SHTFPreparedness may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page.
After shelter, water is the most pressing survival concern, and it’s widely said that you can only survive a matter of a few days without access to adequate water. This is one of the reasons why water storage and conservation are so important and a key element of survival prepping.
Many people totally overlook the importance of storing water, however, partly due to the sheer convenience of our current home water supplies, and the difficulty of conceiving that these main water supplies would become cut off in the event of a SHTF scenario.
Storing water is really important and it doesn’t matter how much food you’ve stockpiled, if you don’t have the water to sustain yourself you won’t be able to survive a week whatever your situation or the conditions of the particular disaster you are dealing with.
This makes it clear that storing water is important, but not how to go about it. Many people find water storage intimidating and confusing, due to the fact that it can be difficult to find space to store water and to decide upon a system for storing or capturing water to sustain survival.
While some people may have access to a natural spring or other water sources, storing water is still really important as you have no idea if you’ll be able to access or use these water sources in the event of certain events, such as a nuclear blast and following radioactive fallout, or other circumstances which may prevent you from accessing or using other forms of water production.
In this guide, we’re going to look at some of the most important elements of storing water in large 55-gallon drums as well as why these are used and how to ensure your water is properly stored for the long term.
Why Using Plastic Barrels is Best
Many people may find storing water in plastic barrels somewhat unrefined and inconvenient, and this is true, however, it’s also one of the very best contingencies you can have for the worst disasters imaginable.
Even if you have access to a natural water source or other supply of water, keeping a store of water accessible in your main shelter or storage place is critical in times where you are fully locked down and have to shelter in place for considerable periods of time.
This is where a plastic drum of water comes into its own, as a few large 55-gallon drums can sustain a person or a small family for a considerable period of time, especially if properly rationed. This will dramatically improve your chances of survival and allow you to remain in your shelter for an extended period without concerns about dehydration.
Plastic barrels are best for this because they are widely available, relatively inexpensive, relatively practical, and are fairly durable meaning you have a reliable storage facility for your water that can be taken almost anywhere.
Choosing the Right Barrel
Choosing the right barrel is really important, as you need to make sure that the barrel is large enough to provide you with an adequate supply of water, while also being portable enough and suitable for storage in relatively small or difficult to access areas such as a basement, survival shelter, or bunker.
For long-term emergencies, a 55-gallon drum, or ideally a series of them can provide excellent capacity, as a single person requires roughly half a gallon of water a day just to drink.
A single 55-gallon drum could feasibly provide enough water for a single person to sustain themself for almost 3 months providing they rationed effectively and had food supplies that didn’t require water.
A few of these drums would be able to sustain a small family for over a month quite capably and indicate just how useful these simple barrels are for long-term emergency survival.
But not just any plastic barrel will do!
Ideally, you need a barrel made of high-quality food-grade plastic such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) which is most commonly used to make barrels such as this.
The standard size for these 55-gallon barrels is 36 inches in height and around 24 inches in width. The barrel will weigh around 22 pounds empty, and fully loaded the barrel could weigh anything up to 500 pounds, so once they’re filled they won’t be easy to move around at all which makes proper planning very important.
Not all barrels have them, but if you can find one that comes with a spigot preinstalled at the base of the barrel you will make your life a lot easier when it comes to water rotation and access and even allow you to store the barrels on top of each other to save space in your shelter for more water or other essentials.
Barrels made of food-grade plastic and with proper spigots and top vents can be slightly more expensive than cheaper barrels without these features, but they make the barrels much more effective and will save you a lot of time and effort when you’ll need every second to try and survive.
Most importantly, never repurpose barrels for water storage if they have previously held fluids or other products that you wouldn’t consume, as even when cleaned well barrels that have contained such chemicals or products can leech nasty chemicals potentially spoiling your essential water supply.
A clean, fresh, water barrel is paramount for a reliable supply.
Cleaning and Preparing your Barrel Correctly Before Use
Even if it’s brand new, cleaning your barrel is very important before use to make absolutely sure your water is as safe as possible before it’s stored.
Use a strong chlorine solution to clean your barrel, rolling it around to ensure that every aspect of the inside has been thoroughly coated in the solution.
You can make this solution by mixing a teaspoon of calcium hypochlorite and a cup of chlorine bleach with two gallons of water, however, there are a few ways to create cleaning solutions and you can look up others if you prefer.
Allow the solution to work for at least an hour once it’s been coated on the inside of the barrel, rolling periodically to ensure that the barrel is still coated while it rests.
You can then drain out the cleaning solution and rinse very well with clean water. If there is residue inside you can clean the barrel with standard dish soap to remove greases or oils and then thoroughly rinse again until you are sure the barrel is totally clear of any form of chemical or residue.
How To Disinfect Water for Long Term Storage
Once cleaned, you can position your barrel in its permanent storage place and fill it up with drinking water. Ideally, you should fill the barrel with a purpose-made drinking water hose to ensure the water is as pure and suitable for storage and drinking as possible.
Ensuring your hose is stored and cleaned properly can help with this issue, however, a humble garden hose will do the job as long as it’s properly looked after.
To disinfect the water for the long term, you should follow these steps as they will remove or kill any remaining bacteria or viruses in the water.
- Add ¼ teaspoon of calcium hypochlorite to the barrel once it’s filled with water and attach your lid. This is a better option than standard bleach generally.
- Add 2 tablespoons of fresh, unscented bleach. Ensure it’s fresh as otherwise, the potency won’t be enough.
- Add a bottle of water preserver concentrate, which is formed of sodium hypochlorite and is properly stabilized and pH rated for use in this type of scenario.
