The Difference Between Plastic vs. Steel Drums

Posted by Alexa Ketterling


Do you ever find yourself wondering whether you should be purchasing plastic or steel drums? Or what the difference between them really is? Some food manufacturers prefer steel drums, and some prefer plastic — most can take a mix of both.

Let’s break it down and really find out how much of a difference is there really between the two drum materials.


What's the difference between plastic vs. steel drums? 

To begin, the weight of the empty drums is different. A plastic drum weighs on average 25 pounds, and a steel drum will weigh an average of 35 pounds — so steel drums will be heavier.

The bungs (or holes found on the top of the drums) will also be different. Each drum will have two holes at the top that you can insert a steel pump into.

Plastic drums come with two bungs, both 2” in diameter**. Steel drums, however, usually come with a 2” bung and a 3/4” three quarter inch bung.


Do you pump out of them differently? 

You may wonder, with the bungs being ever so slightly different, do you have to pump out of them differently or have a different tool for pumping out of each type?

The answer is no. You can pump the same out of both types of drums. You can use a drum pump (if you have one) or you can use the smaller openings to attach a spigot.


Do you have to carry and stack them differently? 

Steel drums can be stacked 3 high once filled. Plastic drums, on the other hand, can only be stacked 2 high once filled. That can be something to think about, depending on the ceiling height and open floor space that you have.

As far as carrying them, you may need to have different powered equipment for the plastic drums; they don’t have as many of the grooves as steel drums do and may require different drum grips to move them safely. However, there is some equipment that can lift and carry both types of drums.

It’s worth looking into this piece in more detail depending on how you move drums around in your warehouse. If you use a pallet jack to move the drums and keep them on the pallet, this will be a null and void issue for you; if you grip each individual drum to move it, that is when this may matter.


What is the "punch out" spot for a spigot in the plastic drums? 

The “punch out” in a plastic drum is really more of a cut out spot for a spigot. It is located in one of the 2 inch bungs. ( I can take a picture of it and add it with a description on it for this section)


Should you get lined or unlined drums? 

One other thing to note about the difference between the two drums is that for the steel drums you can either get lined or unlined drums, depending on your needs. It will also depend on the length you would need to keep the product in the drums. For example, steel drums can last you up to 10 years if they are lined (for olive oil, this may not matter as the product has a shelf life of 2 years). The plastic drums, however, are more porous and wouldn’t last to that 10 year mark in the same way.


In Conclusion

For most food manufacturers, both plastic and steel drums work well. That said, it’s important to understand the differences so that you can be prepared to store, move and pump out of them properly.

Topics: Food Manufacturing, Packaging



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