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How to store water for emergency short term use

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
How to store water for emergency short term use

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Jan 020Freaking out over water or simply a water freak?  I suppose it really does not matter since when it comes to water, I am a hoarder.  In addition to my 55 gallon water barrel,  I have six cases of bottled drinking water in the cellar and another case or two in the garage.  Is that enough?  Don’t know.  Actually, I hope I will never have to use my stored water.

How about you?  Did you ever purchase that water barrel along with a siphon and a bung wrench?  Or, if like a lot of folks, have you put off that purchase due to financial or space limitations?

It was recently pointed out to me that barring the acquisition of long term storage facilities (such as a water barrel), there are numerous ways to collect and store ordinary tap water for free.  Not a bad idea, actually, especially when you take in to account that you may also use the free, short term water supply for cleaning, laundry, toilet bowl flushing and more.

So how can you safely store the water right out of your tap?  According the the American Red Cross, your best bet is to purchase food grade, water storage containers from outdoor, camping or emergency supply stores.  But that is not free.

Plan B is to accumulate your own plastic storage containers.  Clean, empty soda bottles are the best although glass is good too (albeit heavy and breakable).

When choosing containers for water storage – and let me remind you that this is short term water storage of three to six months max – you want to avoid anything that has had milk of fruit juice in them.  This is because milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial
growth when water is stored in them.  Ditto cardboard.  The cardboard will eventually leak and make a big mess.

So let’s do it.  Let us store some water following these steps:

1.  Clean them up.  Thoroughly clean your plastic bottle and jugs with dishwashing soap and water then rinse completely so there is no residual soap.

2.  Sanitize with bleach.  Sanitize your bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of
non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water.  Swish the sanitizing solution in the containers so that it touches all interior surfaces.  Don’t forget to sanitize the lids and caps as well.  After sanitizing the containers and caps, thoroughly rinse out the bleach solution with clean water.

3.  Fill ‘em up.  Fill them to the top with regular tap water. Add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water, then tightly close the containers using the original caps. It is probably a good idea to use some latex or nitrile gloves at this point so that you maintain the sanitation and do not contaminate the caps by touching the inside of them with your fingers.

4.  Date the outside with a permanent marker such as a sharpie.

5.  Store in a cool, dark place.

6.  Important:  rotate in six months.  Dump the water, re-sanitize the jugs, and start all over.  Personally, I think it would be a good idea to put up a few jugs at the first of  each month.  Do this for six months and you will build up a nice, rotating stock.

How much water should you store?  The Red Cross recommendation is one gallon per person per day.  Using the rotating stock method, a family of four could prepare four gallons a month and after six months, would have a six day supply of water.  Of course more is better in my opinion (that is where the freak part comes in).

Bonus water – the hot water tank

There is another source of free water sitting right under your nose, tucked away some dark corner of your home.  Your hot water tank!  Here is how you get to it:

  • Turn off the electricity of gas.
  • Open the drain at the bottom of the tank.
  • Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve at the tank and turning on a hot-water faucet
  • And don’t forget:  be sure to refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity back on

The Final Word

While not free, I still need/want to learn more about portable water purifiers that can be used with lake water.  Here on San Juan Island there is an abundance of small lakes with plenty of water (along with bugs, bacteria, and other nasties).  Still, with a portable filtration system, this water would become quite usable.  That, along with the desalinators on those big yachts in the harbor, would serve us well.  Guess I better get friendly with some of the local yachtsmen!

Enjoy your next adventure, wherever it takes you!


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19 Responses to “How to store water for emergency short term use”

  1. Hello, regarding your quote: “you want to avoid anything that has had milk of fruit juice in them. This is because milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial
    growth when water is stored in them.”

    I have been using the 1 gallon clear plastic jugs that apple and other fruit juices come in (brand names such as Motts and Hawaiian Punch) for over 1.5 years with no problems relating to bacterial or mold growth.

    It is fairly easy to rinse the container with soap and hot water, then apply a high concentration of bleach and water (approx 1 tblspn of bleach to 1/2 cup of water, I just eyeball it) to the inside of the jug, then rinse well, and this quite effectively removes any contaminants, as well as the “juice smell” from the container. I add 8 drops of bleach to the 1 gallon of tap water (already chlorinated from my county supply) due to the long storage time. I have drank 1 year old water from these jugs on multiple occasions with no problems. Just FYI.

    • I am curious to know whether you have tried using empty milk jugs for water storage. I have avoided using them for my hummingbird food (sugar and water) for similar reasons. Of course the fruit jugs are a different type of plastic (PET?) so perhaps they are easier to clean. S.W.

