How to Master Long Term Water Storage

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How to Master Long Term Water Storage

Did you know that a person can only survive without water for three days, but you can survive for seven days without food? The focus tends to be on stockpiling food, but the human body survives double the length without food. On the other hand, water is more important than food, which is why you need long-term water storage.

It’s easy to take water for granted; it comes right to your house! Gathering food requires heading to the store or putting time and effort into gardening. What happens if the water stops coming to your home? 

These scenarios are scary. It can be as simple as structural damage that will take a few days, at most, to fix, and you buy gallons at the store. Long term scenarios are scarier and require you to have a solution to refill your water storage and filter what you gather. 

Storing water long term is essential. Here is what you need to know, including useful water storage tips. 

How Much Water Do You Need to Store?

The CDC’s general recommendation is that you store at least one gallon of water per person per day. They suggest starting with a storage supply that will last three days. Don’t forget to include one gallon for each of your pets, and if the climate is hot or anyone is pregnant, store more water. 

So, one gallon per day per person isn’t a huge deal, but how long are you prepping to go without water? Three days is a fantastic start; that should cover if your water is shut off due to structural damage or a natural disaster. However, small problems can disrupt water supplies for longer than three days. 

The ideal water storage will carry your family through at least two weeks without any water. For one person, that’s 14 gallons of water. For a family of six, that’s 84 gallons. 

If you can store more than two weeks’ worth of water, do it! However, space becomes a problem for many people, and the upfront costs for long-term water storage are often prohibitive. I suggest starting with a goal of two weeks then slowly build your supply from there. 

How Long Does Water Last in Storage?

The shelf life of water varies based on the storage method used. In an open container, water is contaminated after one to three days of sitting out.

If you’re storing tap water that is clean enough to drink (hopefully, the tap water in your house is clean) in a sealed container, the general recommendation is that it lasts up to six months or longer. You can add a small amount of household chlorine bleach to purify the water. Make sure the bleach has no added scents or fresheners. 

Purified water stored and sealed in a food-grade container lasts for longer. The average time frame is two years or longer. 

Open Containers of Water1-3 Days
Tap Water in Storage Containers6+ Months
Purified Water Sealed in Containers2 Years

Does Stored Water Go Bad?

There is a misconception that water goes bad; it’s not like a loaf of bread that develops mold when left on the countertop. The worry is that contaminants will get into the water and make it go bad. 

Your water storage would be sealed and stored correctly without any possibility of contaminants getting inside in the perfect situation. In that case, the water stays good forever, but we don’t live in the ideal world and must be cautious. 

Bacteria, algae, and other pathogens are the problem, similar to how mold and botulism cause problems with food. Water is contaminated in a few ways.

  1. The bacteria or algae are already present in the water before being stored away. This happens most often when the water is sitting stagnant. It also could occur if the water that comes out of your tap isn’t safe. Take a look at your county’s most recent water reports if you feel concerned. 
  2. The contaminants leached out of the container. This is why it’s essential to store in food-grade containers. Some containers might contain pesticides or lead that could leech into the water storage, especially when exposed to heat. 
  3. You accessed the water storage incorrectly. Sticking your hands or an object into your stored water is a big no-no. All water storage should have a small opening that allows for easy and safe access. 

6 Mistakes to Avoid When Storing Water

Before diving into long-term water storage, we have to talk about mistakes to avoid when storing water. There are a lot of misconceptions and dangerous practices to avoid. 

  1. Assuming It’s Safe Because The Water is Clear 

Water might change colors when there is a water line break, but stored water stays clear even if it contains contaminants. Most contaminants and bacteria are colorless. So, looking at water and saying, “it’s clear, so it’s safe to drink” is dangerous. You might drink poison or parasites – YIKES! 

  1. Not Using Food-Grade Water Storage Containers

Never – ever – store water in anything other than food-grade water storage containers. Remember that. 

Most farm and fleet stores or Home Depot stores sell cheap plastic buckets that seem like they’d last through nuclear water, and they have lids. Plastic buckets aren’t for storing water. Unless the container is designed to store food or water, avoid it.

Here’s how to determine if a container is food grade.

