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What Is A Rain Chain? And How Does It Work?

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I’m sure you’ve seen those picturesque rain chains hanging in someone’s garden, but do you ever wonder what the point of them is? Those chains are more than just decoration. They’re a functional replacement for a downspout and we’ll show you why so many homeowners are adding them to their gardens.

The ultimate guide to rain chains

I actually don’t remember where I first saw a rain chain, but I do remember that I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.  

So now I have one at the front of my house and one at the back. And I’m plotting to get some more!

Although rain chains are becoming more popular, I still get a lot of people asking me what it is when they see it on my house.

So I thought I would write about my personal experience with them in case you have questions, too.

Note: Some of the images below are provided by houzz.com and cannot be pinned due to their copyright restrictions.

What is a rain chain?

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Rain chain with water running down with a Japanese house in the background
©阿部 純也 – stock.adobe.com

Rain chains originated in Japan (where they are known as Kusari-doi).

There, they have been used for hundreds of years to direct and collect the water from the roofs of buildings (like this Japanese temple).  

And they continue to perform that same function in modern gardens today.

How do they work?

Rain chains are a functional alternative for the gutter downspouts on your house.

So you install them by removing the downspout and attaching the rain chain to the gutter where the downspout used to be.

Then when it rains, the rainwater flows off the roof into the gutter system and onto the chain.

The chain loops guide the water down into a drain, basin or barrel that either redirects or collects the runoff.

Why use a rain chain?

I think rain chains are so much more than just a replacement for a downspout.

And here’s why.

1 | They are functional and decorative

The first reason to hang a rain chain is that it looks so much better than a traditional gutter downspout. It adds some decoration to your house in addition to being functional.

And they are available in a lot of different styles and patinas so you can find one that suits the architecture of your house.

2 | They sound pretty when it rains

Rain chain links with water flowing down them

Second, rain chains sound really pretty when the water is flowing down them.

You never get that annoying dripping noise that sometimes happens with downspouts when the water hits the bottom of the spout.

3 | Rain chains are a low-maintenance water feature

Third, you get a water feature in your garden that doesn’t require any maintenance.

There’s no pump to clean, no checking to make sure the water hasn’t run down, and nothing to empty in the winter.  

Now that’s my kind of water feature!

4 | They turn into an ice sculpture

Rain chain with water frozen on it in the winter

Fourth, rain chains even look nice in the winter.

We don’t get too many icy, snowy winter days here in South Carolina, but it sure looks pretty when we do!

Should you take rain chains down in winter?

If you live in a colder climate that receives a lot of snow and ice, you may want to remove the rain chain for the winter.

The weight of the chain with the ice can cause damage to your gutters.

Do rain chains work in heavy rain?

When I installed my first rain chain, I wasn’t sure if it would work as well as the downspout. Especially since we get some pretty heavy rainfalls in this part of the country.

Now that I have had it for a few years, I can say that rain chains work just as well as the downspout did, even when there’s a heavy water flow.

Actually I would go one step further and say that it’s better…I have a big tree in my front yard and the downspout always used to get clogged with tree leaves.  

That never happens now. The leaves just fall through the hole to the ground.

What about high winds?

I also haven’t had any problems with my rain chains in high winds. (And the weather we get that produces those heavy rain storms also tends to create some windy conditions).

I think they are close enough to the house that they are protected from the wind. Especially since I have some plants and bushes growing in those areas.

However, if you are worried about them getting blown around, you can attach the bottom of the chain to the basin or the ground with a hook.

What types of rain chains are there?

There are two main styles of rain chain: links and cups.

Link style rain chains

Rain chain in a Japanese garden
©Anthony Brown – stock.adobe.com

The simplest rain chains are literally just a chain that the water runs down like the one in this Japanese garden.

Shop link styles

These are a few of my favorite traditional link style rain chains. If you want to find out more about them, just click the image.

Cup style rain chains

Rain chain cup with hole in the bottom

Slightly fancier versions have pails or cups with holes in the bottom that guide water down the chain.

These curved objects are suspended every 6 inches to a foot and catch the water as it flows down.

This slows down the water flow and causes pretty tinkling sounds.

