Water Storage 101

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Water Storage 101We all need water. In as little as three days without it, a person can perish. Water is a vital part of being prepared. How much do you really need? How should you store it? How often should you rotate water storage? What can you do at the last minute? Let’s explore what experts say on those topics.

How much water do you need?

The American Red Cross recommends that you store 1 gallon of water per person per day. However, The Survival Mom recommends 2 gallons per person per day. Why? Think over a typical day and what you use water for – drinking, preparing food, washing clothes, washing dishes, taking a shower, brushing teeth, watering plants, filling pets’ water dishes, flushing toilets, making coffee. You could even take a gallon of water around with you for a day and see if that is really enough.

In a survival situation, you will also need water to sanitize and clean if you can’t use a dishwasher or washing machine. There can be a difference between the amount of water you absolutely need to have and the amount of water you need to make life comfortable. Consider, too, that babies and pregnant and nursing mothers often need more water than others. If you live in a hot or dry climate, take that into considerations as well.

After you figure out how much water you want to have on hand per person per day, then you need to decide how many days of water supply you want to have on hand. The basic recommendation is for three days (72 hours), but there are disaster scenarios that will have you wanting to have water on hand for more than three days.

How should you store water?

One of the easiest options is buying bottled water. It will require doing a little bit of math to figure out how many bottles you need, but generally about 8 bottles of water equal one gallon. If there are four people in your family, you’ll need at least 32 bottles of water per day. Cases usually have 24 bottles for a few dollars. For a basic week’s worth of water, you’d need just under 10 cases. Double that if you want 2 gallons a day per person.

If you want to store water in containers, make sure they are food grade containers. They should be thoroughly cleaned before being filled. Two-liter soda bottles are another option after they’ve been cleaned. Milk and juice jugs are not recommended for use because the sugars and milk proteins cannot be completely washed off the containers and can lead to bacterial growth. Glass containers can be used, but are heavy and can break. You can sanitize containers by soaking them for at least 30 seconds in a mixture that is 1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart of water.

Water stored in containers may need to be treated by adding some bleach before storage.

How often should you rotate?

For water bottles, you can rotate them by the expiration or use-by date. For water you store yourself, rotate the water every six months.

Keep scent-free, dye-free bleach on hand for treating, sanitizing and purifying water. (Basically, you don’t want any additives in the bleach that could end up in your drinking water.) Bleach has a shelf life and starts to break down after six months. It needs to be replaced every 16 months. Rotate your bleach bottles frequently to ensure you have effective bleach on hand.

Other sources of water

If you haven’t stored up any water and the emergency is happening now, there are still some steps you can take. Start filling containers and bathtubs with water. If you don’t have a Water BOB to hold the water, clean the bathtub first, if at all possible. You can find more water in the hot water heater. Ice cubes can be melted and liquid can be found in canned goods. Do not consume any water or liquid that has a very unusual odor or color.

water survival
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Potential outside sources of water include rainwater, ponds, streams, lakes, and springs. Outside sources of water need to be purified before drinking. Depending on your resources, timing, and the contamination of the water, boiling and/or iodine will treat many pathogens.

If the emergency involves contaminated water, you may need to shut off the main water valve to your home (Do you know where it is?). Be sure not to drink any possible contaminated water unless it has been purified, assuming that is possible. In the case of a chemical spill, it may simply be too dangerous to drink the water until the situation has been contained. And children are more susceptible to contaminated water than adults.

Last-minute tips

You don’t spend all your time at home so be sure to store water at work and in your vehicles as well. I always have a case of water in our minivan, and, with little children, it has come in handy for everyday life, not just traffic jams and emergencies.

If you end up facing a long-term power outage, you may not have water flowing in your home. The generators that run city water could run out of fuel and well pumps that run on electricity won’t work. Every drop of water will be precious. Consider storing containers to hold water that can be re-used for sanitation, washing dishes and washing clothes. Look into having a rain barrel or storing water in 55-gallon drums so you have a long-term water solution. Water purifiers intended for multiple people to use repeatedly, rather than something like tablets or bleach that will run out far more quickly, are also a good investment.

For more information and details on water storage, visit:



FEMA and Red Cross

More resources for water purification

12 thoughts on “Water Storage 101”

  1. What do you think about storing some non-potable water as well as drinking water? Would you need any particular containers to do this, or could you recycle juice jugs and make as non-drinkable?

  2. A better option than bleach is pool shock. It comes in powder form and never expires. You simply mix the amount of pool shock you want to have on hand with water. I don’t remember the ratios of pool shock to gallons of water, but, and internet search will find it.

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  5. A water bed cost about $50 from Wallyworld and holds at least 500 gallons of water that is available for flushing and washing.

    1. The Survival Mom

      Terry, I didn’t even know they still sold waterbeds! I remember them well, which goes to show just how old I am! LOL

  6. Could you use old milk and juice containers to store water to use just for flushing and things of that nature? Just as long as it isn’t used for drinking/cooking.

    1. The Survival Mom

      Yes, for the juice containers, but no for the milk jugs. The plastic used for those milk jugs are designed to break down after a period of time, and they do just that!

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  8. Thank you for your advice that one gallon of water for every person every day is what is recommended by the red cross! I live in a very dry, remote area and I want to make sure I have water if there was an emergency. I will have to look into different tanks and see if a water collection system, or what else, would meet my needs.

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