  • Look for Plastic #s – 1, 2, 4, 7. These are all numbers meant for food-grade containers. The numbers will be inside of a small triangular recycle symbol. 
  • Look for a label that might include the words: “Freezer, Refrigerator, Pantry Safe.”
  1. Reusing Food-Grade Containers That Stored Other Things

Most newbies start off using old milk jugs and soda bottles because they’re free and readily available. I did it until I learned better. Don’t use any type of container that held food or drinks prior.

  • I learned the hard way that milk jugs don’t last very long. I had a few dozen stored in my basement, and they all eventually formed holes and leaked. 
  • It’s challenging, if not impossible, to remove all of the sugars and bacteria left over by the food that was inside of them. That will taint your water and make it unsafe to drink. 
  1. Pick Metal Containers Other Than Stainless Steel

It’s also tempting to store water in metal containers because we know they last forever. Stainless steel is the only metal that is safe for long term storage. Other metals rust when exposed to moisture for long periods, and it causes your water to go bad quickly. 

You don’t want to drink nasty, rusty water! 

  1. Storing Water in Unsealed Containers

Storing water in anything that is unsealed and cannot be sealed is a bad idea. It leaves your water storage open to contamination. Particles drop from the air; animals might decide to take a dip in your water storage. Insects fall and land in the water. 

The possibilities are endless, but it all leads to the same thing – tainted, unsafe water. 

  1. Storing in Direct Sunlight or Heat 

The best place to store water is in a dim, temperature-controlled room. Basements, garages, pantries, or underground cellars are ideal for water storage. 

Sunlight, heat, and temperature fluctuations are hard on the storage containers, leading to faster spoilage. If your containers face UV rays, it might cause them to wear down and break open. 

How Do You Store Water Long Term?

The most important part of long term water storage is storing it properly. Figuring out the best way to store water isn’t as easy or straightforward as you might think. Storing water in old milk jugs isn’t a good idea; it won’t be as safe to drink as you think. 

While water doesn’t expire, it can and will become toxic to drink. You decrease the risk of the water becoming contaminated when stored properly. Here are some suggestions. 

1. Food-Grade Plastic Water Storage Containers

The first option that comes to mind would be plastic water storage containers. It’s a preferred choice for many people because they’re cheaper and more readily available.

Take a quick look online, and you’ll find tons of options available. As people learn the value of storing water, more brands create options. When picking an ideal plastic water storage container, here are some factors to consider.

  • How many gallons does it hold? Ideally, you want the container to hold around five gallons. Fewer containers make storage and bugging out easier.
  • Look for blue or dark-colored containers rather than clear containers. 
  • Make sure it has a spigot or opening that lets you pour water out of it easily. 
  • Ideally, the containers will be stackable, aligning with contours on the bottom. That makes it much easier to store water if you have limited space.
  • Pick a container that has handles for easy transportation. Five-gallons weigh a lot!

Plastic does have negatives to consider. There are concerns that plastic leaches chemicals into the water, especially when exposed to sunlight and heat. In 2018, scientists talked about the dangers of drinking water stored in a hot car due to concerns about the plastic leaching chemicals. 

API Kirk is a great option. It comes in a six-pack of 5-gallon containers that stack on top of each other well.

API Kirk Containers
530 Reviews
API Kirk Containers
  • PORTABLE: Drums are great but you can't take them with you. Compact storage...
  • STACKABLE: Geometry on the top of each container aligns with contours on...
  • SAFE: High Density PolyEthylene (HDPE) is a preferred polymer. HDPE is not...
  • ACCESSORIES: Your Samson Stackers will come with a factory installed dust...
  • PROVEN: These are industrial grade containers used by manufacturers and...
2)Lasts a long time
4)Easy to find
1)Worries that plastic might leach chemicals 
2)Plastic doesn’t last as long as other materials

2. Glass Water Storage Containers

Glass is a suitable choice; it’s always trustworthy. As long as you sanitize the container before putting your purified water inside of it, then you can feel confident using glass. Look for glass that is certified by the FDA as “GRAS,” which stands for Generally Regarded As Safe.”

However, glass isn’t perfect for self-evident reasons; it’s heavy and breaks easily. On the other hand, glass lasts forever, is dishwasher friendly, easy to clean, and easy to find. Wrapping the containers helps to decrease the chance of breakage. 

