drums

Open head drums, also called 1A2 drums, have a fully removable cover secured with a bolt or lever lock ring closure. Open head drums make it easier to work with solids and thicker liquids (oils, absorbents, syrups, glues, etc.) and are typically used in situations where frequent addition or extraction of the contents occurs.

Open head drum offered at The Cary Company. Open head drum offered at The Cary Company.

Tight Head Steel Drums

Tight head drums, also known as closed head or 1A1 drums, have a secured, non-removable top and are typically used with lower viscosity liquids. Access to a tight head drum typically is via a 2" and 3/4" bung opening in the top of the container.

Tight head drum offered at The Cary Company. Tight head drum offered at The Cary Company.

Salvage Drums

Salvage Drums are designed to contain packages of hazardous materials that are damaged, defective, or found leaking. The drums are regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) under 49 CFR 173.3 (c). If a company or shipper has a leaking package of hazardous material, sorbents or rags used on a spill or leak, and they wish to ship them across public roads, they must use a Salvage Drum under the restrictions of 173.3 (c).

Salvage drum offered at The Cary Company. Salvage drum offered at The Cary Company.

Stainless Steel Drums

Open Head Stainless Steel Drums have excellent durability and strength, allowing you to ship and hold materials like solids nad thick liquids. These drums either have a bolt-ring closure or lever lock ring with gasket. These lids are removable , making filling and dispensing of products easy. They are offered in 4 to 85 gallon, with 55 gallon being the most popular.

Stainless steel drum offered at The Cary Company. Stainless steel drum offered at The Cary Company.

Reconditioned Steel Drums

Reconditioned Steel Drums are available in tight head or open head. These drums can be used as storage or for shipping applications that do not need to be FDA complaint. These reconditioned steel drums are available in 30 gallon, 50 gallon, and 55 gallon sizes. 

Reconditioned drum offered at The Cary Company.Reconditioned drum offered at The Cary Company.

Benefits of Steel Drums

There are a variety of benefits for using steel drums, some including: 

  • Durability - Steel drums are durable packaging containers that provide protection against physical damage during transit.
  • Versatility - Use these steel drums for storing or shipping items throughout a variety of industries, some including chemicals and hazardous waste. These drums are not FDA complaint for food use.
  • Safety - To safely ship hazardous materials, contents need to be stored in a compatible UN rated drum. Steel drums are durable and are designed to meet storage and transportation requirements.
  • Recyclability - Steel drums can be washed out and turned into reconditioned drums. This process helps reduce waste, conserve resources, and reuse materials.
  • Cost-effective - Steel drums have a long shelf life. They are a very good cost-effective storage solution for transporting materials in large volumes that may require heavy-duty materials. They require minimal maintenance, allowing drums to be reused for other purposes. 

Covers and Closures

A cover is the lid or top of open head drums. Covers must be secured with a bolt or lever lock ring closure.

Bolt ring closure on a steel drum. Bolt ring closure on a steel drum.

Bolt Ring Closure – A bolt ring is a closure ring that holds the cover on to the body of the container by encompassing the cover and the top of the container in a groove. This ring is then tightened by a bolt that pulls the ends of the rings together. A calibrated torque wrench is used to confirm proper closure (to meet UN Rating requirements).

Lever lock ring on steel drum. Lever lock ring on steel drum.

Lever Lock Ring Closure – The lever lock ring holds the cover on to the container with a latch (or toggle) that is pulled from one side to the other and applies torque to the two ring ends in a similar fashion to the bolt ring. No torque wrench is required to confirm proper closure.


There is a large variety of gaskets both in material and profile (shape). Most common gasket materials are EPDM, Neoprene, Teflon, Rubber and Cellulose. All gaskets have different properties that make them more suitable for certain applications. Gaskets also vary in terms of performance, specifically the profile (shape) which affects the UN Rating of the drum. It is important to note that a United Nations certified container must use the tested gasket in order not to invalidate the test certification. There is no hard and fast rule on what gasket / drum combination are compatible, it is however not permissible to change one gasket type for another unless the container has been tested with both.

Gasket for steel drum image. Gasket for steel drum image.

Steel Drum Fittings - Bung Holes, Flanges, and Plugs (Bungs)

Drum fittings on steel drum image.Drum fittings on steel drum image.

