Long Term Water Storage: How to Store Emergency Water

Boiling water with storage barrel in the background

Emergency Water storage is a topic that most survivalists are pretty familiar with; unfortunately few of them actually have a long-term water plan. Considering the importance of water, it always surprises that so many survival minded people don’t take the topic more seriously.

Anyone who is prepping for a long-term survival situation needs to have a good emergency water storage solution. This solution should not only allow you to store large amounts of water but it should also allow you to capture and filter water from multiple sources.

How Much Water Should You Store?

Even in the aftermath of a short-term disaster, finding clean, drinkable water can become very difficult. Natural disasters like hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes can cut-off or contaminate your local water supply.

How much water per person per day you should store?

At minimum, you should be storing one gallon of water per person per day, for both drinking and sanitation purposes. That means if you are preparing for a short-term disaster you should be stockpiling enough water for at least seven days.

Things that could change that number:

  • If you live in a warm, dry environment, your water needs could double. For instance, if you live in the desert southwest, I would multiply the above number buy at least 1.5.
  • If you have someone in your household who has a medical condition, you should think about storing extra water that goes above and beyond the recommended requirements.
  • Children, nursing mothers and those who are chronically ill may need to increase their water storage requirements.

If you are planning on storing water for a long-term disaster, something that lasts for longer than 14 days, then you are going to have to develop a plan that goes far beyond stocking up on ordinary bottled water.

How long can you store water?

Theoretically, water doesn’t have an expiration date. If properly stored, water will not spoil and can safely be consumed at any point in the future. That being said, improperly stored water can be biologically or chemically contaminated so choosing the right containers and storage systems because of that much more important.

Some so-called experts will tell you that your water must be treated with bleach before storage, but if you’re using tap water from the city, it’s already treated with chlorine so adding bleach is unnecessary.

How to Store Emergency Water?

The type of storage container that you choose to work with is really up to you, and will probably be decided based on how much room you can dedicate to your water storage needs.

  • When selecting areas to store your water, try to pick cool dark areas that do not receive direct sunlight.
  • Make sure you stock up on multiple ways to filter and purify your water.
  • Periodically check your containers and water supplies for signs of degradation.

Reusing Commercial Water Bottles

Water Bottles stacked for emergency storage

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to start storing water is to just start with some store bought bottled water. But if you’re really looking to save some money, then simply wash and refill your old plastic water bottles when you’ve finished with them. These bottles are designed to hold water, so they can be reliably used to start your preparedness stockpile.

  • Most commercial water bottles can be reused at least one time; beyond that, you may have to worry about leaching from the plastic.
  • I advise against using ordinary milk jugs, as they don’t last as long as other bottles and are almost impossible to completely clean.
  • 2-liter soda bottles are a good, inexpensive option for water storage.  They are small, easy to tuck away, and can be easily carried in a backpack when staying in one place is not an option. Just make sure to thoroughly wash and disinfect them before refilling with water.
  • Think about filling any empty space in your freezers with spare water bottles. It not only gives you some extra room to work with, but it makes your freezer more efficient when filled to capacity.

Water Barrels

55 Gallon Water Barrels

55 Gallon Water barrels are a pretty common option for survivalists, and they should be pretty easy to find at almost any outdoor sporting goods store. These barrels are usually blue, (this is done as a safety measure to ensure you know that drinking water is stored inside) and are made with heavy-duty, food-grade plastic materials.

  • They are a great option if you have room in a garage or basement.
  • Make sure to pretreat any water that’s stored inside these barrels. (City tap water should be fine since it’s already treated.)

Tanks, Cisterns & Rain Catchment Systems

Rainwater Cisterns

Another popular option for storing water is a freestanding tank or cistern. These tanks are popular in rural areas of the country that don’t have access to public water utilities, but can be used pretty much anywhere that rainwater runoff can be collected.

While these types of containers may be too big for some, they offer the added benefit of being able to catch rainwater by hooking them up to your rooftop gutter systems. If you can afford to install a roof catchment system, this is an excellent option for long-term survival retreats, and it can go a long way to solving a lot of your water problems.

Emergency Water Storage for Apartment Preppers

Having a large supply of water can be difficult for those living in an apartment. While some of the options above may not be feasible, there are a couple of things that you can do to prepare.

2 Liter bottles:  These bottles make great containers for storing water, and are easy to tuck away in small apartments where larger storage systems are not possible. Fill up as many as you can and tuck them in your closets, under your beds, and in any other cool dark spaces that you have available.

Knowing where to find water during an emergency: Make sure you check out our article on urban water sources. It’s always a good idea to know where you can obtain water during an emergency situation.

