Emergency preparedness checklist and materials for emergency kit

Storing water for emergency use is vital. From hurricanes and flooding that contaminate water supplies to earthquakes that disrupt supply lines, there are a variety of events that can cause you to lose access to your normal water supply. Because we don’t know what the future will hold, it’s just common sense to keep some water stored and ready for any emergency that may come.

There are just a few guidelines to follow to ensure you have enough water to get you through the first days of an emergency — and that the water you store is safe to drink.

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Storing Water for Emergencies

It’s recommended that, when possible, you store commercially bottled water for emergencies. This water has a long shelf life and all you really need to do is keep it stored in a cool, dark place. The downside to commercially stored water is that it’s generally only available in small quantities and in containers that aren’t the most durable.

While storing some commercially bottled water is a great idea, enhance your water storage with a few larger storage containers. There are several attributes to consider when selecting long-term water storage. The containers should be opaque, not clear, and should seal tightly. These attributes will help your water containers stay free of bacteria.

These containers should also be made of food-grade plastics. While we generally try to avoid too much plastic in our lives, in this case, plastic is one of the best options out there. There are other containers like glass and stainless steel but ultimately, food-grade plastic wins out as the best material for emergency water storage.

When you purchase empty containers intended for water storage, clean them with dish soap and then sanitize them with a teaspoon of non-scented liquid chlorine bleach with a quart of water. Once they’ve been cleaned and sanitized, fill them up. You’ll want to replace this water every six months.

How Much Water Should I Store?

Most experts agree that you should have 1 gallon per person per day. Half of that water is intended for drinking, while the other half is for sanitation and hygiene. The CDC recommends storing a minimum 3-day supply but preferably at least 14 days’ worth of water. So if you have three people in your home, that’s 42 gallons.

Water Storage Containers

If you currently have no water storage, you may be tempted to simply buy a couple of cases of water bottles and call it good. While this is certainly better than nothing, there are far better options out there.

For portable water containers, look for ones in the 3-gallon to 7-gallon range. When full, these are still portable by the average person. Any larger than that and it starts to get substantially more difficult to carry them. A popular option is the water brick, which holds 3.5 gallons. What is particularly convenient about these is they stack really well, making storage much easier. However, water can be difficult to get out. While they do have an optional spigot you can buy, due to the container’s square shape, it’s difficult to get all the water out, and inevitably you’ll be forced to tip it over to get the last third of the water out.

WaterBrick 3.5 gallon water storage container

A great option for portable water storage is the 7-gallon container made by Reliance. These containers have been around for many years and have proven themselves to be reliable. They can be quite heavy, weighing nearly 60 pounds when full, but they are still rather portable and it’s fairly easy to throw a couple in the car if necessary. When tipped on their side with an attachable spigot, they’re easy to drain.

Reliance Aqua-Tainer 7-gallon water container

If you’d like to store a larger amount of water, 55-gallon drums are a fantastic option. There are a number of manufacturers that make these food-grade plastic barrels; Augason Farms is one particularly popular brand. With 55-gallon drums, it’s important to also purchase a pump to get the water out of the barrel for use. Get a water preserver for treating it before drinking.

Augason Farms 55-gallon storage with pump

What Not to Do

The biggest mistake people make with water storage is not changing it out on a regular basis. While water can remain drinkable for a long time, it should not be left stagnant in a container for years. This is especially true of containers you fill. Commercially filled containers generally have a much longer shelf life.

Another common mistake is overlooking how you will purify the water or get it out of the containers. Having a 55-gallon drum of water is great, but with no pump to get that water out, you’re going to have a huge challenge on your hands. When you do decide what kind of container to store water in, make sure you find an appropriate way to get it out. Also, know how to use bleach or water-purifying tablets when it comes time to use that water in an emergency.

Water Is Life

Drinking water is essential for life and one of the most important things to have prepared for an emergency when supplies may be temporarily cut off. To survive, we must regularly replenish the water our bodies lose through perspiration, breathing, and elimination. In an emergency situation, we’ll also need our stored water for personal hygiene as well as any first aid or medical purposes. Store your emergency water in cool, dark place, but be sure it’s not hard to access when you need it.

Learn how you can avoid wasting this valuable resource; check out our complete guide to water conservation at home.

Originally published on March 21, 2018, this article was updated in July 2022.

By Brian Brassaw

Brian formerly managed the Earth911 Recycling Search and shared green living tips and tricks on Earth911’s Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts. Brian also shares DIY projects on Little Pilots Lounge.