- Add Aquamira chlorine dioxide water treatment bottles, which use oxygen to disinfect the water and can even improve the flavor of the water.
- Add a 10mL vial of H20 ResQ which is a copper-silver ion solution that prevents the development of films in water containers, and can last for around 5 years.
You can use any of these methods to treat your water so choose the one you’re most comfortable with depending on your own preferences.
It’s also important to note that disinfection of your water may not be necessary if your water is coming from a pre-treated municipal water supply and you’re very confident in your barrel and its cleanliness.
You can also opt-out of disinfecting the entire barrel for storage and instead choose to disinfect your water just before you actually use it with purification tablets or other products when SHTF.
There are some concerns that adding harsh chemicals like bleach or chlorine to a plastic barrel can lead to increased plastic leaching into the water, so if you’re concerned about this avoid these methods.
Really it’s a matter of what you prefer. Some people prefer to know that their water source is well prepared so they don’t have to worry about it potentially going stagnant and being unusable in an emergency situation.
Other people may be less concerned about this than using chemicals in their water supply.
It’s a personal choice and as much of prepping is, and you must choose one that best suits your needs.
Where And How To Store Your Barrels
Ideally, you should be storing your water barrels in a cool, shaded, or dark location. The best place would be a basement, which naturally offers a cool dark place for your water to be hidden while also making it easily accessible.
The drawback of basement storage is that it makes water rotation much more difficult, however, there will always be some form of storage drawback no matter what you decide.
Some additional tips include:
- Store barrels out of direct sunlight
- Don’t store your barrels directly on concrete
- Store the barrels somewhere cool with stable temperatures
- Don’t store your water near other chemicals or liquids such as fuel supplies
- If storing outside, give each barrel plenty of space as they can expand and contract in changing temperatures
- If you need to store barrels on the ground, try to use a wooden palette instead to protect the barrels and the water
How To Rotate Out Your Water Supply
Rotation of your supplies is one of the most frustrating parts of prepping, but it’s really important that it’s observed religiously to ensure that your supplies are always in good order and that no old or failed supplies are taking up valuable space in your storage.
It’s also important to maintain a good idea of what you actually have available and what you need to replace or restock.
Rotating water, in particular, can be difficult as the barrels, as mentioned earlier, can weigh some 500lbs and be almost impossible to move around without great difficulty and stress.
Ideally, you will have a drain near your water barrels that you can use to simply catch the water you pour out via the barrel’s siphon, however, not everyone will have this luxury.
Using a spigot makes it easier to siphon off smaller amounts of water from the barrel for quick disposal, however, if your barrel doesn’t have a spigot you’ll need to remove the lid and try to remove water manually which is time-consuming and quite impractical.
Is Rotating Out Water Storage Essential?
Quite simply, yes it is. Water should be rotated out at least every 6 to 12 months to ensure that you have the maximum storage capacity and duration should SHTF.
However, this is a big job and many people won’t be able to rotate as often as these official recommendations recommend.
In reality, if you’ve used a good quality barrel and clean hoses that are all prepared properly, your water will be safe to drink long after these recommended rotation periods, so there’s no need to panic if you can’t rotate as often as you’d like.
This may lead you to be drinking water with some plastic leaching in it, and may also mean your water doesn’t last as long as it could, but for most people, this isn’t a practical concern as storing water is a huge and challenging logistical task.
How To Use A 55-Gallon Water Barrel During SHTF
If your water barrels have been in storage for some time, you’ll need to make sure you’ve removed debris or dust off the barrel top and the spigot.
Use a rag to do this, to collect most of the dust and stop it from entering the air.
Then open one of the top lid bungs or plugs. This can be difficult to do and you may need to use pliers or a bung wrench.
Insert a clean hand pump or siphon into the water barrel, or a tube/hose if you don’t have a pump. Ensure these are clean before inserting them into the water.
Pump the water into a container such as a clear pitcher and once you’ve pumped out a good amount, check the water carefully. It should look and smell clean like normal drinking water if you’ve followed all the steps carefully.
If you have concerns about the water, consider filtering it or only drinking a small amount of water initially to test it and ensure it’s ok for drinking.
Additionally, even if the water is fine, filtering it can help it taste better after a long time in storage so you may want to consider this anyway. This is mostly down to personal preference, however.
As you can see, although storing water can be a tough task and a difficult process, the benefits it provides you in your prepping cannot be overstated.
Access to clean, life-preserving water in an emergency is what will separate the serious preppers and the prepared from those who underestimated the possibility of a serious disaster or who didn’t prepare adequately.
Not having access to clean water will often lead to dire health consequences and desperate situations and even those who had access to water sources may find themselves caught out if they don’t store at least some water for the long term.
Much like air, life cannot exist without water, so before you fill your basement with MREs and rifles, make sure you’ve got the means to survive longer than 3 days by taking water seriously.
Bonus: Root Cellar That Can Be Used as a Bunker
Do you remember the old root cellars our great-grandparents used to have? In fact, they probably built it themselves, right in their back yard.
If you want to learn how to build a backyard bunker like your grandparents had, without breaking the bank, then you need Easy Cellar.
Easy Cellar will show you:
- How to choose the ideal site
- Cost-effective building methods
- How to protect your bunker from nuclear blast and fallout
- How to conceal your bunker
- Affordable basic life support options
Easy Cellar will also reveal how a veteran, with only $421, built a small nuclear bunker in his backyard.
- America's Natural Nuclear Bunkers: Find the Closest One to Your Home
- 56 Items to Stockpile in Your Easy Cellar