Storing water in your Bathtub: There are two unique storage options that I think are perfect for those who live in apartments or small spaces. These are both mean as last minute items, but when disaster strikes they can help you quickly store 65 – 100 gallons of drinking water right in your own bathtub.

  • The WaterBOB – We came across the WaterBob a couple of years ago and thought it was a great emergency option for people who live in apartments. Heck, it’s even good for those who just want to add a little bit of water to their supplies at the last minute. The WaterBob holds up to 100 gallons of water, is made of heavy duty food grade plastic, and will keep your water fresh and clean during a disaster.

Long Term Emergency Water – Adding Filtration is the key!

Storing water is great, but should the day come when you run through your supplies you’re going to need a way to find and filter your water. The finding part is going to be up to you, but there are some things you can do ahead of time that will help.

Finding local water sources during an emergency:

  • Map out as many local watering holes as you can find before a disaster hits. Jump on Google Earth and try to find any large bodies of water that are within walking, and then driving distance of your home.
  • Make sure you have a way to transport the water back home. Purchase a couple of dedicated containers now, so you have them when you need them.
  • Knowing where these natural sources are will be your lifeline if things go really bad. Don’t neglect this part of your plan.

Water Storage Treatment: How to filter your survival water supply

Katadyn Water Filter

A good water filter is one of the most important pieces of gear you can have. Without water, you’re pretty much screwed. There are a number of quality water filters on the market, but there are a couple that you might want to consider first.

Berkey Water Filter – The Berkey Water Purification System is a popular filter in the survivalist community. The Berkey can remove viruses, pathogenic bacteria, cysts, and can even filter out chemicals.

Hiking Filters – One of the best portable water filters that I’ve found is the Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter. While this is one of the more expensive hiking filters on the market, it is also the most reliable and can be used for far more than just hiking. This little filter can handle over 13,000 gallons of water and will filter all microorganisms larger than 0.2 microns. Its small size makes it a great fit for any bugout bag or survival kit.

Good Quality Pots – Another thing you should consider is having a couple good stainless steel pots for boiling water. While it will not remove chemicals, boiling water is probably the most effective way of killing viruses and pathogens.

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  1. in case of emergency can i use something like a brita water filter or a zero water filter to filter out my emergency water? how long can i store my tap water and it still be safe to drink without refiltering it. thank you before hand to anyone who has any insight to these questions that i ask.

    • How long you can store your tap water and it still be safe to drink will depend on how and where you store it… the better sealed, better (higher grade/quality) of storage container, the longer your water will stay “fresh.” Also keeping it in a cool dark space that maintains a pretty consistent temperature will help it maintain longer. You absolutely want to avoid the single use bottles as a storage method, and any water you keep in your car you want to change out regularly as it will be subject to high heats and extremely varying temperatures. I imagine that your home filter will be fine for properly stored water, but I would check the stats of your specific system before using it beyond that. That being said, there are many great portable water filters out there, I personally like the Sawyer Mini due to it’s excellent filtration ability, compact size, ease of use, compatibility (it can be screwed onto many basic readily available bottles and even connected to Camelbak and other hydration bladders) durability, and it’s inexpensive usually found between $20-$30.

  2. A brita filter will work in a pinch to remove sediment and such however because it is not fine enough for bacteria or viruses it would be a good idea to also pick up a package of the water purification tablets for use after using the brita filter. They retail anywhere from $5-$15 and are pretty fail safe. Most tap water taken from major cities will hold in an air tight container nearly indefinitely due to the amounts of clorine and other chemicals they put into it. One item in my survival kit that many people overlook is a gallon of PLAIN bleach. Not only will this disinfect EVERYTHING, if you add 8 drops per gallon of water it will work exactly like the purification tablets and kill all the little nasties that make you sick. Here is a good link with some info about water purification from a trustable source http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/manual/water.shtml

    • Great ideas. Just FYI, bleach only lasts 3-6 mos. in storage before losing its ability to disinfect. So you must rotate your stock. Also it is unregulated so it contains mercury, arsenic and other impurities.

      A better idea is the iodine water tabs which will store for 4 years if unopened.

      • My sister is a biochemist. She once told me that Clorox brand better than the rest. She work at a lab and used reagent grade bleach for some of her test. If she was out of the reagent, she would use Clorox and only Clorox, it has less reaction by products that other brands.