One of the major concerns would be if you planned to use glass for bugging out. Not only is it heavy, but transportation increases the likelihood that they’ll break. It’s best to pick this option only if you want to use them at home and have no plan to move them outside of your house. I would also be sure to store them inside a plastic storage container and wrapped to keep them safer.

If you want to use glass, consider using these one-gallon glass water bottles that resemble wine gallons. The price is perfect, and they make it easy to pour.

Glass Water Bottle
2,645 Reviews
Glass Water Bottle
  • Includes a 38 mm polyseal cap
  • Great for Water Storage
  • 1 Gallon Glass Bottle
  • Made in USA
  • Manufactured by FastRack
1)Lasts forever
2)Easy to clean and sanitize
3)Easy to find options
1)Heavy, even when empty
2)Breaks easily

3. Stainless Steel Water Storage Containers

Without a doubt, the best option for storing water long term is to use a stainless steel container. Stainless steel lasts forever, has no concerns about leaching chemicals, and protects the water from sunlight. What more could you want?

Unfortunately, stainless steel is the most expensive option for water storage. A 55-gallon drum costs well over $250, making it cost-prohibitive for most people. Not to mention, one drum is only two weeks of water for a family of four. If you have a bigger family, that means you need multiple. 

Also, stainless steel is heavy. If you want to try to bug out with stainless steel, it won’t happen. You also cannot store chlorine-treated because it can cause the surface to erode. Only buy food-grade or food-safe stainless steel containers.  

One of the best water storage brands is Allentian, which produces stainless steel water cans in multiple sizes, from five to ten gallons. 

Allentian Stainless Steel Water Can
68 Reviews
Allentian Stainless Steel Water Can
  • SIZE: 45 x 34 x 16.5 CM, WEIGHT: 8.8 LB, CAPACITY: 20 Liter / 5 Gallon
  • FEDEX EXPEDITED SHIPPING: Usually delivery within 5-7 business days after...
2)Lasts forever
3)Doesn’t leach chemicals 
1)Most expensive option

4. 55-Gallon Plastic Water Barrels

These plastic water barrels are those big, typically blue, containers you might see sitting outside of someone’s home. While they are more expensive than the gallon-sized containers, they’re ideal for long-term storage. 

55-gallon water barrels take up a lot of space and are heavy, so they aren’t for bugging out. However, they’re reliable and cheap compared to the stainless steel barrels. They last forever; I have some that are 20+ years old!

2)Lasts forever

5. Rain Barrels

Instead of only storing tap water, storing rainwater requires rain barrels. Put a rain barrel at the end of your gutter or anywhere that can collect water. It’s a budget-friendly way to create large water storage.

Before storing the water, the water needs to be filtered and sanitized for storage. Some opt only to use rainwater for hygiene purposes, but drinking rainwater is safe if you have a good filtration system. You have to know how to do so correctly. 

1)Stores 50+ gallons 
2)Collects rainwater
1)Must have a filtration system
2)The Barrels aren’t meant for long-term storage.

6. Bathtub Water BOB

Chances are you’ve heard the suggestions to fill up bathtubs when things start to go sideways or when large storms head your way. In theory, the idea works, but bathtubs and sinks aren’t sterile, and you cannot seal them off. We know those are big no-no’s.

So, what is the solution?

Look at the Bathtub Water Storage BOB. It’s a refillable bag that you put in your tub or sink and fill with water. There are no worries about contamination, and it has a sealed top, so nothing gets in once you fill it up. The bag holds up to 100 gallons of water. When the emergency is over, empty it. 

WaterBOB Bathtub Storage
3,528 Reviews
WaterBOB Bathtub Storage
  • COLLECT WATER IN YOUR BATHTUB: The waterBOB is a water containment system...
  • PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES: Never be without water in an emergency. During a...
  • KEEPS WATER CLEAN FOR DRINKING: Water stored in an open bathtub with dirt,...
  • EASY TO USE: The waterBOB is simple to use for survival, storing water, and...
  • BPA-FREE AND USFDA-APPROVED: The waterBOB is constructed of heavy-duty,...
1)Holds up to 100 gallons of water
2)AffordablePerfect for natural disasters
1)Filling it a bit complicated
2)Awkward if not in the tub or sink

7. Water Tanks 

One of the biggest water storage for the long term is to buy water tanks. These are large, expensive, and don’t expect them to move once they’re in their place. However, these tanks can hold anywhere from 1,500 gallons of water to thousands of gallons of water.