Many different types of rain chains hanging in front of a wall
©Jacquie Klose – stock.adobe.com

With their increase in popularity, cup style rain chains are now available in all kinds of shapes, colors and link styles.

So you should be able to find one that suits your design aesthetic.

Shop cup styles

These are some of my favorite cup styles. (Yes, there’s even one that looks like a wine glass!) Click the image to find out more about them.

What are rain chains made of?

Copper rain chain with water running down it
©MikeFusaro – stock.adobe.com

Traditional rain chains are made of pure copper, which turns into a beautiful tarnished green color as it ages.

hammered aluminum rain chain

However, they are also available in other metals such as stainless steel and aluminum (like this one*).

Since these metals doesn’t rust or oxidize, the rain chain will always be this color.

Or if you love color as much as I do, you can go for a powder-coated one like this fabulous purple version.

What do you put at the bottom of a rain chain?

Now you may be wondering what happens to the water when it gets to the bottom of the chain.

A basin, barrel or French drain is the best way to catch water runoff from a rain chain.

1 | Rain chain basin

blue rain chain basin surrounded by plants

A rain chain basin (like this one*) is a large bowl usually made out of cement or metal that catches the water at the bottom of the chain.

They often have a loop in the center where you can attach the end of the rain chain to prevent it from moving around too much.

Rain chain basin
©wovelove – stock.adobe.com

A ceramic or cement jar at the bottom of the chain can also be used to accomplish the same thing.

While these options look very pretty, they aren’t always big enough to hold all of the water if you have a heavy rain storm.

So you’ll need to make sure there is a way for the overflow to drain properly if you do get too much water.

And most ceramic jars will only work in areas that don’t freeze in the winter.

2 | Rain barrel

Rain barrel on a deck

I use plastic rain barrels to catch the water runoff.

Rain barrels usually come with a faucet and hose attachment at the bottom of the barrel. That way the water can be used on the garden or just drained away from the house.

The ones I have look like large urns so they blend in with my outdoor decor (I did spray paint this one* off-white to make it match better).

3 | French drain

A chain draining into a rock-covered french drain
©linjerry – stock.adobe.com

You can also build a large basin (or french drain) into the ground. This catches the water and lets it drain away from the house.  

You will often see these covered in river rocks and pebbles so that they blend in with their surroundings.

If you are replacing a downspout that drains underground, you could leave the existing drain in place.

Then make sure that the rain chain is positioned above the drain pipe so that the water flows to the right spot.  You may need to make a downward sloping funnel around the hole to catch any water that splashes outside of the hole.

 Or anchor the bottom of the chain to the ground so that it doesn’t have as much movement.

4 | Water feature

Rain Chain Water Fountain by Phyliss Warman
via phylliswarman.com (site no longer available)

Finally, some people get really creative and make a whole decorative water feature out of the run off from their rain chain.

Rain chain installation

The V-shaped rain chain bracket

Rain chains are actually very easy to install.

The first setup step is to disconnect the down spout. Undoing the screws that are holding the down spout in place is probably the hardest part of the job.

Most come with a bracket that looks like a V with tails.

A rain chain bracket in the gutter

Place this bracket into the eave trough with the V coming down through the hole where the downspout used to be.  (Sorry for the dirty eaves…I haven’t done the spring clean up yet!)

Rain chain hooked onto the bracket in the gutter

Hook the first rung of the chain to the V portion of the bracket.  You’re done!

For more details or to learn how to use a rain chain installation kit, read how to install a rain chain.

Where to buy one?

Rain chains are available for purchase in many garden centers and nurseries.

However they are becoming so popular that you can buy them in lots of places online:

  • Amazon has hundreds of styles you can choose from (check them out HERE*).
  • You can find them at Home Depot (HERE)*.
  • Even Walmart carries a decent selection (HERE)!

Can you make a rain chain?

If you don’t want to spend much money on buying one, I have heard of people using standard steel chain (although I’m not sure it would have the same visual appeal).

DIY rain chain with leaves

Or if you don’t mind a DIY project, you can learn how to make a rain chain.

