How much do I store?

When considering how to store water for emergency situations, the first question is: how much water do I store?

A simple formula

It is a simple formula: one gallon of water per adult per day. That’s counting for three quarters of a gallon used for drinking water and for food preparation, with a quarter gallon of water used for hygiene. These recommendations come from the CDC and from FEMA.

What also needs to be taken into account, is not just the recommendation but also the weather and the activities you will be doing. Considering these two factors you may consume, double that amount. Now, these are under normal conditions. If we add youth, meaning kids, their activity levels are much higher, and therefore water consumption is typically elevated over that of adults. Also, the medical needs and general hygiene of some individuals may require more water. So you need to be very judicious in that calculation.


In calculating how much water to store, double or triple what you think your needs will be, then multiply that number by the number of days that you want to have water stored. Some people think three days, some people think a few weeks, some people are looking at months. There’s really no good distinction. There’s no good formula to say how long you will need your own water. Having said that, you need to understand how important water is for your personal survival. All you can really do is look ahead, anticipate what you think your needs will be, and start storing accordingly.

What can I store water in?

The next item we need to talk about is what you can store water in. There are several schools of thought on this.

Bottled water

There are those wonderful plastic bottles that we can go to the grocery store and purchase in the 500ml, liter, 2 liter, 3-quart, and 1-gallon sizes. When storing water in these containers, make sure they are BPA-free. This is something you can research using Google or Yahoo; search the Internet to discover what BPA is, what it can do to your body, and its long-term effects.


Another thing to consider when you’re looking at labels on bottled water that is its source. Some will say it’s 100% natural spring water, some say it’s simply filtered water. Filtered waters means it came out of a tap at the manufacturing facility and guess what they did with it? Sent it through a filter and that’s it. Is that the kind of water you want to consume? That means the bottled water has the same basic chemicals in it that your tap water does, and you need to look at how long it’s going to be able to be stored.

Printed on most of the containers, the case, the box, the bottle is usually an expiration date. This is kind of funny if you think about it, because water has been around on the planet for a long time and I didn’t realize that it had an expiration date. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but the reality is that you have to consider that the water itself can’t be stored for a long period of time without things beginning to grow in it. Yep, there are still impurities in bottled water also. Water regardless of the source needs to be rotated or consumed and replaced with fresh water.

Water storage containers

Online or in most large communities there are plastics manufacturing companies where you can purchase large water containers. These are 50 gallon, 100 gallon, 250 and 1,200 gallon containers. We’ll cover a little later exactly how to treat that water and prepare those containers, but they are an alternative way to store water. Some of which can be buried, and some of which have to be put in a garage or a similar place.


Alternative storage containers

Then there are alternative storage containers. Repurposed soda bottles, juice bottles, and those kinds of things.

Again, there are preparations that have to be made for them, so that they can safely store water long term. You need to check and make sure that the plastics they are made from will maintain their integrity for a long of time. There’s nothing worse than thinking that you have all the water you need stored in these nice milk jugs, and then discovering that they have cracked open, broken open, or that rodents have chewed holes in them. And suddenly, there’s no more water. It could be a frightening experience.

What not to store water in

While there are many acceptable choices for how to store water in preperation for emergencies, here are a couple of things you need to be aware of. Don’t store water in any of the following:

Milk jugs

The reason I say this specifically, is because there are two bad things about milk jugs. The first is that they once had milk in them. It is really difficult to get all the milk out of the jug. It’s hard to get impurities out of any container really.

People might say, “Well, all you have to do is bleach it.” The problem with just using bleach is that bleach is not a cleaner. It is a disinfectant. Bleach will not remove any soiling that’s taken place inside a container. All it’s going to do is disinfect the surface of what’s there. So if there’s a contaminant, like milk, stuck in the corners of any of your milk jugs, it’s going to stay there. Bleach will just disinfectant that outer layer, and eventually the water will dissolve the milk, or other residue, in the container. Then you’ll have contaminated water that’s for little more than saying that you have water.

Another reason is that most of the time, the plastics that are used for milk jugs, which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer – are made so that they break down very quickly, whether from being exposed to UV rays (sunlight), or just over time. Here in the United States, we produce zillions of tons of milk jugs a year, use them and simply put them in our landfills. So in an attempt to have them break down quicker, the plastic manufacturers, whether by law or in an effort to be green, have made these jugs so that they will break down much quicker than any other plastics. Filling them with water does not stop this breakdown process.

I’ve done several experiments where I’ve put water in milk jugs after profusely cleaning them and keeping them in a dry, cool, dark place, and they still break down very quickly. They become very brittle. And for some reason, rodents attack these containers before they attack anything else. Specifically we’re talking about PET plastic containers. If you turn over any plastic container, there is a triangle. Inside that triangle is a number identifying what kind of plastic it is. PET plastic is food grade and food safe plastic. It is easily cleaned and disinfected, but not great for storing water.

Bleach bottles

Some people actually like to use their bleach bottles. The plastic in bleach bottles is not made for humans to consume anything out of, so you shouldn’t use those that either.

Galvanized or tin containers


The other thing you don’t want to store your water in is uncoated galvanized or tin containers. Some water supply companies do sell water storage containers in tin cans. These have a coating on the inside. Some manufacturers place shelf life for these types of containers in the 30-year mark. Use these at your discretion. The important thing to understand is that there are reactions that take place between water and galvanized material, as well as uncoated tin materials, where it becomes non-potable water that would be dangerous to consume. These chemicals cannot even be removed through the boiling process; this water is contaminated. So you really should stay away from those type of containers. Stainless steel and aluminum, on the other hand, are not as adversely affected. Stainless steel is the number one choice if you need to go with a metal storage container.