        • I am a physician, and worked as a biochemist prior to Med school. Bleach is bleach. Sodium hypochlorite. As long as the chemical percentage is the same, volume per volume, even “dollar store “ / any generic brand will do. I store my water each year in 5 gallon water jugs. I put city water in it then cover with a blue nitrile glove, rubber banded to the neck of the bottle. Since I live in a hurricane-prone area, I fill my bottles in June and label with the date. I leave it there through hurricane season (end of November), but keep it that way until the next June. This way if a boil water order is issued due to broken water mains, I use this water, but may or my not add a few drops of bleach. When June comes around again, water bottles are emptied, sanitized and the process is now begun again.

      • …and an even better idea is calcium hypochlorite, as it has pretty much an indefinite shelf life and works just as well.

      • I think the 3 to 6 month estimate is a bit on the overly cautious side to be honest. Household bleach, if stored in a fairly mild temperature environment, and protected from direct sunlight, should last a year before it begins to lose its disinfecting properties. Secondly, after this one year, the bleach will not suddenly lose ALL of its disinfectant capability, but rather simply BEGIN to lose its ability. So bleach over a year old can still kill germs, it might just require larger amounts to do so than when it was fresh.

    • They teach us in CERT (Community Emergency Response Ieam) not to store plastic containers on concrete (i.e: basement floors etc.) as it leaches into the plastic. Always try to store containers on pallets or mats.

  3. I once read a comment that really made sense to me and that was to take a protractor and with a map of your area draw a 5 mile circle around your place, then map out each body of water where you can get water from, a lake, pond, golf course pond etc. Something to think about

  4. thanks kloathis for the info. i’m just getting started on my survival storage and water is one of my biggest concerns.

  5. also wondering, does rain water need to be filtered or treated in any way?…..things that i am just now learning about….so much i don’t know :)

    • Just be safe rain water is ussually ok but if u let it sit for to long it becomes stagnant and can start gtowing bacteria just make sure to aggitate the water one you store it shake the container every few days i learned the hard way had 20 gallons saved up and then had a water advisory and there was a thin layer of a gooey substance floating on the tops of all my water ive been doing this since and so far i havent had any problems

  6. In general rain water is pretty safe as long as what you are using to collect it is clean, your brita pitcher would filter any of the particles that the moisture in the clouds uses to coelesce into rain (well as long as there isn’t any airborne toxic or biologic contaminants in the area) One idea for portable water storage that I would like to throw out there is Home Depot and Lowes (or any other big hardware store) has the 5 gallon jugs for the “Culligan” style water dispensers and they are relatively cheap, store very well, and can be re-used.
    You can then use your empties to purify new sources of water in a similar fashion that is used in 3rd world countries.
    1. Paint the back half of the bottle/jug black.
    2. Take a coffee filter to strain the sediment and particulates out of the new water source and fill the plastic or glass bottle/jug
    3. Put the bottle out in the sun for about 24 hours (painted side away from the sun so it can shine thru the jug, if the jug is large let it sit longer)
    UV light kills bacteria, think the SteriPen they sell for water purification. When you add to this the black side of the bottle helping to raise the temp of the water you get a nearly free process of water purification. They have been using this method in 3rd world countries with much success.

    • This thread reminds me that one should make it a top priority to include a reliable and portable means to boil water as part of any disaster prep kit. There are many effective and affordable options to do so. A time proven Coleman type camp stove that runs on the disposable 16 oz. propane canisters is a good option for most folks. The propane fuel has an indefinite shelf life, it is simple and clean to use, and can be used indoors as well as outside–so long as it is only used for relatively short durations and placed near a slightly open window to allow fresh air in.

  7. Just a little tip: But if you do go the “Plastic bottle” route make sure you do not fill the bottles completely up. If you fill it completely up and throw it in your “BOB” it will puncture more easily. Leave a little “Crinkling” (as I call it) room for it.

  8. Oh yea. and if you get a water filter, Depending on the size of your filtering unit, you can use coffee filters to take some of the work away from your expensive replacement filter.

    (Just to clarify, use the coffee filter WITH your filtration units specific filter. The coffee filter just helps prolong the “life” of it)

  9. Just one comment about finding water in the area. NEVER use golf coarse water sources. They use TONS of chemicals to keep the lawn that green. And most of it runs off into those ponds. I’d rather be a little thirsty and find somewhere else than be embalmed from the inside out.

  10. how about a backyard pool if you dont have to move. a 21 foot round pool has about 11,000 gallons of water.

