16 Tips for Coping Without Running Water

Print Friendly

Every prepper worth their salt stores water and lots of it.  Not only that, they store one, two, three or more ways to purify water.  That is all well and good because you never know when a disaster or other disruptive event may occur and those water resources will be called upon for drinking, cleaning, hygiene, and sanitation purposes.

Recently, my number came up and I was the one without water during a short term, personal water apocalypse.  Now really, that may be a bit dramatic because I was simply without running water.  This was caused by a break in the line from the water main at the street to my home.  All told, I was without running water for 12 days.

16 Tips for Coping Without Running Water

To be honest, I was quite relaxed about the ordeal.  After all, I had cases of bottled water for drinking, a 55 gallon water barrel holding purified water, a source of raw, unfiltered water from a gravity pump right outside my house, and of course, my Berkey, LifeStraw Family, SolarBag, and pool shock for water purification.

RH Raw Water 250

Still, being without running water brought up issues I had not considered.  Albeit water-ready, the reality of not being able to turn on the tap and have fresh, and especially hot, water was a new experience.

Today I share tips for coping without running water so that you can be better prepared if something similar happens to you.

16 Tips for Coping Without Water

1. With advance notice of a water shutoff, fill the bathtub and as many spare jugs and buckets as you can round up. In addition, fill the Berkey, if you have one and all of your sinks.

2. Double up on hand sanitation.  Fill a spray bottle with liquid castile soap, water, and a copious amount of tea tree or other anti-bacterial essential oil. To wash you hands, spray with a generous amount of your soap/tea tree mixture then rinse with water from a filled sink or a container of water set next to the sink.  Follow-up with commercial hand sanitizer.  See DIY Liquid Castile Soap.

3. Know the location of your preps!  In my case, I had two camp showers that could have been used for taking hot showers after heating water on the stove.  Could I find them?  Nope.

4. No mater how many buckets you have, you need more.  In addition, make sure the buckets you have are manageable, weight wise, when filled with water.  Remember, water weighs 8.35 pounds per gallon.  My buckets were re-purposed 2-pound buckets obtained for free from a local café and were small enough for me to handle comfortably when filled.  A water filled 5 gallon bucket would have been a problem.

5. When using the toilet, flush liquids daily but solids upon each use.  I had two toilets in use so it was easy to abide by this formula.  I did not, however, flush TP (see below).

6. Dispose of toilet paper into a wastebasket and not into the toilet.  This will prevent your toilet from backing up because it is crammed with paper!  Been there, done that.  Do, however, be mindful of the smell and dispose of the contents of your wastebasket daily.  Baking soda helps control odors if you can not dispose of soiled TP often enough.

7. When it comes time to flush, fill the tank with water and use the handle on the toilet to flush.  This uses less water than dumping water into the bowl.

8. Stock up on disposable plates, cups, and eating utensils.  Cleaning up after meals will be a challenge and will use a lot of water.  Save the water you have for cooking utensils and use disposables for everything else.

9. Clean with cloths and rags not sponges.  Without proper cleaning, sponges will become very unsanitary quickly.  Gross even.  Use microfiber cloths or cleaning rags made from discarded tee shirts or towels.  They can be washed using a Mobile Washer, tossed in the garbage, or laundered when things return to normal.

10. Learn to take “sponge baths” using a washcloth and soap.  Your spray bottle of castile soap will come in handy for this.  Better yet, lay in a supply of No-Rinse Bath Wipes (my favorite), homemade wipes (something I still need to learn to do), or baby wipes.

11. Have at least one way to filter and purify watered gathered from the outdoors.  See How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water.

12. Learn to hook a hose up to your water heater so that you can use its water in an emergency.  It is a good idea to turn off the electrical breaker or turn off the pilot light first.

13.  Plumbers may not always be available so learn minor plumbing repairs yourself.  When the water came back on, one of our toilets failed, probably due to the backflow of gunk.  Repairs were easy with a backup tank repair kit.

14. Get to know which neighbors have what home repair and handyman skills.  Let them know about your own skill-set so that there is reciprocity and you can help each other out when something goes wrong and needs fixing.  Everyone knows how to do something, right?

15. Keep basic tools on hand, including shovels, axes, saws, hatchets, and other manly-man items.  Just because you are a woman does not mean you should not have basic tools!

16. Maintain a good sense of humor. Treat the experience and a learning experience as well as a grand adventure in self-reliance.

The Final Word

Regardless of how much you drill for disruptive events, having something happen for real will open your eyes to considerations that were unplanned.  With camping, backpacking, and boating, you know in advance you will not have running water and can plan accordingly.

No running water at the drop of a hat is another story completely.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider voting for me daily at Top Prepper Websites!

In addition, SUBSCRIBE to email updates  and receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

Bargain Bin:  Below you will find links to some the items related to today’s article.

No Rinse Cleansing & Deodorizing Bathing Wipes:  One wipe is more than enough for a complete “bath”.  These are a good backup when traditional showers are not available such as the week or weeks following a disaster.  Also good for the sick room as well as camping, boating, hiking and such.  Here is my review.

Fluidmaster 400CR Toilet Fill Valve and Flapper Repair Kit:  This is one of those items you don’t think of stockpiling but believe me, we now have a couple in reserve for emergency purposes.  Why fuss with adjusting a tank valve when you can replace the whole thing for less than $12 and 10 minutes of your time?

Ultimate 55 Gallon Water Barrel Combo: This was the best deal I could find today on 55 gallon water barrels.  Everyone should have at least one.  Remember, if storing in your garage, place the filled barrel on a wooden platform and not directly on the concrete.

LifeStraw Family Water PurifierThe Sunday Survival Buzz #128   Backdoor Survival:  The Lifestraw Family contains no chemicals, no batteries and no moving parts to wear out. It features a a high flow rate and is the perfect solution to your portable water purification needs – whether bugging in or bugging out. As of this writing, shipping is free.

Amazon Basics Microfiber Cleaning Cloth, (Pack of 36): No list of DIY cleaning supplies would be complete without these wonderful microfiber cloths. They will last you for years and will allow you to replace paper towels forever. Truly. I color code using blue for glass and windows and the other colors for everything else. I love these.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Pure-Castile Soap: If you do not want to make your own liquid castile soap, get Dr. Bronner’s.  There are many different “flavors”, including tea tree.

Soft ‘n Style 8 oz. Spray Bottles: I happen to like these smaller bottles and you can not beat the price for a set of 3. Likewise for these Pump Dispensers.

DryTec Calcium Hypochlorite, 1-Pound:  This is 68% Calcium Hypochlorite.  As of this writing, the price is under $10 with free shipping.  I purchased Ultima Pool ShockThe Sunday Survival Buzz #128   Backdoor Survival which is 73% Calcium Hypochlorite.  For more information, read How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca):  I used half a bottle and then some during my water apocalypse.  For the budget minded, consider using the NOW products brand from Amazon in your cleaning and sanitation supplies.  For healing purposes, though, you will want to go with essential oils from Spark Naturals.   Just remember to use the code BACKDOORSURVIVAL at checkout to get 10% off your order.


Shop the Emergency Essentials Daily & Monthly Sales for Fantastic Deals!

The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 45% off sometimes a bit more.

Every family should have at least one Tote-able Toilet.  I have priced purchasing the bucket and toilet seat lid separately and found that it was more economical to pick up this kit.  I have filled my portable potty with sanitation supplies plus, of course, plenty of TP.

Emergency Essentials carries a wide variety of equipment and supplies – all at competitive prices.


Need something from Amazon (and who doesn’t)? I earn a small commission from purchases made when you begin your Amazon shopping experience here. You still get great Amazon service and the price is the same, no matter what.

Amazon has a feature called Shop Amazon – Most Wished For Items. This is an easy tool for finding products that people are ‘wishing” for and in this way you know what the top products are.  All you need to do is select the category from the left hand side of the screen.

The Amazon Top Most Wished For and Best Selling Outdoor Items
Emergency Preparedness Items from Amazon.com
Amazon Gift Cards

Help support Backdoor Survival. Purchases earn a small commission and for that I thank you!