    • I have never used milk jugs as the ‘conventional wisdom’ is that the plastic used in milk jugs breaks down much faster and so is unsuited for long term storage.

  2. Great advice. Another point to keep in mind is the location of swimming pools, hot tubs, etc. And, if you are going to get a filter, check with REI – they have filters that clean bacteria only vs. filters that clean bacteria, parasites and virsus. I think the correct terminology is a pbv filter vs. a pb filter. It all depends on where you are at, where you are going and how close you’ll be to an urban population.
    We’ve got a pbv because the Tualatin River is a slow moving dirty river – more chances that there will be some really nasty stuff in that river.

  3. Are those 55 gallon water barrels safe to store in your basement when filled with water? I am concerned that they may crack my basement cement floor, it is 2 inches thick.

    • Celestte – If you purchase a barrel designed for long term water storage, there should be no issues with leakage or cracks, even in an earthquake.

      One thing I did learn from one of my readers is that you should not store the water barrel directly on the cement floor. We put ours on a thick piece of plywood. Also, just to be safe (we live in earthquake country) we strapped it to the studs in our garage in the same manner you would strap and secure a water heater.

      — Gaye

  4. No matter how much water I store, whether for outside plants (rain water harvesting) or inside for myself, wife and cats, I always wonder when enough is enough.

    The thought of an overflow spout on my rain barrels actually spilling over onto the ground drives me crazy (so much so that I ran a hose from overflow spout to my compost pile. It gets extra soaked when it rains too much)

    And while il commenting, I’ll share another thought. If I know it’s going to rain in a few days, I empty my barrels onto receptive plants. Then they get refilled when it rains. Use the water before refilling

  5. Water – I am fortunate that here in Salem, OR since I can buy the used blue plastic drums that have a removable/resealable top for $25 per. I have acquired 4 so far and the first thing I do is remove the top, scrub out with vinegar and baking soda, rinse and dry completely. As I am on well water I can fill the barrels as long as the power is on or if the grid is down, hook up my genny to the well pump and wind up with 200 gallons of fresh drinking water. I also recycle my 1 gallon plastic vinegar bottles that become empty..for some reason the plastic seems to be a “heavy duty’ type – maybe because vinegar is acidic? Don’t know. I am actively looking at rainwater capture for off the grid living…

    Also, you can get calcium hypochlorite from any pool supply house on the web…fairly cheap…

    • I am curious as to where someone could find similar barrels in their local area. $25 per is a steal and as you say, with a bit of elbow grease and purification, they would be ideal for supplemental water storage.

      — Gaye

  6. I’ve found that colloidal silver can be used to get rid of bacteria in water. The old timers used to put a silver dollar in lake or stream water and let it sit…it made the water drinkable. Colloidal silver at the health food stores is expensive, so I purchased my own generator. You must use steamed distilled water to make it work correctly. Even though the unit itself is a little costly, big amounts of CS can be generated. Just make sure that the generator produces very fine microparticles of silver. Do the research!

  7. Hello, great site with lots of useful information. If you want some additional information I use….he has a “what should I do” article with tons of very valuable info…such as; water, energy, food, protection..etc….we need to continue to educate each other because a sh%#storm is on its way….I’m Canadian and very concerned for North America…The U.S is in for a huge civil struggle/war in the upcoming years…so being prepared is of the utmost importance. Thanks and remember to never lose your compassion for others.

    • Chris Martenson link: //

      Don’t forget to check out his “crash course’ vid series on exponential dynamics affecting the “3 E’s: Economy, Energy, Environment”.

  8. Great blog, Neighbor.
    In your Step 2 “Sanitize with Bleach”, I assume you used liquid bleach. Liquid bleach has a short shelf life, compared with ‘dry bleach’ (granular calcium hypochlorite) which can be bought at any pool supply aisle in a local hardware store.

    The EPA says “You can use granular calcium hypochlorite to disinfect water.
    Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately ¼ ounce) for each two gallons of water, or 5 milliliters (approximately 7 grams) per 7.5 liters of water. The mixture will produce a stock chlorine solution of approximately 500 milligrams per liter, since the calcium hypochlorite has available chlorine equal to 70 percent of its weight. To disinfect water, add the chlorine solution in the ratio of one part of chlorine solution to each 100 parts of water to be treated. This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 ounces) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water or (approximately ½ liter to 50 liters of water) to be disinfected. To remove any objectionable chlorine odor, aerate the disinfected water by pouring it back and forth from one clean container to another.”

    Thanks for addressing these important topics! Knowing my ‘neighbors’ are also working towards self sustainability and personal resiliency helps me sleep at night.

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