    • When it comes to pool water, I strongly disagree. Your pool, if kept within the ranges suggested is normally cleaner and more pure than your tap water. If the PH or acidity is off, you normally bring it back in range. The amount of chlorine in most pools is lower than your city water!. There should be no other chemicals in your pool that exceed drinkable parameters. As for salt pools, the big misunderstanding here is the salt itself. Sodium hyperchlorite is made from salt; which is more commonly known as chlorine! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_hypochlorate
      Should you be able to stay in your home, monitor your pool VERY closely, and keep your 11,000 gallons clean. With perfect specific gravity, nothing will remain in the water; as water is the only compound with that specific gravity. Heavier gravities will sink, and lighter will float. That’s why you have a bottom suction to the filter and a top one, none in the middle. You can get the purest water from about 1-3 feet below the surface. Don’t swim in it, keep the filtration system running as best you can (should the power go out, you can cover, keep your chemicals in check and stir it daily to keep it clean) and remove what you need for cleaning yourself or any other use. Remember, if it is warm, algea and every other bug grows in warm water, so chemical balance is critical.

      • Sorry, I strongly disagree with the statement that pool water has less chlorinating compounds than city tap water. Pool water has much a chlorine total count of 4.0-6.0, average for city water should be around 1.0-1.5. Please check out the American water works association for details. I’ve spent ten years in the water utility industry, I think I know what I’m talking about.

        • You guys are talking collecting rainwater, getting water from ponds etc, and are arguing against a pool as a water source? If you have a means of purifying the water (no electricity/no pump/no circulation)it is a large quantity of water in your back yard (walking distance)

    • I disagree. Balanced pool water is as safe as the water from any city water supply. I have a 30k gal pool; water from a very good well, the chemicals are CaCl for softening, and chlorine. That is it. I use sodium hydroxide and Hcl for ph balance. I am thrilled to have this water for emergencies. A lot of people could be helped with this supply. Remember, you can sterize 17k gallons of water with one pound of calcium hypoclhorite-three bucks at wal mart.

    • I have to agree with off the grid on this one. A pool is an open body of water and is no way a safe or clean as a closed water system in a community. Consider diesel fumes, car exhaust, tire wear, brake dust. All these things end up in pool water. The pool filter is hardly adequate to clean these hazards.
      Those impurities and chemicals will way heavy on your kidneys for long term negative health effects.
      You could use a Seychelle Water Bottle filter to filter a 100 gallons to 99.9999% for real safe water for your kids to drink.

    • I work as a water treatment and distribution operator. I would just like to mention that often the supply of water entering the treatment facility is ten times worse than anything you will see in a swimming pool. That is to say, with the proper treatment techniques, almost any water can become potable.

    • If properly sanitized, your pool water should be fine, except that you will have to use a pre-filtration product/ first stage filter to make sure that you get all of the dirt and leaves etc. and possible mosquito larva out from this water. If you have a salt water pool, you will need to use alternative methods to make this suitable for drinking.I actually use my pool water to wash/bathe and flush toilets. It is a good It is a good water source when you don’t need basically sterile water/sterilized water, but if you filter it properly before adding bleach or chemical water sterilization tabs it would be fine. I personally would not use it for drinking unless there was absolutely no other way of getting drinking water. It would all depend on what you use as sterilization/chlorination/bromination for the pool on a routine basis.

  11. ok so this might sound a little weird, but i’m being serious: we’ve all seen bear grills drink his own pee when he had to. if it comes down to it and there really isnt anything to drink, how safe would it be and is there anything to do to make it safer to drink such as filtering, distiling, or boiling?

    • This may seem a bit off topic for this thread but I am wondering if there is a simple way to treat pee so that you could water your plants with it so you wouldn’t have to use your fresh water supply to keep your fresh vegies watered.

      • As long as you are eating good foods, your pee does not need to be treated to water your plants. – And if you live way out in the country, you men, especially, can just go out & pee on the plants. – Or do as I read one family does – collect the pee in jars (easier for men) – seal the jar & use as needed – And mark the jars, please. -Search online, you’ll discover lots.

  12. Misty, there really isn’t a diagram on the internet. I had to do a college research paper on preventing illness in 3rd world countries and the biggest preventable killer of children is diahrea (causing dehydration) associated with waterborne bacteria and viruses. I discovered numerous ways that people were using with significant success to purify their water with almost no supplies. The easiest of course was letting the water sit out in a clear plastic container in the sun. Using a coffee filter is primarily to pull out the large particles. The easiest way to do this is to put the filter in a funnel and pour away. I only brought this up to add to a little bit of knowledge for if the SHTF and there are limited supplies or you find yourself without anything. Best to spend the $80 and get a decent hand pump filter system and add it to the bug-out-bag.

    • Try to find non-bleached (brown) paper coffee filters, too. These have fewer contaminants/carcinogens/etc. in them to transfer to your filtered water.

