How to Store Water Long Term


Water Barrels

Clean water is one of the most valuable resources in a true emergency situation. You will need access to safe water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. For basic living, store at least a two week supply of 1 gallon of water per person per day. Depending on the size of your family, this could mean a lot of water so let’s make sure that you store it properly! 

There are many options for how to store water long term for an emergency. Depending on your budget and how much space you have to store water, you can use store bought bottled water, fill up food grade plastic bottles, or even use large 50 – 300 gallon tanks. Whatever you do, make sure your water is clean, the container is sanitized, and everything is sealed. 

Bottled Water from the Store

Bottled Water

If you are looking for an easy, foolproof way to store water long term, you can buy bottles of water from the store. The bottles will come already full of clean water and they are sealed well. You will not have to worry about treating the water or doing any adjustments! Just buy it and store it! 

Bottles of water are a great idea because they are convenient and easy for anyone to use. They are also super easy to carry, throw in a bag, or have in multiple places because of their size. Bottles are also a great idea to have on hand for kids as they will be able to access this easier than a large container. They are convenient to pour and drink from, so you do not have to worry about having other supplies on hand. 

While they do take up a good amount of space, the cases stack well and can be stored under beds, in closets, and other narrow spaces that a large container cannot. Make sure that you do not store them directly on the ground or concrete as it could affect the taste. You can always lay a piece of carpet, wood pallet, or flattened cardboard boxes just to give it some protection from the ground. 

There are a few downsides to solely using bottled water, the biggest one being storage space. With the minimum recommendation of stored water per person is one gallon per day, if you were to do just that for yourself, you would need eight 16 oz bottles per day. Times that by two weeks and you are looking at 112 bottles, or roughly 3 cases of 40 count bottles. 

That may not be too bad for one or two people, but for a family of four it can take up a huge amount of space. These can be a great option for a portion of your stored water, but consider a larger container for the bulk of your long term water storage. 

Another downside is cost. Bottles can add up quickly depending on the brand and size that you get, so buying them all at once may be out of the budget. One way to battle the cost is to pick up one case of water every time you go to the store or even one to two times a month. Every effort counts when it comes to being prepared. 

One more thing to keep in mind about bottled water is that they will have an expiration date printed on the bottle or the case. While the water itself does not expire, there are no guarantees on the plastic bottle. But don’t go throw away all that stored water just because the date is up!  The bottles will last for many many years, so use this expiration date to serve as a helpful reminder of when to rotate out your water and to see how long you have had it in storage. 

Tap Water in Food Grade Plastic Bottles

If you are not keen on buying so many cases of water, you can easily do it yourself. You will still end up buying plastic bottles, but you can reuse them from other drinks you already purchase. Anything that is a ticker plastic bottle that is easy to fill and seal will work well. If it originally contained something you could drink, you are probably good to use it. Never reuse bottles that previously held chemicals, oils, or non food substances in them. 

How to Sanitize a Container for Use: 

If you decide to reuse plastic containers for your water storage, make sure that they are food grade. The best type to use would be two-liter soda bottles, juice bottles, or even Gatorade bottles. Before filling with water though, they need to be cleaned properly to make sure your water stays good. 

Once you have a few bottles, rinse them out well and then sanitize. This can be done by pouring 1 tsp household chlorine bleach (Clorox is a good option) with a quart of water into the bottle. Cover the top and shake vigorously until all surfaces inside have been in contact with the mixture. Pour it out and let it air dry! Do not rinse with additional water or dry with a towel as that could introduce new contaminants to your bottle. 

Now it’s time to fill them up! Tap water is a good option for long term storage because it usually already contains chlorine. Small amounts of chlorine in the water will help keep it clean over time while still being safe for consumption. Fill up your containers with tap water and put the lids on tight. Store them in a cool, dark place for many years to come. 

Adding Chlorine to Water

If you are using filtered water or there is no chlorine already in it, you will want to add some to make sure your water stays clean. Using household chlorine bleach, such as Clorox or Branch Basics, add ⅛-¼ teaspoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Once you have the chlorine and water in, seal your container tight and store in a cool place. 