Are You Interested in Essential Oils?

Which are the best oils for your survival kit?  This article describes my top picks.

9 Best Essential Oils for Your Survival Kit | Backdoor Survival


16 Tips for Coping Without Running Water — 32 Comments

  1. Gaye, I have been a prepper for many years now and everyone has their worries of being without things. Every time I turn on my faucet and I see water flow, I do a little “thank you” to the powers that keep my water flowing. I think this would be the hardest thing to cope with.
    More power to you girl for coming out on top.

    • That was a possibility but since our closest friends live 12 miles away (24 miles round trip), I felt that soldiering it out as though this was a real survival situation was a better choice of action. I am glad I did because it gave me an opportunity to test myself and my ability to cope. Except for not washing my hair during those 12 days (which I still plan to do using baking soda as a dry shampoo), I really had no problem at all dealing with the lack of running water.

      I still have not located my sun/camp showers and plan to order some new ones from Amazon later today.

    • One thing to keep in mind is how you may be imposing on people. Whenever our power is out we have no water. In all honesty this is when you find out who your friends are – some people offer their shower but when you ask they aren’t available.

  2. With just getting your water back, I do hope you’re ready for the chilling weather today. As I read through your list, I kept thinking about the dish bags we made in Girl Scouts. I bought the nylon netting from a fabric store; then at a meeting, we cut the fabric to the size needed for each girl to have a bag. The size depended on the eating utensils she brought. It’s a complete setting. Each girl at least learned the basic sewing stitch to put 2 pieces of cloth together. When done, the girl had a place for putting her dish, cup and eating utensils. Then each girl was responsible for washing her own dishes (done in cold soapy water). Then we had a BIG pot of boiling hot water with vinegar (for sanitizing). Now my bags have one of those clippies like rock climber use so the bag gets hung on a rope to dry. The dish water gets recycled into the toilet had your event happened here. The hot water would be allowed to cool and saved for washing the next meal’s dishes. Now, I go basic, so water and vinegar are all I need for sanitizing and cleansing, but like the dishes, this method can be modified. I now use correlle ware from the thrift store because it stands up to the useage of camping. 🙂
    And #15—be sure you have tools which YOU can use, they aren’t any good if hubby isn’t around and his are too heavy for you to use properly. Though you probably didn’t need one this time. My trucker brother put me on to these hammers. They make the lighter strike a woman gives them much more impact. AND due to their color, they are easy to spot even in low light. 😉 Stay warm everyone.

  3. Thanks for the update and insight. Whenever our power goes out (which is often) we have no running water, so I feel for you. I’ve actually learned to shower with 2 water bottles (regular size drinking bottles) which have been warmed in the sun.

    You are very right on the bucket sizes. We have a huge 5 gallon one, but I can only lift it if it’s half full, so 2 smaller buckets would be much better.

    • I forgot. To get those smaller buckets…check your local grocer which has a bakery. The fillings and other food items come in 3 gal buckets. Most 5 gallon lids will fit these. I get them just for asking free. I have several of these with 1 day’s worth of food in various locations in case of emergencies. I have also found they work for my household (since it’s all female) when it comes to repetitive lifting and carrying. I like the 2 gallons buckets, but why buy when I can get the 3 gallons for free. 🙂 AND they have carry straps too.

  4. I am on day 16 of no water due to a water line to the street needing to be replaced. I have dozens of vinegar jugs, but cannot refill them due to my back, shoulders, and knees. My neighbor will fill them for me and put them on my back porch if I put them on the steps to his front porch. A friend used the hose to fill the vinegar jugs and I bought potable water.

    I drove 50 miles to Huntsville for a shower, hair wash, and one load of laundry after day 8. I had something else to do there, so the trip was not wasted. No one here offered me a shower or place to wash my hair. However, churches often have showers, so I could have asked one of the churches since I was the only one without water.

