How Long to Keep Diesel in Plastic Containers

A person fueling a car with a red gasoline pump nozzle.

Polyethylene, a common synthetic material, is frequently utilized in the production of plastic storage drums, notably the familiar blue drums seen in numerous warehouses.

Businesses frequently consult with ITP staff about the safety of using these drums for diesel fuel storage. Typically, polyethylene, particularly in specialized plastic oil drums, is considered safe for storing diesel. However, there are constraints on how long diesel can be stored in these drums without compromising safety. This article examines the use of polyethylene in diesel storage, concentrating on essential elements and safety precautions, particularly addressing how long does diesel stay good.

  1. Is It Safe to Choose Plastic for Diesel Storage Containers?:
    • Plastic Drums;
    • IBC Tanks;
    • Jerry Cans.
  2. The Safe Duration for Storing Diesel Fuel in Plastic Drums;
  3. Advantages of Opting for Plastic Drums in Diesel Fuel Storage;
  4. Containers for Storing Diesel Fuel;
  5. Best Practices for Storing Diesel:
    • Combatting Moisture and Microorganisms;
    • Addressing Oxidation;
    • Additional Recommendations.
  6. Conclusion.

Is It Safe to Choose Plastic for Diesel Storage Containers?

Certainly, diesel fuel can be stored in plastic containers, but this is viable only for a short duration. The majority of plastic containers are made from Polyethylene, a material that tends to interact with diesel over time. This interaction leads to the degradation of the plastic, which eventually mixes with the diesel, rendering the fuel unusable. In such cases, the best course of action is to dispose of the compromised diesel.

A safe storage timeframe for diesel in plastic containers is approximately six months. Storing beyond this period risks deteriorating the fuel’s quality.

Therefore, while plastic containers offer a convenient option for short-term storage of diesel, they are not advisable for long-term use. Let’s now explore some of the most suitable types of plastic containers for diesel storage.

Plastic Drums

Most plastic containers are crafted from polyethylene, yet a more durable variant known as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) exists. Industrial-grade plastic drums, often made from HDPE, have a longer lifespan compared to standard plastic containers.

Nonetheless, even HDPE will gradually degrade when in contact with diesel, though at a slower rate than regular polyethylene.

Contrary to some claims made by certain retailers, HDPE containers are not suitable for long-term diesel storage. Typically, diesel stored in HDPE containers becomes unusable after about six months.

While it’s true that HDPE may offer a slightly longer storage duration for diesel compared to regular plastic, under ideal conditions, it’s still not a viable long-term solution.

Yet, for short-term storage of approximately five to six months, plastic drums are a preferable choice over metal drums for several reasons:

  • Cost-Efficiency: Plastic drums are usually less expensive than metal containers, making them a cost-effective option for short-term use;
  • Rust Resistance: Unlike metal drums, plastic ones do not rust, eliminating the risk of diesel contamination from rust;
  • No Reaction with Diesel: Plastic containers do not contain metal alloys, hence avoiding detrimental reactions with diesel. For instance, diesel fuel can deteriorate when exposed to metals like zinc and copper, often found in some metal tanks;
  • Easy Repair and Replacement: Plastic containers are relatively easy to repair in case of minor damage, and their low cost makes them easily replaceable if needed.

IBC Tanks

Similar to plastic containers and drums, Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC tanks) are suitable for short-term but not for long-term storage of diesel. IBC tanks are commonly used for the transportation of diesel and other fuels. These tanks are constructed from HDPE (high-density polyethylene), a material known for its durability and resistance to breakdown.

Nonetheless, IBC tanks are not intended for long-term fuel storage. They are typically safe for transport purposes, which generally do not exceed a period of six months.

For long-term storage of diesel fuels, gas and oil companies often rely on metal IBC tanks. These are usually made from stainless steel and are specifically engineered to store fuel while maintaining its quality over extended periods.

IBC tanks are an excellent option for storing large quantities of diesel fuel for short durations. Some IBC tanks can hold up to 550 gallons, making them well-suited for handling substantial fuel volumes.

However, it’s important to note that these tanks are not recommended for long-term storage. Moreover, IBC tanks are generally more costly compared to smaller drums and containers, making them a pricier choice for fuel storage needs.

hand is pumping green nozzle into car's fuel tank outside at gas station

Jerry Cans

Jerry cans, also known as jerrycans, have evolved from their original pressed steel construction to most commonly being made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) today.

This shift in material means that modern jerry cans are not ideal for long-term diesel storage. Regarding the old steel jerry cans, they’re not a safe bet for diesel storage either. If you come across a steel jerry can, it’s likely to be over 50 years old, and trusting such an aged metal container to be free of rust and safe for use is risky.

While less suitable for long-term storage, cheap jerry cans are quite efficient for short-term storage and particularly for transportation. Their design, optimized for stacking, allows for easy and space-efficient transport of multiple cans, even in a car’s trunk.

However, there’s an exception to the predominance of HDPE jerry cans. A select few manufacturers produce high-quality jerry cans specifically designed for long-term diesel storage. These cans are equipped with diesel-resistant internal paint to prevent rusting and feature an anti-spill system. They retain the classic, efficient stacking design reminiscent of those used by armies in WWII.

With these specialized jerry cans, your diesel fuel can be stored safely for more than six months, especially if kept under favorable conditions.