Larger Containers for Storage

50 Gallon Water Storage Jugs

Small to medium sized bottles full of water can be very helpful to use quickly, but if you need to store a lot of water long term you will want a large drum or tank. They will take up a good amount of room, but there is very little wasted space compared to cases of bottled water. 

Large containers come in a variety of sizes, anywhere from 5 gallons to over 300 gallons so you can find one that fits your space and your family. These can be purchased at many home improvement stores and are very straightforward to use. 

Also, depending on the brand you get, you will need to purchase a food grade hose to fill it up or a spout to be able to easily pour it. Do not use a garden hose as it will contaminate your water, use a hose that is only used for clean, drinking water. 

Another thing to consider is that these containers can be more expensive to purchase as they cost anywhere from $50 – $300. Large containers last for years and you will likely not have to ever replace them. So while it may set you back a bit up front, over time they will save you money compared to continually buying bottles of water. 

To use these large containers, simply clean and sanitize as described above. These containers should be pretty clean, but a quick rinse will never hurt! Fill them with tap water that already contains chlorine or add household chlorine bleach to your container, ¼ tsp per gallon. 

Ensure that your containers are then closed tightly and stored in a cool, dark place. 

Even Larger Storage Options

If you have a large family, lots of animals, or just want to be able to store an even larger amount of water outside of your house, you can use 2,000-gallon tanks, 5,000-gallon tanks, or even an underground water tank. These all come with varying expenses, usefulness, and things to consider, but the basics are the same. Make sure your container is clean, the water is clean, and there is a seal to prevent contaminants from getting inside. 

Backup Options for Worst Case Scenario

Berkey Water Filter

One of the best options for cleaning water is investing in a good quality water filter. This can be in the form of a straw, pitcher, or even countertop dispenser. High quality filters can clean out chemicals, bacteria, or anything else that has contaminated your water. They will work without power and can filter large amounts of water at a time. 


Having water on hand for an emergency is critical for survival so you want to make sure that all the water you have stored will be guaranteed to last and help your family. Having a backup plan will make sure you can use your water even if it is contaminated or covered in moss! 

Water can be cleaned in other ways such as boiling or purification tablets. These can take time and lots of fuel depending on how much water is needed. 

If you are concerned about having the storage space needed for large amounts of water, there are collapsible tanks and containers that you can fill up when you need them. This will obviously do you no good in a true emergency and the water is shut off without warning. But, if a natural disaster is looming or there is a threat to your clean water supply, these can be great options to have on hand and fill up quickly before the water runs out. 

Using Stored Water 

Whether it is finally time to use that emergency water or you are rotating it out, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to keep it clean while using it. This is especially important when you use the large, many gallon containers as you will want to keep the rest of the water clean.

  • If you are dipping a smaller bowl or container into the large container to get water, make sure both the bowl and your hand are clean and sanitized. Try to keep your hand, or any part of the bowl you have touched, out of the water as much as possible. 
  • Never use the water in the storage container itself. Pour the water into another container to wash clothing, take a bath, or do anything else as you will want to keep the storage containers clean and ready to use again if you find access to more water. 
  • Use one container at a time. It can be tempting to have a container open in every single room of the house where water is needed, but try to condense and finish one at a time. This will preserve as many tanks as possible for future use, and you will be able to keep track of how many you have used so far. 
  • Practice using small amounts of water for showering, bathing, washing clothes, cooking, and anything else. This confidence will help you better save precious water in the face of a true emergency. 

Things to Keep in Mind

Water technically does not go bad. The only reason water spoils is when some sort of contaminate gets into your water, but water that has been properly stored in a clean container and sealed, will last forever. Making sure your water stays clean will keep your water storage fresh and drinkable for decades. 

Water that has been stored for a long time may start to taste ‘flat’ or ‘old’ to some people. This is because there is less oxygen in the water and can alter the taste. Stirring it up or letting it sit without the lid on for a while can help bring the oxygen back in and restore the taste. 

In an emergency situation, the most likely scenario is that you will be sheltering in your home but without power, running water, or other amenities. These large gallon containers are the best for this as you will have a ton of water where you need it. On the other hand, though, if you need to leave your house or are having to move around, it will be near impossible to take the large containers with you. Having a mix of both small and large containers will be your best bet to be prepared for any emergency that may happen.  

David

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 have become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness. Read More

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