Those big blue plastic barrels can be a good choice also. If they are used barrels, make sure the products that were stored in them are safe for human consumption.  If you find a source for new unused plastic barrels, then they simply need to be cleaned before use.

Preparing containers

Now that you’ve decided on your water storage containers, you need to clean them. And you need to do so thoroughly. It’s a two-step process. The first one, of course, is to clean them with soap and water. Mix a mild dish soap with warm water, put it in your container and scrub as necessary. Sometimes it takes little more than shaking it around. Make sure that the screw threads on the cap, as well as the screw threads on the bottle or container itself, are cleaned. I do not recommend using Tupperware or other things with a snap-on lid. They will not hold up under the difficulties of moving water around.

So now you’ve washed your container with soap and water, you’ve rinsed it thoroughly; the next step is to let it dry thoroughly. Once it’s dry, make a solution of one quart of water to a quarter teaspoon of household chlorine bleach (like you buy at the store). Most bleach bottles will tell you what the chlorine content is in the mixture. Dilute that down to, again, about a quarter teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water. That’s sufficient to decontaminate anything that’s left in the water container.

Now that you’ve cleaned and decontaminated your containers, place them where you want them to be. If they’re small, like 2- or 3-liter bottles, you can easily move them where you want them.

If you are using large containers that you’ve purchased from a plastic manufacturer, clean them the same way: using mild soap and water, scrub them as best as you can to get rid of manufacturing residues, such as lubricants and other things to get the plastic to do what they need it to do. That needs to be completely cleaned out before you put water in there. Treat the containers with a little bit of bleach, make sure they are covered, and let them dry.

Where do I put all this water?

The next step is figuring out where you’re going to put all that water. One thing to keep in mind is that water is not light. It is actually very heavy. Every gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds (3.76 kilos). That means 10 gallons of water weighs 83 pounds (37.6kilos). It doesn’t sound like much, but really, it is. Then if you get those wonderful blue water barrels, those are 55 gallons. If you fill one with water, it weighs 456 pounds (206.8 kilos). You’re not going to be able to move that easily.

Even if you were able to roll it around and get it someplace where you need it to go, that’s not going through a door. So where you put your water, you need to understand it will be pretty stationary. Also, I recommend that you not put it on the second floor of a house because it would put a lot of weight in one spot. You need to put it on a concrete surface. You also need to put something underneath it, between the container and the floor. There is leeching between plastics and the floor, so your water actually could become contaminated, in its flavor or it could actually take on some of the properties of the concrete itself.

Another thing to consider is the weather. Are you keeping your water stored in the garage or an out building? In the South, that’s not so critical because the temperature very seldom stays below freezing more than four or five consecutive days. The water will get very cold, but it most likely won’t freeze. In the North, you will need to make allowances for the cold months. The smaller the water container, the easier it will freeze, so consider that. The larger the mass, the slower it is to freeze. But, it still may freeze. Be sure when you’re filling your containers, that you leave head space that will allow for the natural expansion and contraction that occurs during the heat process.

Now, let’s talk about how you’re going to fill your container. If you use a huge container that holds many gallons of water, you’re going to need to fill it with a hose. If you’re going to fill your containers with a hose, you need to make sure that the water source is potable, that it is the same water you drink from the tap in your home. Most of the water that’s treated in the United States is recognized as approved to drink and to store.


Most water that you’d store from the tap is good for about six months. That’s important to understand. So if you do get a storage container that’s 1,200 gallons, you need to plan on drinking it quickly or treat it for long term storage. Make sure that you can test it to see that the water stays safe longer than six months. You can use a purity test kit from a hardware store or online. It’s important that part of the process of storing water,  foodstuffs, or any product, is to use common sense on how long it’s going to last and how long it’s good for.

Do I need to treat the water? How do I treat my stored water?

Now, during the filling process, whether you’re using tap water, whether you’ve found some other way to filter the water, wherever the water is coming from, the water should be treated so that it will be pristine when it comes time to drink it. What you need to do is for every container that you use, use about 16 drops of chlorine bleach, or a quarter teaspoon, for every gallon of water. Chlorine is the easiest and probably the most common method for treating water for long-term storage. There is an adverse taste to chlorinated water. Before drinking if you aerate  the water some of the chlorine taste will be removed.

There are, however, other water treatments that you can purchase online. There are some that come as A & B components. You mix the two together as you pour your water into your containers, and they will help to keep the water clear and pure. The water usually doesn’t smell or taste chlorinated. It’s not quite like a swimming pool with chlorine, in smell and taste. But there are all different kinds of methods you can use. And usually, most of these don’t affect the container itself.

Some people feel a need to treat their water after it’s been stored. If you treated the water when you started the storage process, typically, you don’t need to treat the water again if it was done right the first time. If you feel the need to retreat the water, go ahead. Remember that as you apply your chemicals, whether they are chlorine bleach or other methods that you discover, you need to make sure that you’re able to mix the components together in the water so that it all gets treated. It is important to understand that as you must treat your water, your health is at stake. Be cautious do not leave it to blind luck.

Does my water have a shelf life?

Another thing to address is if your water has a shelf life. The answer is yes and no. You technically should replace your water periodically. Some say that you can treat the water and as long as the container stays contaminate-free the water is fine indefinitely. Water does, after a while, actually lose flavor. Part of the reason for that is that it’s not aerated water. It becomes very stale tasting. So part of the process is as you rotate most things in your prep cabinet, you need to rotate your water too so that it stays aerated and palatable. Most people recommend that you need to change your water out every 12 months. Experiment; try it out; see what your containers are doing.

A good way to track the shelf life of your water and its container is to write it down every time you fill that water container. Make paper tags and put them on the containers. If you are using soda bottles, you need to make sure that you write it on the bottle itself. Write on the container that it is water, and when it was filled.

And that is how you store your water.