Well, that’s my guide of everything you need to know to add these beautiful drainage replacements to your garden. Hopefully you have found some rain chain inspiration for your own yard!

Other garden features you might like

Have comments or questions on rain chains?  Tell us in the section below.

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What is a rain chain? And why do you need one?

This post was originally published on July 12, 2020 but was updated with new content on June 8, 2023.

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  1. I of course love the leaves so will be anxiously waiting to see how you make yours. I am a sad to say,a copier of you wonderful people,but — I can copy and make my own with the best of them. We applied for a rain barrel last year but late as I had just bought my 1910 house. It has been made way to modern for me and a rain chains would be so lovely. And who thought to use the big urn. Garden center here I come. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Jody! It seems like a lot of the rain barrels are pretty modern looking (mine is too). I do think a big urn would look so much better…when I install my next rain chain, I’ll probably go that route, too 🙂

      1. Donna Murphy says:

        I have no gutters. Is having a working rain chain still possible?

        1. Wanda Simone says:

          Hi Donna…You can hang a rain chain from the roof, and you may see some water running down it (especially if you position it somewhere that you tend to get a lot of run-off). But I don’t think it will be as effective as it is from a gutter.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful article! I have been a fan of rain chains for a number of years. Recently, I got into Kiln formed glass and tried to create a rain chain made of recycled glass. The question was what type of metal to use to hold the glass together for weight and visual purposes. So I went to Home Depot and purchased some galvanized chains that were meant for outdoors, and proceeded. The end result was perfect and I was so happy. Unfortunately, within a week the chains were rusted and the rust stained the glass.

    I have been looking for “copper” chains that I could purchase and try my hand again. Unfotunately, copper is very expensive, and they do not sell chains where I live (Maui). Could you recommend either where I might find copper chains, or another metal that would not rust that is affordable?

    Thank you,

    1. Thanks, Debbie! Even on the mainland, it’s hard to find chain that won’t rust and is reasonably priced…I actually ended up making my own copper rain chain from the flexible copper tubing that is usually used for installing refrigerators. It’s available in 20 foot lengths from the local hardware store and shouldn’t be very expensive. It took a couple of hours to cut and put together. If you’re interested in the instructions, you can find them here.

  3. lisafrequency says:

    You may want to try using a rust resistant out door spray paint on the galvanized steel chain.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! That’s a good idea 🙂

      1. not sure if this “chain” is stil alive but I agree with the spray paint. Hammered copper spray paint would be great!. you can then “oxide” it via another layer/wipe of rust resistent spray paint. Less than $5. I do have gutters, down spouts, and soffits. no matter what – there is always some overflow from the gutters running over and dribbing over/onto the soffit. so I am going to try using a bronze chain I kept from a light fixture I bought…will just hang it from S hook …and practice from there

        1. Wanda Simone says:

          Thanks, Deb! Hammered copper spray paint sounds like a great idea 🙂

  4. ChelseaCraft says:

    Copper oxidizes worse than the various chains you’ll find at the hardware store. Copper turns into a turquoise color powdery oxidation and does so extremely fast. You would do better putting out the money for stainless steel chain. I might suggest polyurethane coating but… it’s going to wear off soon, chip and flake off. If you dipped the chain in polyurethane (outdoor type found at hardware stores) that may work but I have no idea how you’d keep it from drying together so it doesn’t move freely. If you touch, move or try to keep the chain moving freely you’ll be removing the polyurethane that is needed to protect the chain. You can also buy coated chain that has a really thick plastic coating on it. That is what I’d suggest. It’s expensive but lasts a very long time.

    1. I actually like the look of copper when it oxidizes so I’m not too worried about that part. Actually, now that I think about it, the refrigeration coil that I used must have something in it that slows the oxidation down. I have had the chain up for about a year now and it isn’t showing any signs of oxidation yet. But you’re right, if you want to make sure that the chain stays shiny, you will probably want to look for something that has a protective coat.