Steel drums typically have two openings (bung holes) with flanges, 2″ and 3/4″ in diameter, in the top of the container (or cover for open head drums). The flanges are the closure attachments that are permanently inserted into the drum and provide the receiving threads for a plug. Most steel drums have NPT (National Pipe Thread Taper) threaded openings. Unlike straight pipe threading, NPT threaded fittings will pull tight to make a liquid-tight seal.

Once drums are filled, plugs (bungs) are screwed in the flanges using pneumatic or hand operated bung tightener (plug or torque wrench). To secure the contents of the drums against theft and adulteration during shipment, cap-seals are used. These cap-seals sit on top of the flanges and are ‘crimped’ using drum cap-seal crimping tools (also called drum cap sealers). Once cap-seals are crimped, the plugs can be unscrewed only by breaking these cap-seals. Pneumatic and hand-operated cap-seal crimping tools are available. Pneumatic ones are used in production lines for high production.

Two Standard Types of Plugs (Bungs)

Tight head fittings typically include a 2" x 3/4" Tri-Sure Style Plug & Flange.

  • A Tri-Sure style plug has a round plug in octagonal flange.
  • A Rieke style plug has a hexagonal plug in a round flange.

Drum Linings

The interior lining is sprayed on to a drum in an interior-lining booth. The shell of the drum rotates and as it rotates the interior is coated with a coating that is sprayed from a nozzle inside the drum. The drum is then oven-baked for a specified time and temperature.

  • Unlined (with a Rust Inhibitor) – The purpose of rust inhibitors is to prevent the drum from rusting prior to being filled. It is not intended to act as a lining. It is normally applied at thin films 0.1-0.2 mils dry.
  • Epoxy-Phenolic Lining – The epoxy-phenolic linings have been designed to provide outstanding chemical resistance in a pH range of 7.0 – 9.0. The resin ratio has been varied in specific formulations to achieve the desired compromises in flexibility and resistance. Typical products packaged are alkaline products, fatty acids, detergents, emulsions, foods, general organic chemicals, surfactants, and water based resins.

Drum Liners

Drum liners are typically constructed from FDA approved polyethylene, and are designed to fit in either steel or plastic drums of various sizes. Drum Liners come in a variety of styles including straight sided liners, pleated (accordion style) drum liners, flat bottom drum liners, round bottom drum liners and anti-stat drum liners. Anti-Static Drum Liners help reduce static build up in volatile applications.

Available in multiple widths, drum liners help minimize drum cleaning and replacement (reducing waste) and prevent product contamination. They are used for storing and shipping a variety of materials, such as liquid and raw products, and are available in 15 gallon, 30 gallon and 55 gallon sizes. Liner Mil thicknesses range from 4 mil (Bag Liner) to to 15 mil (Rigid Liner) to 30 mil (Heavy Duty Liner).

Steel Gauge and Thickness

The thickness (1.2 mm) or gauge (18 gauge) of the steel is important depending on the reason you’re using a drum. Generally the heavier and thicker the gauge of steel used to manufacture the container, the sturdier the container will be in service. Thicker drums, that are UN Certified, are recommended for shipping hazardous liquids, as they’re stronger than thinner drums. The gauge used will not always be reflected in the performance of the container with regard to it’s UN marking, but a sturdier container will certainly stand up better to the rigors of transportation. A lighter container will most certainly not stand up as well.

Most drums display the thickness of the drums in parts, top/body/bottom (1.2/0.9/1.5). That would mean that the top is 1.2 mm thick (18 gauge), the body is 0.9 mm thick (20 gauge), and the bottom is 1.5 mm thick (16 gauge). Most drums fall in the range of 0.9 – 1.5 mm thick.

Gauge Inches Metric  Thickness
24 0.0200-0.0260 0.71-0.81 0.6mm
22 0.0880-0.0320 0.71-0.81 0.8mm
20 0.0319-0.0370 0.81-0.94 0.9mm
19 0.0380-0.0420 0.99-1.07 1.0mm
18 0.0433-0.0480 1.10-1.22 1.2mm
16 0.0543-0.0590 1.38-1.50 1.5mm

Rolling Hoops / Reinforcement Rings

Rolling hoops on steel drums.Rolling hoops on steel drums.