    I discovered I could put hose water in the crock pot and heat it there to wash the crockpot. Then, I heated the water, put the crock in the sink and it served as a nice “pan” that kept the water warm while I washed dishes in the crock pot. I did have disposable everything on hand, but the “no water” caught me with sinks of dirty dishes. I had been out of town and very ill when all this happened, so I had more dirty dishes than usual.

    For a bath, I microwaved two cups of water in a glass peanut butter jar. I took my whole bath out of that, right in the jar.

    Since I cannot, dare not, walk with boiling water either from the microwave or the stove, the crock pot was closer and easier and much safer for me to heat there and carry it to the sink since the crockpot is right beside the sink.

    Get rid of the gel toothpaste! It was so difficult to brush with little water because I had opened a get. The past is much easier to clean off fingers or mouth or toothbrush! I accidentally had a bit on a finger and could not just lick if off. I had to go back to the sink and use water to remove it. Yes, I know you have licked a bit of toothpaste off a finger.

    Being disabled and elderly is a whole new ball game when there is no water. I could barely carry one gallon of water and certainly not two vinegar jugs of water.

    • I went without water for seven weeks before getting the supply line from the road replaced. A gofundme campaign was necessary. THEN, the faucets were all ruined from the galvanized pipes shedding shards. Then, the plumber did not turn off the hot water heater, ruined it and swears it is just fine because I get a little warm water from it. I discovered a leak under the kitchen sink AND the washer is leaking. I don’t think the washing machine is the fault of the plumber.

      Dozens of people knew I had no water. Not one of them offered a shower. They would hastily find someone else with whom to talk or start telling me their woes…not really a minor problem.

      I had to sleep on the floor for seven weeks and then slept on a daybed someone gave me…on the springs for another two week until someone bought me a new mattress. Having no bed was a real trial along with no water.

  5. To conserve bath/wash water – Get a pair of hair clippers & burr your head & body. It takes much less water to bathe a hairless body.
    Be warned that the regrowth of hair under the arms & in the private areas can cause chafing & irritation. You might want to just thin out the hair in those places.
    For those must have hair on their head, might I suggest a wig.
    This conservation idea came about as a result of many years camping with a limited water supply.

    • I think I will skip the burr. It would cause more problems than it would solve. Wear a wig? Yep, I am going to shave my head and wear a wig for water being off for three weeks. I cannot afford a wig. I am quite sure this was a tongue-in-cheek response to see how many people would shave.

      • The intent was not to get responses but to share a little water conservation knowledge that my wife & I discovered during our 30+ years of camping experiences. The burr caused no problems, except for the irritation of the initial regrowth.
        Not all ideas/suggestions are for everyone. Use what you can/want. Ignore the rest.

  6. I use a couple of 5 gallon Igloo drink jugs to hold hot water after heating it up on my wood stove. One 2.5 gallon drink jug goes in the bathroom for clean up and I use those cheap 1/2 gallon pitchers from the dollar store to move water for washing dishes.
    My water main was out for 5 days and it was effort of moving the water that was the hardest for me as I’m disabled. I want to buy a couple of those small dolleys they use to move furniture. I will use it to wheel the 5 gallon jugs of water around the house.

  7. Some years ago I was forced to learn a lot about the use of, and savings of, water when I lived in a cold climate that set records for new low temperatures and crippling wind chills that winter. At the time I had a new two-week old baby in the house that needed formula. Since cold temperatures were the norm where I lived at the time I had plenty of powered formula in the house as well as enough food for a family of 5. Thank goodness. What I didn’t have was running water since our well pump froze solid from the ongoing cold. (It was so cold that winter that we had covered the inside of all windows with plastic and the plastic froze and cracked from the penetrating cold wind.) It was three weeks before we could get a new pump shipped and temperatures warmed slightly so workmen could be outside long enough to work down in the well 15 to 20 minutes at a time. It may sound crazy but I was thankful for the fact that we also set new records for snow fall that winter. I, therefore, collected clean snow, melted and boiled it to make the baby’s formula. We also became pros at taking “spit baths” and reusing water as much as possible. Our natural gas stove/furnace still worked so we at least had heat in the house and could cook. A couple of tips here, if you find yourself without water and electricity, at the same time, have a small propane camping stove handy and/or a barbeque and keep it going as much as possible. It can provide a way to heat water, do some cooking, provide heat, and just psychologically improve life. Also, have plenty of store bought or homemade baby wipes or waterless bath wipes handy. It will aid in general hygiene and save water at the same time. Since all that happened I’ve never allowed myself to be without a good supply of water, easily prepared food, and a way to treat and heat water.

