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Editor’s Note: This article has been revised and updated for 2018.
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 the 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.
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 LifeStraw Family, SolarBag, and pool shock for water purification.
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 [UPDATE: Now 31 Tips] for Coping Without Water
1. Fill the bathtub
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 your 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 matter 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. 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 water 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.
17. Minimize the dishes
Assign everyone a plate, bowl, cup, and silverware and maybe a coffee cup. That means only that many dishes can be dirty at any given time. This is a trick my husband and I learned when living in a camper with no indoor running water for 18 months and then living in the shell of our house for awhile after that before we had actual indoor plumbing. Sure disposables are great for short term use but using them every day for over a year didn’t seem practical at all so we did not do it. Plus they do cost money and you have to burn them or haul them off in the garbage.
18. Remember to mark water clearly
You don’t want to mix up treated and untreated water so have some way of labeling containers. Duct tape is sturdy but can be hard to apply if something is too wet or sweaty. Just have some way to tell so you can avoid getting everyone sick by drinking unsanitary water.
19. Keep a list of what would have made it easier
There is nothing like a crisis to make it clear that you don’t have what you need on hand to deal with a situation. Rather than forgetting the experience, you need to write down what you discover that you didn’t have on hand.
20. Plan for the kids and elderly
Doing without water is one thing if you are just one or two people for a day or two, however when it comes to kids and the elderly you need to take some other steps. Disposable diapers, wipes, and making sure that you have some extra clothing on hand can be helpful.
21. Plan meals that require less prep and water
If you can get to the grocery store, stock up on items that will get everyone by until you can get your water on. If you already have preps that you can use then good for you but at the same time, the water being out briefly is not necessarily a reason to get into those nice freezes dried meals you have gathered up. Just use your own judgment on the severity of the situation.
22. Utilize your freezer
When it comes down to cooking fast, having some meals in your freezer that you can throw together quickly can be a big help when the water is out or acting up. There has been a lot written on how you can buy basic ingredients and chop up and prep several weeks worth of dinners and store them in your freezer. Just throw them in a Crock Pot, Roasting Pan, Or Stir Fry them and you can have a meal in minutes that is much healthier and less expensive than pre-made
23. If you don’t have a few large stock pots then you should get a few rights away.
Large stock pots are great for boiling water so you can clean things and do dishes if needed. While you are going to want to limit having to do this as much as you can, if an outage goes on for a few days or if it happens when you just happened to have not done the dishes the night before then you might feel the need for some quick hot water.
24. Sweep and Vacuum More
Without water, the sanitation of your home can definitely suffer. Sweeping or vacuuming more often can help control some of the dirt and debris that you may encounter. If you have pets the problem can become worse quite quickly. The less dirt and debris on your floor the less dust in the air and settling on other things in your home.
25. Reuse your clothing
Don’t change everything you wear each day. Jeans can often be worn for 2-3 days if you are not doing work that gets them very dirty. If you have items that are easy to hand wash and dry out quickly then you may want to wear those until you get your water working reliably once more.
26. Have a small drum washer for washing what is absolutely needed
While it may be cumbersome for some to spin the handle for the few minutes it takes to do a pair of jeans or a few shirts, it is better than nothing at all. If you are living remotely this is an excellent back up to have. Laundromats are not as common as they once were and very expensive and time consuming to use since you have to be right there the whole time. In that case, you would be better off giving your kids a bonus on their allowance for stepping up and helping out with the wash! Related: For further reading, you can review the best off-grid dishwashing options here.
27. Consider bathing in the great outdoors
If you have a pond or stream on your property that is not too dirty then you might consider using a mild soap and bathing in it if is the right time of year. Running water is going to be cleaner than ponds generally speaking. It also might be a good time to load up and go to your favorite swimming hole.
28. Shower at the gym
While it may not be ideal, if you have a gym membership or a community health club then you may have shower privileges that you can use. In my area during a water outage that affected a lot of people in town, the fitness centers welcomed those affected to come and clean up there.
29. Keep toilet cleaner or vinegar on hand for odors
If you are using your toilet during the outage than the result of you trying to reduce the amount you flush can lead to a smellier and dirtier toilet than you are used to. A spray bottle of vinegar or biodegradable toilet cleaner can help keep things fresher and a lot more pleasant for everyone in the family. Just remember that eventually your water is going to be back on and you don’t want to use anything that will kill off the good bacteria in your septic tank.
30. Have a lot of extra socks and underwear
While you may have some favorite socks, during a water outage, having just good ole’ cheap white athletic socks that come in 6-12 packs is going to help out with stretching out how long it is before you feel you have to do laundry. Having a weeks worth of extra socks and underwear is not a bad plan for any emergency.
31. Sports Drink Dispensers Help A Lot
For the occasional or long term outage, the Rubbermaid 3 gallon water coolers with a pocket are a blessing to have. These coolers are easy to clean and you can label them if needed with just a Sharpie marker. There are many different brands out there but Rubbermaid seems to be the way to go because that is what you see a lot of landscaping crews and other heavy duty workers using for their water when out on a job.
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.
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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.
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 Purifier: The Lifestraw Family contains no chemicals, no batteries, and no moving parts to wear out. It features 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.
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. I purchased Ultima Pool Shock 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 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.
Help support Backdoor Survival. Purchases earn a small commission and for that I thank you!
41 Responses to “30+ Tips for Coping Without Running Water”
Urine should go into the garden, so you don’t need to flush at all. Solid waste can also be composted, with a little forethought and motivation. Though I must admit that I haven’t tried it, I’ve worked with tons of stable litter and horse manure, so if there was no end in sight to the water disruption, I’d give it a try. Having used an outhouse at the hunting camp, I know three ways that it’s unpleasant (smell, cold, and bugs), but if I had to give up cooking, drinking, or flushing, the choice would be obvious.
See “How to Shit in the Woods: An environmentally sound approach to a lost art”, by Kathleen Meyer, Ten-Speed Press, 1989, for 77 pages of advice. (Which reminds me… I need to get some great mullein growing on my property.)
Try living without running water for 8 months. That is what we have been dealing with. It has been hell on earth and if we can’t raise $3000 by the end of November. Web water will never hook us up, which means we will never have running water. You have gave me some idea’s thank you.
Great tips, Very useful. Thanks.
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
Excellent idea. Even a black bucket (and wouldn’t be so heavy to lift) would work. Thanks
This provides really useful information, Gaye. Thank you!
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.
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.
None of the mentioned filtration products will remove volatile organic compounds. Only steam distillation will do the job, which is why I bought and stored a Waterwise 1600. That said, it may take treble distilling to do the job with VOCs like benzene.
FYI – pesticides, volatile solvents, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene and toluene, all with boiling points well below that of water, will vaporize, as it approaches boiling. Anything above 170` also kills all known pathogens harmful to mankind, and inactivates microorganisms. Reverse Osmosis removes 80%+ of VOC’s. Activated charcoal “adsorbes” all VOC’s… just sayin’
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,
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.
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.