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4 Best Ways to Store Water for Emergency (Long Term)

Easy DIY Steps to Store Water for an emergency, long term, in your home. With tons of answers to common questions!

How to Store Water for Emergency

Hopefully, you’ll never need to use an emergency water supply in your home. BUT, it’s always best to have one available, just in case.

There are a few reasons why you might not be able to use water from your tap. Occasionally, local water departments find the water supply has been contaminated due to pipes bursting, flooding, or other less common causes.

Or, if you have well water, like me, you lose water whenever you lose electricity. In fact, about once a year we’ll lose water for a day or more due to hurricanes, power grid issues, or even winter storms.

Image of different sizes and types of containers to store water in. With text that says "How to Safely Store Water for Emergencies".
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And, the last reason, I can think of, that you might need to store water long term is for cabins, camping, or remote vacation homes that don’t have access to running water.

In this post, I’ll give you the easy steps you need to follow to safely bottle water for an emergency, go over how much water you’ll need for one week, and all of the water storage tips you should know!

Now, let’s get to how to store water for an emergency!

How Long Can You Safely Store Water

Water that has been bottled correctly actually doesn’t go bad. It just starts to taste bad. You can typically store water for about 1 to 2 years before it starts to taste stale.

You might be able to keep your bottled water tasting fresh for up to 6 years by adding alkaline water treatment drops to the water. I use Ion Alkaline Water Drops in my emergency water supply.

Store-bought water generally has an expiration date somewhere on the bottle that indicates when the bottler thinks the water could start to have a stale taste.

Image of 6 Gallon Water Storage containers with text that says 'Water Storage 101' for a post about how to store water for emergency.

Where Do You Store Water At Home

Water should always be stored in a cool place, out of direct sunlight inside a home. Never store your drinking water near heaters or chemicals.

Water storage bottles that are heated by direct sunlight OR from being left near heat sources, in hot garages, closets or attic spaces will start to taste bad faster.

In fact, chemicals in plastic containers could leach into water if the plastic heats to just 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So, it’s important to store your emergency water in a cool, dark place.

I prefer to store our water in 1st floor closets without windows, pantries, or cabinets. You can also store water in cool, dark, dry basements.

Just be sure to use heavy-duty, water storage containers to eliminate the risk of leaking water bottles that can damage flooring or furniture in your home.

Image of 3 different sizes of plastic containers to store water at home.
Let’s just pretend that’s water in the 1 gallon jug. 😉

How Much Water Should You Store For An Emergency

FEMA and Ready.gov recommend that you have 1 gallon of water stored per person, per day. They recommend that you have a 2-week supply for each person.

That emergency water recommendation only covers water you’ll need to drink, wash hands, and prepare food. One gallon of water DOES NOT include water to bathe or to flush your toilets.

You might need more than 1 gallon of water during hot months, for babies, elderly, pregnant women or nursing mothers, or sick family members. Don’t forget to store enough emergency water for pets too!

I typically have 1 weeks worth of emergency water. Since I know I can leave my home if I’ll be without water for more than a few days.

If you live in a place where you cannot easily leave your home during weather emergencies, then you should try to store a 2 week supply.

Woman filling a heavy duty, food grade water storage container with tap water.
These taller containers almost have to be filled in a bathtub.

One Week Emergency Water Supply For A Family of 4

Let’s go over some quick emergency water storage math. Since you need 1 gallon of water per person, per day, you’ll need 28 gallons of water total for a family of four.

In most grocery stores, you can find individual water bottles (with about 17 ounces in each), 1 gallon water bottles, and 2 1/2 gallon water bottles to use for emergency water.

It’s pretty common for people to grab these before a big hurricane or winter storm. BUT there are negatives with each.

Individual Water Bottles

You’d need 8 to 9 large cases of individual water bottles for a family of four. That’s somewhere around 184 individual bottles. There are 4 big negatives with using these for emergency water.

It can be hard to find space to store all of those in a house, the biodegradable plastic leaks over time, you’ll have to use and replace these about once a year, and I hate using single-use water bottles just from a waste standpoint.

24 packs of single-use water bottles at a grocery store.
Stores stack these cases temporarily but long-term that weight would cause the bottles to break.

One Gallon Jugs

You’ll need 28 – 1 gallon water jugs to have enough emergency water for a family of four. Again, it’s biodegradable plastic that will leak over time.

And, trying to find space for 28 water jugs in your house can be a pain. Especially since you’ll need to make sure that if one leaks, it’s not sitting on something that can be damaged by water.

Image of 1 gallon jugs of water on a grocery store shelf.
It’d be tough to find room for 28 of these in a house without a basement. Even then, it’d be tough.

2 1/2 Gallon Water Bottles

This option is the best of the store-bought options. You only need to find room to store 12 of these. Which can still be tough with limited space. And, it will still leak over time.

But, the plastic is a bit thicker, so it will take longer to leak. The best part about these is that they usually come with a handy, built-in water spout. That spout makes washing hands or filling cups with it super easy!

Image of a woman washing her hands with 2 1/2 gallon water container.
I love the spout and the easy to carry handle on these containers!

Heavy Duty Storage Containers

A 5 or 6 gallon heavy duty, food-grade water storage container is the best option to store water for an emergency. Be sure you find one that says it’s BPA free.

A family of four only needs 5 – 6 gallon emergency water containers to have a weeks worth of emergency water. If you buy the tall, skinny containers I used, they don’t take up much space.

Mine fit in the closet under my stairs, with tons of space leftover. You can see it in the video below. 🙂

6 Gallons of water is almost too heavy for me to carry. Go for a smaller size, if you need it.

How Do You Flush Toilets Without Water

You can pour water directly into the toilet tank to flush it. Most tanks will need between 1 1/2 to 4 gallons of water. But could need as much as 7 gallons in older toilets. So, try to only flush when necessary.

If you know a winter storm or hurricane is coming your way, fill a tub with water to use just for flushing toilets. You could also use pool water to flush toilets in an emergency. Just scoop it up in a clean bucket to take it inside.

How Long Can Water Stay Fresh In A Plastic Bottle

If you followed all safety guidelines when bottling your water AND kept it away from heat and sunlight, water in a plastic bottle will stay fresh for 1 to 2 years.

Like I mentioned earlier, using alkaline drops that make your water more alkaline might extend the life of your long-term, emergency water supply to 6 years before the water starts to taste stale.

I strongly recommend using a heavy-duty, food safe plastic storage container for water. Those containers are made with thicker plastics that do not breakdown and leak.

Thin water bottles or plastic jugs ARE biodegradable and will develop small leaks over time. Sometimes within just 6 months.

2 1/2 gallons is super easy for most adults to carry. Especially with that handle on top.

Can You Store Water in Milk Jugs

You should avoid using Milk Jugs or Juice Containers, if you want to reuse large plastic drink containers for an emergency water supply.

The milk or sugars in juice are pretty hard to completely remove from inside the container. And, that milk or fruit sugar is great at helping bacteria grow in bottles.

It’s better to use large Gatorade, energy drink bottles, or pop bottles if you are trying to reuse containers you already have on hand.

Using Dawn dish soap to clean an emergency water storage container.
I LOVE dawn dish soap for tons of household cleaning. Like, in this post on how to Safely Clean A Shower Glass Door with Marble Tile. And, this post on How to Clean Marble Shower Tile and Get Rid of Mildew.

How Do You Bottle Water For An Emergency

Here’s the easy steps to bottle water for an emergency that are recommended by FEMA. You can see me doing all of these steps in the second half of the video below.

  1. Always use food-grade water storage containers that have never been used to store chemicals.
  2. Wash the inside of the container with a few drops of dish soap and some hot water. Make sure to shake the soapy water around so that it touches every bit of the container.
  3. Completely rinse out all of the dish soap.
  4. Next, add about 1 teaspoon of non-scented household bleach with 1 quart of water to the bottle. Screw on the lid, then shake the liquid around. Be sure to have it touch all areas inside the bottle.
  5. Pour out the bleach and rinse the bottle with clean water again.
  6. Now, you can fill the container with tap water. Be sure to use tap water, not water from an outside hose or faucet. That water is not safe for drinking.
  7. Optional Step: Add Ion Water Treatment Drops to extend the freshness of the water from 2 years to up to 6 years.
  8. Screw on the lid nice and tight. Then label each container with the date you made it and the date you want to check it for freshness or replace it with fresh water.
Adding bleach to clean plastic water storage containers.
A little beach is enough to kill any bacteria left inside. You can see more of my bathroom in this Before and After Master Bathroom Remodel post.

Quick Tip: When you’re ready to replace the water in your emergency water storage containers, pour the old water into a pool or onto your flower beds to avoid wasting it!

Adding Ion Alkaline Water Treatment Drops to emergency water storage.
Adding Ion Alkaline Water Treatment Drops can keep tap water tasting fresh for up to 6 years.

How To Store Water for Emergencies Video

Watch this video for a step by step guide to getting your long term water storage ready.

How to Store Water for an Emergency! With tons of answers to common questions. 👍

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