  8. Lots of good information about being supplied with water. Looks like I’m going to have to add a few items to my water preps.

    Although I haven’t been without water for more than 2 days since I moved here in 1999 it is an inconvienence because the water lines in my neighborhood are 60 years old and require a lot of maintenance so our water gets shut off for hours at a time. I can’t hardly imagine going 12 days with out running water! I do have plenty of water stored and have access to a creek close by and can filter or boil the water so it’s safe.

    A couple of weeks ago the water was shut off for repairs and I had to clean up for work. I was disgusted to find no water pressure so I filled a 3 quart pot with water and warmed it up on the stove and then poured the warm water into a Coleman portable camp shower that I hung from a hook in the shower stall ceiling. worked great!

    While not a earth shattering occurance it is still a good lesson for me in being prepared for a water crisis.

    The problem around here is that the water utility never bothers to inform us anymore when repairs are needed so you’d better be prepared!

    Best to all,

    Snake Plisken

    • What do you do when the water utility is sufficiently inept that they don’t know there’s a problem until sick people queue at the ER?
      Myself, I haven’t had running water since the mid 80’s, when I moved into my first van.

  9. Had our Well Pump go out on us last of October. Equipment was over 15 years old maybe 20-30. 300 feet deep, this required Removal of cast iron piping where holes were found in various locations and the electric wiring was brittle. Initial cause was damage done by a lightning strike. This all meant that for a few days we would be without water in our rural location. Not to worry, plenty of “flushing” water stockpiled thanks to the reuse of large laundry plastic bottles. Drinking water stockpiled just for such an occasion; both topside and in the apartment basement.
    Did not place the responding plumber under any pressure to service us. We took the whole matter in stride. Much like you probably did. Spray bottles for hand washing, small basin for any dishes that might have gotten used outside of the paper products we had on hand. And by the way, on hand we have Life Straws, filtered bottles and filtered pitchers, purification tables, pool shock and of course bleach for the long haul. To mask any flavor problems, plenty of powder drink mixes. Berkey is on my Christmas wish list.

    Thank you for your continued work on items to allow us to BE READY. We are learning and applying. I also teach a CERT Class and pass along the same information and your website.

  10. Great article Gaye. I think learning to take “sponge” baths is critical for the conservation of water. People in the US (for the most part) might be lucky enough that they do not need to be ultra conservative with their water (even though we all should be to help save our environment). But in other places like Europe, who also enjoy the status of a first world continent, water is much more scarce due to less effective infrastructure and irrigation.

    This article has a lot of tips that we should all apply, weather we have an excess of water or not.


  11. You can make a pretty good low water “Shower” using a Clean (As in never held chemicals)pump up garden sprayer. I shortened the wand and it works pretty well. For a long term solution a black 55 gallon drum in the sun heats up pretty quickly. If you can arrange to have it above your head you can get pretty good water pressure for a real shower. The Army has been doing this for a long time. Just get the needed fittings beforehand

  12. I had the joyful experience of having my main water pipe freeze last winter, leaving me without water for 3 weeks+. I used up about half the gallons of water I had in my prep, refilled them at work regularly, and melted snow for flushing. I washed and rinsed my dishes daily using only 1 gallon of water I used a basin in the sink), learned to sponge bathe using less than 1/2 gallon of water (using the same basin) and washed my hair in the sink. I reused the water I used the wet my hair for the rinse. I, then, used the dirty sink and hair wash water to flush and wash out my toilet daily. I was amazed at how little water I could really live on. My poor dogs and chickens were given melted snow to drink and did just fine- after all, they eat the snow, don’t they? I do have to admit, when it came to my laundry, I went to the local Laundromat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.