  13. I have assembled several 5 gallon food-grade buckets with O-Ring seals in their lids, in which pickles were delivered to local restaurants.

    I washed these out with a bleach solution to get rid of the pickle remnants and want to use these for water and food storage containers. My storage area is sunlight-free.

    Should I add bleach to the water to prevent the growth of bacteria? and how much should be added to a 5 gallon container? Also, if kept out of sunlight, how long will this treated water last in storage and still be safe to use for drinking and cooking?

  14. Another point to consider: Boiling water is not necessary to purify from pathogens. Getting the temp of the water to 150 F is generally sufficient, as the time to get there and back to room temperature will kill the little buggers. This is why the “paint on the bottle” trick works so well…it’s the time spent at hotter temps that does it. Boiling is so often recommended because it’s a VISUAL indicator that a hot enough temp has been reached. I note this since saving fuel might be important in a survival situation.

  15. Water filtering and purification are two different things. Filter to remove larger particles and so forth. Purification neutralizes the bacteria and other nasties that can make life miserable.

    I have a Pur Hiker filter. Pur is now owned by Katadyn. I use it for backpacking but I always know where it is at home. It’s small, works well, new filters are about $35-40 and last a long time. It has a long inlet hose with an acorn shaped prefilter at the end. This keeps the larger debris from clogging your filter. I keep some large coffee filters to wrap around the acorn and secure it with a rubber band. I carry a cut-down gallon milk jug on the trail to use as a collection/settling container. Pour the water in, drop the acorn in and pump away. Letting sediment settle will help the filter last longer. At home, where weight is less an issue, I use a clean 5-gallon bucket from a hardware store. Remember to keep the inlet and outlet hoses separate at all times and mark them clearly. Running clean water through a dirty line makes, ummm, dirty water.

    Bleach works for purification but remember it has a shelf life. Buying the giant jugs at the big-box store seems like a good idea until the point where the bleach becomes less effective. From a quick Google search, I believe the effective shelf life is about a year. Camping stores have some good purification tablets that are good for about a year after the expiration date.

    One caution – some people write about using the ‘pool shock’ powdered chlorine, but there are some definite rules for storing it to prevent chlorine gas buildup and other serious dangers.

    If you will be using house fixtures, like outdoor spigots, buy a hose rated for drinking water. These are labeled as safe and are usually white. Keep it separate and don’t use it to wash the car or dog. The typical garden hoses available today have significant amounts of lead and other toxic chemicals that leach into the water.

    Remember, you don’t have to purify water that you will using to water plants, wash clothes or flush toilets. Think about ways to get multiple uses from your water rather than just dumping down a drain.


  16. Another option for water purification that I haven’t seen yet is iodine. During a 22 day hiking/canoe trip in and around the thousands of lakes of Minnesota, my group used iodine to purify all water. We took water from almost any source we could find, including rivers, lakes, incredibly small streams and the like, with no filtration what so ever. In filling up a nalgene sized bottle with water (aprox. 1000ml) a few drops of iodine would kill all bacteria and pathogens. We drank this way for the entirety of the trip and no one got sick from any water source. A small bottle of iodine (aprox. 50-60ml) lasted about 15 or so days for 8 people filling two 1000ml water bottles every couple of hours.

    Now I can’t speak to the shelf of iodine, but if kept in a dark bottle and away from sunlight when not in use, it should last quite a while. I would approximate more than a year, but again, I don’t know for sure.

    Any more opinions or comments about iodine are welcome but in a discussion about water purification I felt it was necessary to say. Iodine is very helpful in situations where mass water storage is not really an option or your group is on the move and able to find new water sources.

    • We boiled tap water, but ours does not use cnrloihe in the filtering process. I’ve since stopped boiling and use Brita filtered tap water.When we went to the US to visit, we used nursery water from Babies R Us. My husband was adamant that we not introduce the chlorinated tap water.

  17. The problem with filling those big blue containers with water you intend to drink is you can’t see inside them. If using tap water depending on your area the water is going to develop a film and/or mineral deposits eventually. If you was to put maybe 1/4 cup of bleach per the 55 gallons the water might be safely drinkable for a year but it really depends on the quality of your tap water.

  18. You would have to live on 1 gallon a day per person(drinking only) You would have to build a make sift shower that runs off 5-10 gallons that everyone used.(recycled water)boiling filtering then cooling the water each time it was used.Special soaps or shampoos would have to be used.As long as nobody is peeing in the water this would work.remember-it’s the end of the world as we know it.So suck it up!

  19. does water really go “bad”? I know it goes stagnant grows mold,mosses,bugs etc. but couldn’t this be filtered and sterilized for use?

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