    2. Maybe try spraying it with a rustolium paint

  5. we don’t have gutters so I use my rain chains at the end of the metal guards where the water spills off the roof into my rain barrel

    1. That sounds like a great idea for anyone who wants to use them but doesn’t have gutters. Thanks for sharing it!

    2. Thanks Linda for your comment that’s exactly what we have at our house and I will use your idea for the rain chain.

    3. Is there anyway I can see a picture of this idea Linda? I don’t have rain gutters either and would love to try the rain chains your way

  6. I bought cheap rain chain from an online catalog about 10 years ago. I don’t know what it’s made of but it looks like copper and hasn’t tarnished. Everyone loves it. Only problem, since it’s a cheaper version, it wasn’t quite long enough to reach the ground. I should’ve bought 2 sets and connected them but didn’t think of that till much later. To fix that, I bought a metal planter at Home Depot, drilled a ton of holes in the bottom, positioned the bottm straight section of a wire hanger up the middle and filled the planter with white stones. I then hooked the top of the hanger wire in the bottom cup of the rain chain. That anchors the rain chain and keeps it from flailing all over the place when it rains. Looks great and works well. I can even add small decorations to the planter in the summer. And you’re right, in the winter it looks just as great. I love when the sun starts to melt the ice and it drips. It sparkles!

    1. Hi Dianna…what a great idea! It sounds like it works well, and looks very pretty. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Hi Dianna! Great idea! Thank you!

  7. Susan Lambert says:

    Can a rain chain be left up through the winter in the Midwest or would the ice weight pull down my gutter?

    1. Hi Susan…I haven’t heard of anyone having a problem with the ice weight pulling the gutter down, but I think it might depend on how long the chain is and how much ice has accumulated. I would probably go out and knock the ice off if it looked like it was building up a lot.

    2. MN here, I have left mine up year round… It does get a little icy in the winter, but not to heavy, and its really pretty with a little ice and the sun shining on it!

  8. Jerry Bouyear says:

    I can’t find any information on anchoring the free end of the chain? I am sure that you don’t let it swing in the wind. What can you tell me about this.

    1. Hi Jerry…I actually don’t have mine anchored. They don’t seem to get blown around very much…maybe they are close enough to the house that they are somewhat protected from the wind? Anyhow, I have seen people install a hook in a concrete block or big rock underneath the chain, and then attach the bottom rung of the chain to that. Hope that helps!

  9. I love that you talked about how you think that rain chains are so much more than just a replacement for a downspout. My neighbor is looking to get some copper rain chains for her home to change the look of it. I think I will talk to her about how they can be so much more than just a replacement!

    1. Thanks, Kyle! I do believe that they are more than just a downspout replacement…They look so much better 🙂

  10. Royce H Robertson says:

    Thank you for your great article and that you posted on Pinterest. It was lovely. I don’t have a rain chain but love the rain so am considering putting one up. I know nothing about them other then what I’ve seen them on tv where homes were being remodeled or updated. Always thought they were interesting because they involved “rain”, but never knew how they worked much less that they were so readily available. So thank you for the education.

    1. Thanks Royce! I’m glad you found the post helpful. Rain chains are one of my favorite things in my garden, so I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned about them 🙂

  11. Would a rain chain stand up to Michigan winters? We gets lots of ice and snow. Would the ice on the rain chain be too heavy for the gutter to hold?

    1. Hi Linda…Since I live in SC, I don’t have a lot of personal experience with how they do in lots of snow and ice. However, I do have some friends in Toronto that have one up all year and haven’t had any problems. If you’re worried about it, you could also take it down in the fall and put it back up in the spring.

  12. elizaduckie says:

    Such great dress. I too had always wondered about rain chains. I like the look of them and the idea of it. I hate downspouts, especially when they get clogged. I do wonder living in FL if it’s at all reasonable to use one. I have two concerns. I keep thinking so much rain would just overwhelm it? And what to do in Hurricane season..because it’s also rainy season. I could take the rain chain down when a hurricane is due…but I’m not always there when that happens….so may it not a good idea.

    1. I think the heavy rain would be okay. We get some downpours in SC, too, and I have never had a problem with it not working. But hurricane season would be an issue if you can’t be there to take it down. It could definitely cause some damage in the wind.