Water tanks are the ultimate solution for long term water storage. If you’re worried about storing water for a long-term, TEOTWAWKI situation, or riots and civil unrest, you want a water tank. Most of the time, these tanks store water for livestock, but they work great as a prep. 

1)Holds thousands of gallons of water
2)Ideal for long term storage
2)Not movable when full

What About Backyard Pools?

It’s a common thing to wonder if having a backyard pool counts as water storage. The answer is a bit complicated, but yes, drinking properly treated pool water is safe. As long as it’s treated with chemicals and under four ppm, it’s safe to ingest. 

Everyone, myself included, has drunk pool water from time to time. It never makes someone safe, but it doesn’t taste delicious. So, in an emergency and all other water is gone, you can take drinks from a pool, but backyard pools shouldn’t be your long term water storage plan. 

Here is why:

  • It’s unsealed and open to the elements. Insects, bugs, and anything can fall into the pool, contaminating your water. 
  • Pools require a purification and filtration plan to be used for emergencies, but if the power grid goes down, you won’t be able to filter the way. Then, the chemicals will go away over time, leaving the water open to contamination. 

How to Rotate Water

Everyone knows that you have to rotate food supplies because food has expiration dates, but do you have to rotate your water supply?

The answer varies. In general, most experts agree that the shelf life of water is infinite; it doesn’t expire. It can and does become toxic over time, even using the best storage methods possible. 

Rotating your water storage with fresh water is essential. You should do so at least once per year. In case of an emergency, you want to know your water supply is drinkable. Getting sick during a crisis is a huge no-no. 

When you rotate water, don’t toss it out; it’s not bad. You can use it for bathing, washing dishes, watering your garden, etc. Use it for anything other than drinking or cooking. 

Water Filtration Options

Once you have water stored, it’s best to have filtering and purifying options. That gives you more options to collect water from rivers and streams. Here are some options to keep on hand. 

  • Purification Tablets

Keep some purification tablets on hand. These Portable Aqua tablets work in 35 minutes and fight against a range of bacteria. One pack filters up to 25 quarts of water. 

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
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Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
  • One bottle of 50 Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets and one bottle of...
  • Water purification tablets make questionable water bacteriologically...
  • These water purification tablets for drinking water leaves no iodine taste...
  • Portable water treatment tablets are effective against bacteria and Giardia...
  • Water treatment tablets offer emergency water purification for hiking,...
  • Personal Water Filtration

Consider a backpack-sized filtration system, such as this option from Katadyn. It uses activated carbon to filter out bacteria down to 0.2 microns. 

Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter
1,102 Reviews
Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter
  • Proven protection against bacteria and protozoan cysts down to 0.2 micron...
  • Activated carbon in the core of the filter improves the taste and reduces...
  • The field cleanable filter protector screen extends the life of the...
  • Long-time trusted option for backpackers with it's ultra-light 11oz,...
  • Transparent design allows you to see the filtration working
  • Boiling Water

If you have a working stove, whether it’s a camp stove or even a grill, and a large pot, you can boil water whenever you want. Camp stoves are nice, but they require propane. You might want a few options on hand. And be sure to know how to start a fire with limited equipment.

  • Countertop Filtration System

One of the best filtration systems is the Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter. It requires having extra filters on hand, but Berkey filters out 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, and more. Each one of the filtering elements lasts through 6,000 gallons of water before you need to replace them.

Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter
2,158 Reviews
Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter
  • 1.5 GALLON CAPACITY- The portable Travel Berkey Purification System...
  • POWERFUL PURIFICATION- Berkey systems equipped with Black Berkey...
  • ECONOMICAL, LONG-LASTING- A pair of Black Berkey Purification Elements...
  • INDEPENDENT TESTING- Berkey by NMCL uses several independent third-party...
  • DRINK CONFIDENTLY VIRTUALLY ANYWHERE- No electricity, tools or plumbing...


Proper long term water storage is essential when preparing for emergencies and disasters. Storing water for emergencies is more important than even storing survival foods, so make sure you have at least two week’s worth of water stored.

And of course, don’t forget to rotate your water storage system and use proper containers. 

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