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Prepper Water Storage: The Ultimate Guide

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Ever go a day without a drink of water? If so, you know what real thirst is! Ever go longer?

How do you store water to ensure this doesn’t happen to you? What is fact and what is fiction? We wrote this prepper water storage ultimate guide to give you no-nonsense answers.

From a few days to long-term disasters read on to get all your prepper water storage answers. We will discuss the basics of water storage, frequently asked questions, storage containers, rotation, and prepper resources.

Basics of Water Storage

bulk water bottles and containers

Prepper water storage is easy, right? Nope, it’s hard… The truth is, it’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

At its core, water storage is easy. If you want to store a little for common and short-term emergencies, then water management is a simple process. Longer-term storage requires attention to a few more details.

Regardless of quantity, you need to control several environmental factors for successful water storage. These include light, heat, and oxygen.

Further, you need to select quality containers that will not promote spoilage.

Finally, you may wish to add purification chemicals or filtration.

Once you have the basics down, it’s simply a matter of scaling up your prepper water storage to handle large-scale disasters.

Prepper Water Storage FAQs

The following sections detail the most common water quality questions and answers.

How Long Can Water Be Stored Before It Goes Bad?

Technically, water is inert and doesn’t go bad. What can happen is that contaminants get in and pathogens grow in the stored water.

When you store water, you need to protect it against contamination. You can accomplish this by selecting your water source and your container.

Most municipal water sources and home sources are contaminant-free. Typically, municipalities filter and treat tap water at the source so it is safe for drinking and storage.

However, if your supply of water comes from a well, take a sample to the state labs for testing before you store it for the long term.

Assuming a quality source, you can store water indefinitely. If, upon opening, it has any off-flavors or smells, chemically treat it with chlorine as a water preserver or water purification tablets. You can also filter it with a quality filter.

How Much Water Do You Need to Store?

The universal guideline is one gallon per person per day of potable water. Frankly, we are used to consuming more than that in normal times, and adjusting would be difficult.

I highly recommend two or three gallons per day per person if you want sufficient quantities for drinking, cooking, and basic hygiene.

For example, if a single individual wishes to store for a short 3-5 day event (e.g. power outage) then 15 gallons is a reasonable amount. For a 30-day event, then 100 gallons should suffice.

In comparison, for a family of four, these numbers become 60 gallons for a week-long event and up to 500 gallons for a month-long event.

While you can store water for longer events, it is best to use some other method for water security. Map out the closest water body and have it tested. From the results, determine your long-term treatment and filtration plans.

Do I Need to Pre-Treat My Water?

As discussed, water doesn’t spoil. However, things can grow in it, and you need to prepare for that.

If your tap water comes from a town facility, then it has already been pre-treated, and you are safe to bottle it up for the long term.

If you have a well, pre-treating your water is a good idea. One drop of fresh Clorox bleach per pint is the recommended treatment for clear water.

Use fresh bleach, as liquid bleach has a 6-month shelf life. For larger quantities of water, use ½ teaspoon of bleach per 5 gallons of water.

Best Water Storage Containers

To ensure your water safety, you must have containers for water storage. Over time, water will absorb off-flavors from any container it is stored in.

Never use containers that are porous or have stored chemicals. Porous containers include milk jugs. The soft plastics in milk jugs trap milk and are impossible to clean.

Chemicals can leach into plastics and get released over time. Even off smells can eventually taint the water. My father purchased used 60-gallon drums that once contained pickle brine. While the drums were food-safe, 30 years later, they still smell like pickles!

Only use food-grade containers. These include commercial water jugs, 5-gallon buckets, and 50- and 60-gallon drums.

For storage of smaller quantities of water, soda bottles and iced tea containers are perfect. These containers hold liquids under pressure and drinks that are mildly acidic.

It would be a good idea to get a quick primer on identifying food-grade containers.

At 8 pounds per gallon of water, you will need sturdy containers. If you intend on stacking them, make sure they are extra strong. It’s doubtful that you’ll have large stainless steel tanks available for your storage.

One of my favorite methods for long term storage of water is WaterBricks. Unfortunately, they are not cheap. However, they are strong and stackable.

WaterBrick Stackable Emergency Water and Food Storage ContainerWaterBrick Stackable Emergency Water and Food Storage ContainerWaterBrick Stackable Emergency Water and Food Storage Container

Regardless of whether they are new or used, clean them thoroughly with a solution of 10 percent bleach.

Storage Solutions Based on Disaster Length

The specifics of your water storage will depend on the duration of the event you are planning for. Preppers should have short-term and long-term water storage strategies. Here are several options for each.

Short-Term Storage Options

For this article, we will define short-term emergencies as those that resolve themselves within 3-5 days. For a family of four, let’s consider 3 gallons of potable water per person per day.

The total amount of water you will need to store is 60 gallons. It is best to diversify your water storage into three groups: household water, bottled water, and bulk water.

Household Water

Your first source is household water. This is water that is always stored in your house. This includes pressure tanks (for those with well water) and water heaters.

