Q: Iíve had rain barrels for years and the water quality has always been great, but for some reason, this year both barrels are stagnant and smelly. The water is whitish, cloudy and filmy. Is there anything I can or should do about this?

ó L.S., Akron

A: Itís hard to pinpoint the cause, but something may have washed into the barrels from the roof or gutters, said Katie Giacalone of the Clemson University Restoration Institute and co-author of the guide Rainwater Harvesting for Homeowners. Or water could be backing up at the exit, she said.

Giacalone said it wouldnít hurt to put a capful or two of chlorine bleach in the water, although she wouldnít recommend that if youíre watering a vegetable garden or if some of the water will go straight into a storm sewer.

She recommended cleaning the barrel with some castile soap and water at the end of the season. Inspect all the screening and pieces to make sure the barrel is still protected from mosquitoes and the parts that are attached with silicon will all stay in place with no leaks.

Since you told me your barrels are in the shade, itís unlikely you have a problem with algae. But itís worth mentioning an algae-prevention tip from Victoria Mills, executive director of the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership in Shaker Heights. She said homeowners whose barrels are in the sun can paint them a dark color to block out the light and inhibit algae growth.

Have a question about home maintenance, decorating or gardening? Akron Beacon Journal home writer Mary Beth Breckenridge will find answers for the queries that are chosen to appear in the paper. To submit a question, call her at 330-996-3756, or send email to mbrecken@thebeaconjournal.com. Be sure to include your full name, your town and your phone number or email address.