Rolling Hoops are the hooped expansions that are located in the body of a drum that act as reinforcement rings to permit easy handling of the filled drums. Most 55 gallon steel drums are built with three rolling hoops (the first hoop is placed 3 inches from the top curl while the other 2 hoops are centered on the drum) and a few are built with only two hoops.

There are also 55 gallon drums constructed without any rolling hoops, called straight-sided drums, which are not UN rated due to strength. Chimes are the bottom or top perimeter of the drum comprised of the edges of the combined thickness of the head and the body.

UN Ratings

Developed as a set of standards, by the United Nations, UN ratings are essential for shipping or storing hazardous materials. The UN Rating is a series of number and letter codes that show what a container is regulated to handle.

They determine this through a series of tests that all containers must undergo if they are to be UN Rated. Current UN Regulations are enforced by the D.O.T. It is up to the filler of the product to determine what UN Rating they need. Learn more in our Guide to UN Ratings.

Drum Colors

The standard color for drums is black, but other common colors include white, gray, medium and dark blue, harvest yellow, red, and deep green. Additional colors are available upon request. The different colors enable many customers to keep track of what they have stored in different containers easily without having to open them. Stainless Steel Drums are not painted.

Reconditioned drums are available in a variety of colors. View the full selection of colors, here.

Red drum at The Cary Company. Drums are offered in a variety of colors. Red drum at The Cary Company. Drums are offered in a variety of colors.

Steel Drum FAQ's

Are steel drums food grade?

  • Most of our new lined steel drums are FDA approved for food or pharmaceutical storage.
  • Unlined and Reconditioned drums are not FDA approved for food or pharmaceutical storage.

What’s the best drum to make a BBQ or Smoker?

All our unlined drums can be adapted to use as a BBQ or a smoker, however, one must be cautious never to cut or weld a drum in which the plugs or cover are still secured. If air is trapped inside a drum, a build-up of pressure, when cutting or welding, can lead to an explosion. The unlined drums with a rust inhibitor can be easily burned out with a propane torch at the same time you are removing the original exterior paint. For more information, visit our 55 Gallon Drum BBQ Smokers & Grills article.

Can you store water in a steel drum?

Unlined steel drums will rust. Epoxy-phenolic lined drums can store water, but plastic drums would be a more cost effective solution.

Standard Shipping Questions

  • How do you ship? – We ship LTL (Less Than Truckload), Truckloads, UPS, and FedEx.
  • What is the best way to ship a steel drum? – It depends on the quantity being shipped, the location, and the size of the drums. Drums in small quantities less than 55 gallon size can ship UPS. Larger quantities of steel drums go either LTL common carrier or truckload.
  • What quantities can ship UPS? – 55 gallon drums cannot be shipped by UPS. Sizes less than 55 gallons in small quantities may be shipped by UPS.
  • How many steel drums will fit on a pallet or on a truck? – The number of steel drums that fit on a single pallet varies depending on the size of the drum and the size of the pallet. As a rule of thumb, for a 48" x 45" pallet the totals would be the following (assuming that the container is a 53 foot trailer 102" wide). It is not recommended to floor load new steel drums less than 55 gallons, as damages during freight may occur.
Capacity Quantity per Truck
5 gallon 63 per skid and 1638 per trailer (palletized)
8 gallon 56 per skid and 1456 per trailer (palletized)
10 gallon 45 per skid and 1170 per trailer (palletized)
16 gallon 27 per skid and 702 per trailer (palletized)
20 gallon 20 per skid and 520 per trailer (palletized)
30 gallon 15 per skid and 390 per trailer (palletized)
55 gallon 8 per skid, 208 per trailer (palletized). Floor loaded (no pallet) is 320
85 gallon 6 per skid and 156 per trailer (palletized)
96 gallon 6 per skid and 156 per trailer (palletized)
110 gallon 1, total of 96 per trailer (palletized)

Did These Drums Steel Your Attention?

Steel drums are beneficial for shipping or storing large amounts of products. The Cary Company stocks steel drums in various sizes, from 4 to 85 gallons. These drums are durable packaging solutions for your shipping needs.

Looking for a specific steel drum? We can help! The Cary Product Sourcing Team will work with you to find the best drums based on your needs. -- Call 630.629.6600!

Drum Accessories & Tools