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How Long Can Water be Stored Before it Goes Bad?

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Dirty Water Barrels

If you’ve had water sitting in your storage for a good while, you’ve probably started to wonder how long it can continue to be stored before it goes bad.

Water is such an important resource to have in an emergency, that you will want to make sure that you are keeping it drinkable.

Fortunately, if you stored it well in the first place, it is probably fine now and for many years to come. 

Water can technically be stored indefinitely without going bad. Water itself will never go bad but can be contaminated and become undrinkable if not stored correctly. Water that has been contaminated will have a smell and possibly be cloudy or have an orange or green tint. For best results, make sure your water is clean and your containers are sanitized and free of contaminants. Water that has been contaminated can still be used if you have a quality filter stored as well! 

Does Water Go Bad? 

Water, in and of itself, cannot go bad. If it is stored correctly in a sealed container, water can have an indefinite shelf life because water simply cannot spoil. Water can only ‘spoil’ if something gets inside of it. Contaminants can be bacteria, algae, extra minerals, or even mold. Storing water in clean, sealed containers will help prevent anything from getting in your water and causing it to go bad.  

If water cannot go bad, then why does my bottled water have an expiration date? 

The expiration date on bottled water refers to the integrity of the bottle and not the safety of the water. Thin plastic bottles can break down over time and change the taste of the water, so it is important to rotate them out every few years.

Thick plastic bottles such as sports drink bottles or juice bottles are better options for water as they hold up for much longer. But you must make sure they are completely clean before using them for water! You can also help the shelf life by storing any bottled water in a cool, dark place up off of the ground.

How Can I Tell If My Water Has Been Contaminated? 

Water Barrels

Water that has been contaminated will have a smell or color. Pure water is odorless and clear, so you will be able to tell quickly if your water has been contaminated.

If your water has a smell to it, what it smells like will give you a clue as to what has gotten into your water. For example, water contaminated by hydrogen sulfide will often smell like rotten eggs, while other bacteria can make the water smell musty or like dirt. 

Water can also just taste flat or stale due to the lack of air in the water. Air settles out of water that has been sitting for long periods of time, so this can be very common in stored water. Shaking it or stirring the water around a bit can help add more air into it and improve the taste.  

Quality water filters or purification tablets can easily remove smells from your stored water and make them safe to use. It is very helpful to have some filtration options on hand in case you need to use your water in an emergency. 

Orange to Brown or Green in Color

Water that has had contaminants in it for longer periods of time, or been affected by stronger contaminants can change color or become cloudy. 

Contaminated water can be anywhere from orange to green or even black depending on what has gotten inside. Any yellow or orange to brown color is caused by rust, excessive iron, or other minerals that have built up inside. These can be avoided by storing water in durable plastic, or glass containers free from metal spouts or latches. 

Water that has a green tint to it is caused by bacteria or algae. This can happen if the water was not clean in the first place or was sitting in a location that has a lot of light. 

Storing water in a dry, dark location will lessen the likelihood of any algae as it needs light to survive. Green water can also be filtered clean as many filters will specifically target algae. 

If you open any stored water and it is black, that is a bad sign. Black water means that mold has grown in your container and contaminated the water. This can happen quickly if the container you have used was originally used for food and not cleaned and sanitized properly. 

Food safe bottles are great options for storing water, but need to be completely rid of any food particles so that they do not mold and ruin your water. 

Cloudy Water 

Cloudy water can mean there is a lot of air, minerals, or other chemicals and contaminants. Pouring water out or into a glass will stir up a lot of air bubbles and can make water look cloudy. Air in water is completely normal and should settle and clear up after sitting for a minute or two. 

If the water remains cloudy after sitting, then you either have hard water or it has been polluted by something and should be cleaned or filtered out. 

What happens if I Drink or Use Water That Has Been Contaminated?

If you have accidentally ingested or used a small amount of water that you have found to be contaminated, don’t stress out too much. Water that has a bad smell or is a bit cloudy is probably fine to drink in small quantities. Just make sure to get rid of or clean the contaminated water before using it again.  

If you drink a lot of contaminated water or start to feel ill, get medical attention as certain contaminants could make you very sick. 

What Can I Do If I Have Contaminated Water? 

Berkey Water Filter

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to treat contaminated or bad water. These are great ideas to keep on hand so that if you need to use the water in an emergency, you won’t be out of luck if it has been contaminated. 

Countertop Filters, Pitchers, and Straws 

Many high quality filters can get rid of most contaminants in your water. These can be in the form of a large counter top filter, pitcher filters, or even a straw filter. The best one for you and your situation depends on how much water you are storing, where you are storing it, and how many people you are storing water for. 

Small amounts of water stored in your car or other limited spaces could be a great place to use a straw filter as it is compact and will not filter large amounts of water quickly. You can find my recommendations for straw filters here: Best Emergency Water Filter Straws – My Top Picks!

For large amounts of water stored in your basement or elsewhere in your home, you will want to have a countertop or pitcher filter. This will help you filter a good amount of water at a pretty good pace. Also, if you have multiple people in your family, having plenty of filtered water available to fit all their needs will be crucial.

Purification tablets 

Purification tablets work well to kill any bacteria or impurity in the water. They work well if the water does not have any visible contaminants in it and you just need to make sure it is pure to drink. Filters are a great first step to cleaning water, followed by purification tablets. 

Boiling Water

If you have no other options, you can boil water to clean it. Boiling takes more time and can be very tedious if you need to do a lot of water. But it works well and you do not need any special equipment. 

Make sure you first filter out any contaminants with either a filter or even a piece of clean cloth or a coffee filter. Bring the water to a rolling boil and keep it boiling for at least a minute. Let the water sit in a clean location to cool off before using. 

How to Store Water Properly So That It Doesn’t Go Bad

The best way to make sure your water stays clean, is to use clean water to begin with. Filtered water is a good choice as it will have any contaminants already removed. Filtering will also remove the helpful minerals that keep water clean for long periods of time, like chlorine. If you are storing filtered water,  you will have to add a touch of chlorine or bleach to make sure it stays good. 

Tap water can be a great option for storing water as it is clean and usually already contains the small amounts of chlorine needed. 

The other important step to storing water is to store it in a durable, sanitized container that seals well. This could be anything from a soda bottle to a 50 gallon drum, depending on how much space you have. You just have to make sure that your container and anything you are using to transfer the water into the container have been properly sanitized and then air dried. 

For a more in depth look on how to prepare your water so that it does not go bad, head over to this article: How to Store Water Long Term.


Water storage can take time to get ready and a good amount of space, but it is well worth the effort. Making sure your water is clean and stored in something clean from the start will set you up for success. 

Add a quality seal to your container and store it in a cool, dark place and you will be good store your water for many many years without it going bad

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Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years has become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness.