[UPDATED 2021] How To Store Water Safely For When SHTF

Water is the most important resource man needs to survive. Unfortunately, it’s also the one thing many people forget to store in case of emergencies.

According to a survey conducted in 2012, as much as 53% of American adults don’t stock up on non-perishables and water. These people probably think they can just get clean, potable water from the usual sources when SHTF, but this is a far cry from the truth. The fact is that the water system may be contaminated, compromised, or may even stop working altogether when disaster strikes.

If and when that happens, where will you get H2O?

In a survival context, a person can only last 3 days without clean drinking water. It’s important to know how to store water safely to avoid dehydration, water-borne infections, and other nasty scenarios.

Here’s how you can store and protect water safely when SHTF:

How Much Water Should You Store?

How much water is enough? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends storing three days’ worth of water at the minimum, allowing at least one gallon per person per day. Half-gallon is for drinking, while the other half is for cooking and hygiene needs. But since water interruptions can last for more than 72 hours, some preppers insist on a water supply that can last for two to four weeks. Others suggest storing as much as 4 gallons of water per day for each member of the family.

Aside from these guidelines, one should also consider the following factors:

  • Climate or weather – do you live in a hot, arid area where people are at high risk for dehydration?
  • Personal needs – do any of your family members have additional hydration needs? Do you live with very young children, pregnant women, or the elderly? Will you be doing a lot of physical activities that will cause you to need more water than usual?
  • Space – do you have enough space to store water safely?
  • Other water sources – do you have an alternative water source nearby, like a water tank or well?

Bottled Water For Short-Term Use?

One of the easiest ways to store water for emergencies is to buy bottled water from the store. These bad boys are purified, sealed, and easy to store. They’re also very portable in case you need to bug out. Perhaps the biggest downside to storing water bottles is that buying a lot of them can be quite expensive. There’s also the risk of BPA-like substances leaching from the plastic bottle into your water.

Using water bottles is a feasible option when you’re in a solo, short-term survival situation, but you might want to look at other options if you’re storing water longer and for more people.

Long-term Water Storage Options

If you’re storing large amounts of water for long-term purposes, you should only use food-grade containers that can be stoppered or sealed shut. These containers include food-grade plastic, stainless steel, and glass containers.

Plastic Containers

Food-grade plastic containers are usually made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Don’t worry; you don’t have to memorize all these long names. All you gotta do is look for the numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 inside a little triangle indicated at the bottom of the plastic container.

You can also use water barrels that can store large amounts of water at a given time. When doing this, make sure you use a hose appropriate for handling water for consumption and not just your regular garden hose. These barrels can be sealed shut and are usually blue to prevent UV light penetration and algae growth.

Stainless Steel Containers

Despite the existence of food-grade plastic containers, many preppers still don’t want to take their chances with chemical contamination. This is why some prefer using stainless steel containers to store their water supply. These reservoirs usually come in 2-5 gallon sizes and are great for long-term storage.

While stainless steel containers reduce the risk of chemical contamination, they can also be a bit pricey and unwieldy in case of a bug out scenario. You also don’t want to treat water with chlorine when using a stainless steel container, as the chemical corrodes steel.

Glass Containers

Glass containers are risky because they can break. Still, you can use them as long-term water reservoirs in case SHTF. Just make sure that these containers don’t hold any non-food substances before you use them.

Alternative Storage Containers

If food-grade containers aren’t an option, make sure the containers you use have the following features:

  • A lid or cover that you can shut tightly and securely.
  • Must be made from durable materials like polyethylene-based plastic, fiberglass, concrete, stone, or steel.
  • Use containers with narrow openings to prevent contamination from unsanitary devices.
  • It needs to have a stable base, so it won’t tip over.
  • It should be easy to clean.

Put A Label On It

Water technically doesn’t have an expiry date; what makes it “go bad” are external contaminants like harmful microorganisms, chemicals, and debris. To keep your water safe, make sure it’s appropriately sealed against contamination. And like any item in your pantry, put a label on the container.

Note when it was initially stored and what you treated the water with, if applicable. It’s also important to rotate your stored water supply. If you don’t think it’s ideal for drinking anymore— don’t throw it out! You can use the “stale water” to water the plants, wash your car, and the like.

Clear Doesn’t Always Mean Clean

What makes water storage different from food storage is that water can quickly “go bad” without you noticing it. Here’s a rule of thumb regarding water storage: just because it’s clear doesn’t mean it’s clean. Impurities like sediments or debris could indicate that the water is unsafe to drink, but the more dangerous threats are invisible to the eye.

The water could be riddled with microscopic contaminants like water-borne bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and even chemicals, so don’t take it at face value. When in doubt, purify the hell out of it before consuming it, or don’t consume it at all.

Water Purification Methods

If you’re unable to store large amounts of potable water, you might want to learn a purification method or two.

Boiling is one of the most popular ways to do this, as it gets rid of microorganisms and chemicals present in the water. The downside to this method is that you can only boil small amounts of water at a time. Boiling also uses fuel, which can be costly or hard to come by in a survival situation.

A lot of folks also prefer using water purification tablets. These tablets use chlorine to kill impurities in the water. They’re also cheap, lightweight, and very easy to store and use. Here’s a more in-depth look at ways to purify your water supply at home.

Unlikely Water Storage Solutions

If space is an issue, don’t worry. You can still store water in some unlikely places.


Take your bathtub, for example. In the event of an emergency, you can fill it up before lines shut down. But since bathtubs aren’t the ideal reservoirs for drinking water (they’re kind of gross, actually), you can use a device like the WaterBob to protect your water from contamination.

Water Heater

Another often-overlooked place is the water heater. Your heater can hold as much as 30 gallons of clean water, so keep that in mind when putting your survival plan together. Here’s a more detailed look at how to maximize water from your heater.

Swimming Pool

A backyard swimming pool could also be a huge help. Although it’s got a lot of chlorine and is pretty unsafe to drink, you can use that pool water for washing, cleaning, and flushing. An inflatable pool can be an excellent alternative if you need extra water storage for sanitation purposes.

Rainwater Collection

Another alternative for long-term water storage is rain barrels. You’ve probably heard of them, or you could already have one in your house.

To fill these rain barrels, you must harvest rainwater first. When S hits the fan, rainwater collection is an easy and economical way to deal with water shortages. It’s also one of the many methods to source water.

So… What are the Benefits of Collecting Rainwater?

While having enough stock of drinking water is essential for survival, gathering additional drums of water for cooking and sanitation purposes will also prove helpful for the household. Here are the benefits of rainwater harvesting:

  • Forget relying on filling up your water containers from the mains or buying loads of bottled water at grocery stores for emergencies—rainwater is basically your free supply of water.
  • In a crisis, you can’t afford to spend money you don’t have. This method helps minimize your water consumption and reduces your water bills.
  • It also reduces surface runoff, preventing severe soil erosion and massive flooding.
  • Rainwater is an excellent source of water for your survival garden because of the absence of chlorine.
  • If you don’t wanna rely on your city for water supply, this is one way to become self-sufficient. You can have total control over your water without worrying about restrictions.
  • While rainwater can be your primary source of water, it’s also a great backup water supply for emergency situations since it can be stored for later use.

How to Collect Rainwater

As mentioned, the cheapest and easiest way to start harvesting rainwater in your home is by using rain barrels. You just need to install a barrel underneath the downspout of the guttering so the rainwater is funneled into the container. To easily draw water from the source, a spigot usually comes with the barrel where you can also connect a hose.

What’s great about rain barrels is that you can either use recycled ones or new commercially available barrels. If you prefer to recycle, make sure the barrel wasn’t used to store harmful chemicals.

Overall, rain barrels are pretty easy to use and can be installed by anyone at any residence. They don’t take up much space too.  Plus, they’re readily available at various stores and at reasonable prices.

How to Clean and Sanitize Your Water Containers

Before you even think about filling your storage containers with water, make sure they’re safe to use by cleaning and sanitizing them. Here’s how:

  1. Wash your storage container thoroughly with water.
  1. Mix 1 teaspoon of unscented household bleach with 1 quart of water. Check the back of the label and make sure the bleach contains 5% to 9% sodium hypochlorite.
  1. Pour the solution into your water container, cover it tightly, and shake well. See to it that the sanitizing solution touches every nook and cranny of the container.
  1. Leave the solution for 30 seconds, then pour it out of the container.
  2. Air-dry the sanitized container or rinse the empty container with treated water before filling it.

Remember: Cleaning your containers once the water has been all used up is advised! In fact, you should clean and disinfect your storage containers every 3 to 6 months or a minimum of once a year to help prevent and remove contamination.

Final Thoughts

Safe water storage isn’t a complicated affair. The main thing you have to look out for is contamination. If you follow the guidelines above and devise a solid plan to store your water properly, it can last a really, really long time.

Clean water might be inaccessible when disaster strikes, so start storing it while you can. Don’t be like the 53% who failed to prepare emergency supplies. Be the minority who diligently squirreled some clean water away and will likely survive a major catastrophe.

Any other water storage tips you wanna share? Let us know in the comments below!

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