Most water heaters store 10–30 gallons of water. To access this supply, simply open the highest spigot in your house and then open the drain at the bottom of the hot water heater.

Don’t worry; once the water comes back on for your house, the tank will automatically refill.

Another option for storing household water is the WaterBOB. However, this will take some pre-planning. But if you anticipate a disaster then this is a great option.

WaterBOB Bathtub Emergency Water Storage Container(100 Gallons)WaterBOB Bathtub Emergency Water Storage Container(100 Gallons)WaterBOB Bathtub Emergency Water Storage Container(100 Gallons)

This option allows you to safely store up to 100 gallons of water right in your tub. It takes about 20 minutes to fill the bladder. It comes with a siphon pump to dispense the water into your containers.

Bottled Water

Bottled water is your next layer. A 24 pack of 16-ounce bottles contains 3 gallons of water.

You are best using these for drinking, brushing your teeth, and cooking (with small amounts of water). Washing dishes 16 ounces at a time will not be enjoyable. You need bulk storage for that.

You should have 3-4 cases of water per family.

Bulk Water

Store the bulk of your water in larger containers. This includes 5 and 6-gallon water jugs. In most areas, you can get access through a water service or get them at your local big-box store.

Purchase enough to have a total of 60 gallons (including your household water and bottles) on hand at all times. Once you have 60 gallons on hand, increase your storage up to 100 gallons.

With the bulk of your storage in bottles and jugs, sure to rotate them one case and one jug per month.

Long-Term Storage Options

Your long-term storage starts with your short-term stores. This provides 60-100 gallons of ready-to-use water at all times.

For the long-term, you need to consider 30 days of water storage. For our family, this is 500 gallons. You cannot easily store this much water in 16-ounce bottles.

You must now look at higher capacity options.

Water Barrels

Start with 55-gallon water barrels. We will discuss sourcing and preparing these in the next section.

At 8 pounds per gallon, this means each barrel will weigh 440 pounds. You must place these carefully.

Elevate your barrels so that you can siphon or pump water from them easily. Next, make sure that the floor can carry the weight of your barrels.

Blue 55 Gallon Water Storage Tank by WaterPrepared - Emergency Water Barrel Container with Spigot for Emergency Disaster Preparedness - Stackable, Space Saving - BPA FreeBlue 55 Gallon Water Storage Tank by WaterPrepared – Emergency Water Barrel Container with Spigot for Emergency Disaster Preparedness – Stackable, Space Saving – BPA FreeBlue 55 Gallon Water Storage Tank by WaterPrepared - Emergency Water Barrel Container with Spigot for Emergency Disaster Preparedness - Stackable, Space Saving - BPA Free

Intermediate Bulk Containers

Finally, you can use Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC). Ranging from 200 to 300 gallons, purchase these water tanks new or reconditioned.

intermediate bulk container

Once filled, they will be impossible to move with anything less than a forklift. Plan accordingly.

A strategy to purify water goes hand in hand with these large tanks. Rotating this much water regularly may not be practical. As you invest in these large gallon tanks, also invest in a quality filter such as a Berkey or Sawyer.

Storing Water in 55-Gallon Barrels

55-gallon barrels are one of the best methods for storing water in bulk. Purchase them new or used and have a place to stack them.

If purchased, then clean and disinfect them before use. Next, rinse thoroughly with a 10 percent bleach solution. Next, roll the barrel around every few minutes for a half-hour. Finally, drain, then fill with your potable water.

If your barrels have a mild scent to them (please, not pickles), all is not lost. Fill the barrel with hot water and add one box of baking soda. Set the barrel in the hot sun for a few hours, then drain. Rinse and purify as above.

Water Supply Rotation

We’ve already discussed that pure water doesn’t spoil. It does, however, pick up off-flavors, “go flat,” and can occasionally grow stuff. This is where water rotation comes in.

If you don’t have a water purification strategy in place, then you will need to rotate your water. Waterborne illness can be devastating. Occasionally cycling your water will protect against the worst of these dangers.

Set up a schedule for rotating your water. Number each of your containers and refresh them on a regular schedule.

For example, label your 5-gallon jugs 1 to 12. Each month, the container matched up with the current month. Clean it, fill it with water, and then cap it off. Do this for each of your water storage layers.

Use the old water to cook with, drink, or water your plants. If the water you are rotating smells or tastes off (e.g. like plastic), then reduce the rotation interval. For example, rotate every 6 months and not every 12.

More Water Prepping Resources

Water is one of the most overlooked prepper resources. Without water, we become thirsty, then desperate, and eventually, we succumb.  Without clean water, desperation leads to poor decisions. Waterborne illness can kill just as quickly as dehydration.

Each step in water preparation is critical. Layering, selecting the proper containers, choosing safe water sources, and purification are each as important as the last.

This article just scratches the surface of water knowledge. It is imperative that you arm yourself with the best ways to gather, prepare, and store water. 

Our Prepper Water Storage Ultimate Guide separates fact from fiction so you can properly store water.