How Long Does Diesel Fuel Last in a Container

In the industrial sector, plastic drums are commonly produced from polyethylene, which is known for its durability and flexibility. These industrial-grade drums are specifically made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a material tailored to accommodate various industrial products. The strength of HDPE drums makes them ideal for containing hazardous waste for prolonged periods. Concurrently, HDPE drums that meet food-grade standards are deemed safe for storing edible and consumable goods until their distribution to the market. Given this range of applications, it’s logical that these plastic drums are also suitable for diesel fuel storage.

However, prior to using plastic drums for fuel storage, it’s essential to verify that the drum is appropriately marked for use as a plastic oil drum and is indeed made from HDPE. This is crucial because not all plastic types are capable of storing diesel fuel efficiently and safely without causing fuel contamination or undergoing rapid deterioration.

After securing a drum that complies with the industrial standards for a plastic oil drum, it becomes crucial to contemplate the timeframe for which how long does diesel fuel stay good can be reliably maintained during storage. Storing diesel fuel in plastic drums is not a permanent solution. Over time, diesel reacts with the plastic polymers, even in HDPE drums. This reaction leads to the breakdown of the plastic, potentially resulting in leakages. Moreover, the diesel fuel itself may degrade over time and become unfit for its intended use.

According to government guidelines, it is advised to store diesel fuel in plastic drums for no more than six months. Beyond this period, it’s necessary to replace the drum and appropriately dispose of the diesel fuel. The storage duration can be influenced by additional factors such as extreme temperatures or fluctuations in environmental conditions, which can accelerate the degradation of both the fuel and the drum.

Advantages of Opting for Plastic Drums in Diesel Fuel Storage

Despite the time constraints for storage and the possibility of polyethylene plastic degradation, storing diesel fuel in plastic oil drums offers numerous advantages.

One key benefit is that diesel fuel, which can degrade rapidly when in contact with certain metals like zinc or copper, remains stable in plastic drums. This stability is a concern with metal drums, where the material may react with diesel, but is not an issue with plastic.

Furthermore, metal barrels often face rusting issues, which can compromise the quality of diesel. Plastic drums, on the other hand, are immune to rust, eliminating this concern.

Additionally, plastic drums present several other benefits for diesel fuel storage:

  • They are sturdy and resistant to damage;
  • Plastic drums can store diesel safely for up to six months;
  • They offer cost-effectiveness and are available for bulk buying;
  • These drums are easily handled and transported in industrial settings using equipment like forklifts;
  • In case of leaks, they are simple to repair, and maintenance costs are low;
  • Plastic drums are recyclable, and can also be decontaminated, repaired, and reused.

Containers for Storing Diesel Fuel

Here’s a straightforward table for easier understanding!

Container TypeDiesel LongevityIdeal For
Plastic containers6 months*Short-term storage of small amounts of diesel
Plastic drums6 months*Short-term storage of large amounts of diesel
IBC tanks6 months*Short-term storage of massive amounts of diesel
Jerry cans6–24 months**Long-term storage of small amounts of diesel
Metal tanks and drums6–24 months**Long-term storage of large amounts of diesel

*In favorable conditions, the longevity might extend by a few months.

**The duration may vary based on storage conditions.

In conclusion, irrespective of the container type, diesel is unlikely to maintain its quality beyond two years.

Best Practices for Storing Diesel

Hand refilling car with fuel, blue glove on nozzle handle

The main threats to diesel fuel are moisture, microorganisms, and oxidation, each contributing to its degradation. Fortunately, these issues are manageable with proper care.

Combatting Moisture and Microorganisms:

Moisture, often resulting from condensation, fosters an environment conducive to bacteria and fungi growth. This growth, visible as sediment, initiates the natural degradation of the fuel. To counter this, it’s recommended to treat diesel with biocides twice annually.

Additionally, hydrolysis, the breakdown of molecules in the presence of water, is another detrimental effect of moisture on diesel. Moisture accumulation not only promotes microorganism development but also directly contributes to the fuel’s breakdown. To mitigate this, using metal containers for storage, particularly stainless steel, is beneficial, as plastic containers can react with diesel, accelerating degradation.

A useful strategy is to maintain diesel at a cooler temperature, preferably below 70°F, as lower temperatures significantly slow down bacterial and fungal growth.

Addressing Oxidation:

Oxidation is inevitable as diesel comes into contact with oxygen during its production. However, this process can be slowed by keeping the fuel in a cool environment. A temperature of around 20°F is ideal, but even maintaining it at 70°F is effective.

Incorporating antioxidants into the diesel can also help preserve its quality. For long-term storage, underground storage tanks are the optimal solution. These tanks offer a safe, water-free environment and benefit from naturally cooler underground temperatures. However, underground tanks are large, challenging to install, and costly, making them impractical for many individuals.

Additional Recommendations:

Alongside mitigating moisture, microorganisms, and oxidation, consider these extra precautions:

  • Due to diesel’s high flammability, ensure it’s stored away from any heat sources;
  • As a precaution against fire hazards, avoid storing diesel in close proximity to your home;
  • Enforce a strict no-smoking rule within 100 feet of the diesel storage area;
  • Place the storage container(s) on a raised platform, slightly above ground level, for added safety.


In summary, diesel can be safely stored in plastic containers, like polyethylene or HDPE drums, for up to six months. While these offer convenient short-term storage solutions, longer-term storage requires more durable options like metal tanks. It’s important to manage factors like moisture and oxidation to maintain diesel quality and observe safety measures due to its flammability. The choice of container and storage conditions significantly impacts the diesel’s longevity and safety.

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