  13. Lorraine kaiser says:

    The winter ice could break the rain chain. I have had 3 on our house for 4 years and only had a problem this year. The ice did t melt and drain away fast enough to leave a space for the water to drain away. I live in cody,Wyoming the ice built up in all the cups and the weight pulled the chain apart between the cups. It was not too difficult to take a ladder and get up to the broken wire, and reinsert the end of the wire back into the hole of the cup. Since this year, I will keep a better check on the ice buildup. Hope this helps answer you question.

    1. Thanks, Lorraine! Good to have some first hand experience 🙂

  14. I always liked these, however up here in Canada they’re hard to find. I don’t think your affiliate links would work to amazon.ca. can you get them in various lengths. We need about a 12-foot length, and all I seem to find online or shorter ones. Any suggestions?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Sandy…I would look for rain chains that have chain links which open or use hooks to attach the sections together. Then you can buy two or three shorter rain chains and attach them together to make a longer one. If you do a search for rain chains on amazon.ca, there are quite a few options that come up so hopefully you can find something that will work 🙂


    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Rudy…the rain chain buckets usually have holes in the bottom so that the water will flow through rather than fill them up (like a funnel). So assuming you get that type, there shouldn’t be any problems with extra weight. I’ve had one on the front of my house for about 15 years and haven’t had any issues.

  16. I find that in a heavy rain, the water gushes out too fast from the gutter hole. It either angles out to the side so the first cup can’t catch it, or flows down so swiftly that the first cup can’t contain it all long enough to flow straight down and it overflows and splatters. Either way, I get water pooling up in places where I don’t want it. Can you think of a solution?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Patrick…for the first issue, you might want to change the way you are attaching the rain chain to your gutter. If you do a search for “rain chain gutter adapter” on amazon.com, you’ll find some that will should do a better job of making sure the water goes straight down (depending on the shape of your gutter, you may need to caulk it into the gutter to prevent the water from running under it). For the cup overflowing, I haven’t run into that problem…maybe you need a rain chain that has cups with a larger hole in the bottom so the water can run down faster?

      1. Thank you Wanda for taking the time to answer (and to advocate for the serene beauty of rain chains). I’ll have to take a closer look at the adaptor I’ve got up there and maybe search for something better.

  17. Lori Thomas says:

    These are sooo pretty and I know I would love the sights and sounds of having one. But sadly, living in Phoenix, AZ we don’t get much rain. We do have a monsoon season if we are lucky in the summer. So because of this, the houses here don’t have rain gutters. I’m sure I could still hang the chain from the roof overhang for looks but that’s about it.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      I didn’t know Phoenix was that dry, Lori! Since that’s the case…you’re right, rain chains wouldn’t be much use to you.

  18. John Burgess says:

    This soOOO helpful! Thank you.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks, John! Glad you found it useful 🙂

  19. I love all of these ideas! I live in a home governed by the Home Owners Association Rules & Regulations and plan to put in an application. They maintain the downspouts and gutters but the builder’s design was inadequate to manage all of the rain runoff. I plan to add a few as decorative water runoff management devices. I’m sure they will get approved and perhaps copied!

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks, Barbara! That sounds like a great idea. I hope they approve it!

  20. Do rain chains have to hang straight up & down? or can they be hung at a slant?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Raven…I haven’t tried hanging rain chains on a slant so I can’t say for sure if that would work or not. But I suspect the water wouldn’t run down the chain very well. Although it might depend on how much of a slant it is on.

  21. Christyne MacDermaid says:

    Does a rain chain have to be attached to a downspout? Can you attach it to a tree and still get the same effect?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Christyne…Rain chains don’t necessarily have to be on a gutter. However to get the water running down them, they need to be somewhere with enough water converging in one place to cause it to flow down. I don’t think that would happen hanging from a tree. But it would still look pretty 🙂

  22. Quick Q.
    The first picture under the heading of traditional has an interesting adaption from the gutter allowing the rain chain to be hung from it. Do you have any additional info on this item?

  23. Stephany Wilson says:

    Is it possible to install a rain chain without gutters?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Stephany…Yes, you can hang rain chains from a hook. You probably won’t get as much water falling through them when it rains, but they still look pretty.