The Preppers Guide to Storing Water for the Long-Term

Sharing is caring!

In case the world decides to go under, you’ll need a good storage of supplies and resources to sustain yourself. For natural disaster situations or any other emergency, having an available water source will address your most essential need in such a case. So how do you store water long term? 

You’ll need to store water in the right containers. Although water doesn’t have a specific expiry date, you’ll want to replace it every six months. Additionally, you’ll have to store the containers in a cold and dark place free of toxins and hazardous elements. 

There are several essential aspects of storing water long-term. You’ll have to follow some necessary sanitation steps, and I’ve also included some useful tips that’ll be very effective in keeping water for an extensive period. Make sure you go through the whole article to know about everything you should and shouldn’t do. 

5 Steps to Storing Water for A Long Time 

Here are 5 steps to storing water based. Based on how long you need to store it the methods are slightly different. But, don’t worry as I’ve covered most of them below. 

1. Choosing the Right Container 

The first thing you have to do is choose a suitable container where you’ll be storing your water. Here are a few options I think will do great for keeping water long-term. 

Not all containers will keep your water safe to drink for a long time. Plastic food bottles or soda containers labelled “HDPE” are excellent options. Besides, you can also consider containers marked with a “#2” recycling symbol. LDPE and PP plastics are also regarded as safe, and so is stainless steel. 

You should be careful not to use a container that isn’t labelled as food grade. Look out for a knife and fork symbol on the container and only use brand-new empty containers. It’s best not to use milk and fruit juice bottles as they leave a residue that encourages bacterial growth. 

Additionally, you shouldn’t use glass jars unless necessary because they can quickly break in a disaster. You can also use unglazed pottery jars with a narrow mouth, lid, and tap as they are hygienic as well and keep your water cool in warm seasons. 

You’ll want to avoid containers that are manufactured from hazardous plastic materials. Check for the resin identification code on any plastic containers. A resin identification code is a number that’s printed right beside the recycling symbol. If it’s marked “3”, “6”, and “7”, you’ll want to avoid them. 

These containers are PVC, polystyrene, and polycarbonate, respectively, which can be very hazardous to your health. 

You can find these storage containers in camping supply stores or surplus stores. Look for durable containers and contact the manufacturer if you’re not sure whether the containers are food grade or not. Also, if you can, go for the ones that are FDA-approved. 

2. Determine How Much You Need

Once you’ve decided which container you’ll use, you have to determine how much water you have to store. An average person needs a gallon of water per day, that is, 4 liters. You can use half of this gallon for drinking, and the other half for cooking and personal hygiene.

Children need a little more than a gallon. Typically, that’s 1.5 gallons. It’s also the same for sick people, people living in a hot climate, and nursing mothers. According to experts, you’ll want to have enough water stored that will last you for several days. How much water you have to keep in emergencies also depends on the number of people in your family. 

It’s best if you started with a two-week supply for your home based on these data. If there’s an emergency, you can store a 3-day supply in portable containers. A 3-day supply should be about 10.5 gallons or 40 liters, and a two-week supply should be 49 gallons for two healthy adults and one child. 

You can have a 3-day supply or a 2-week supply depending on your budget and room for storage. This decision depends entirely on you, so make a careful decision about which option you’ll choose. 

3. Store Based on Preferred Storage Time  

To store water for a long time, you need to seal the containers properly so that there is no bacterial growth. In this section, I’ve mentioned below what you have to do if you want to store water for two weeks and one month, respectively.

Storing Water for Two Weeks 

If you want to store water for two weeks, you have several options from which you can choose. 

Store-Bought Water: This approach is slightly more expensive, but it’s the easiest way to store water for two weeks. You don’t have to go through the hassle of finding containers, making sure that it’s made of the right materials, and then disinfecting the water, and replacing it every few months. 

You’ll get clean and well-sealed water in food-grade plastic bottles. These bottles can also be easily transported if you need to bug outer have limited storage space. You can just buy a few cartons or packages of the bottles and store them under your bed or some other similar area. 

5 to 7 Gallon Water Containers: These containers are jugs that are made from sturdy and food-grade plastic. If you go on camping trips regularly, you should be very familiar with these containers. The plastic is typically dark blue. 

This prevents algae growth as it restricts light. You can also stack these jugs on top of each other, making them very easy to store. Additionally, in case of an emergency, you can easily transport them.  

Empty Soda Bottles: If you’d like a more affordable option, you can reuse empty soda, Gatorade, or water bottles. But before you do that, please make sure that you’ve thoroughly disinfected the bottles and no residue of the previous fluids remain. 

Storing Water for One Month 

You also have several options to choose from if you want to store water for a month. I’ve talked about a few ways down below. 

WaterBob: These are massive heavy-duty plastic bags that can hold up to 100 gallons of water. It’s also effortless to use. You’ll only have to fill it with water after placing it in your tub. After that, you’ll instantly get sanitary storage water. 

It’s a great option if you don’t have enough space to keep water stored. But one downside is that you might not have water to fill when you think you need it. 

Water and Rain Barrels: If you have enough room and want to have a month of water storage, you can consider water barrels. 55-gallon water barrels are ideal for storing water for a month as they’re made from sturdy food-grade plastic. They also have bugs that can be sealed tightly to protect your water from contamination. 

Besides, these barrels are also BPA-free and ultraviolet resistant. Two of these barrels will be enough to provide for a family of four with sufficient water for almost four weeks. 

However, they are a bit expensive. You’d also have to buy a pump or a water hose specially made for drinking. The barrels are not very transportable either as each weighs 450 pounds. 

Another alternative is using rain barrels. You can place some of these barrels under your gutter pipe so that whenever it rains, your barrels will collect water. Harvesting rainwater is environment friendly as well as affordable. Sometimes, preppers use rainwater for sanitation. 

Cistern Systems: These are massive containers that you can use to store secure rainwater. Water cistern systems can give you from 1,400 to 12,000 gallons of water. 

The downside is that you’ll need a lot of space and develop a different pipe system to store the rainwater. As the tanks aren’t food-grade, you’ll need to treat the water before you drink it. If you don’t want to do that, you can still use it for hygiene purposes.  

But remember to filter the water before you use it or drink it because a barrel gives only the minimum protection to your preserved water. 

Some Back-Up Water Storage Options 

In case the options mentioned earlier don’t work for you, you’ll need some back-up solutions for storing water. If you want to keep stream or tap water, you’ll need to filter it properly. To produce clean drinking water, you can try filtering, chemical, and boiling. 

  • Boiling: You can keep a small stove and fuel in your bug-out bag so that if the situation demands it, you can use it and get some clean water. 
  • Using Purification Tablets: You can try purifying your water with iodine and sodium chloride tablets. It’s an advantageous and affordable way to prepare for an emergency. 
  • Water Filters: You can use water filters that can produce a liter of clean water every minute. I don’t recommend relying on water filters as your primary source of water in emergencies, but they can be a great addition to your bug-out bag. 

As I’ve mentioned several options to store water long-term, you’ll want to choose an option that works the most practical for you and your household. If you’re going to invest in your water storage, 5-to-7-gallon containers are great. But an all-in-one excellent option to store water long-term is getting bottled water and keeping them under your bed or closets. 

4. Cleaning and Sanitation 

If you’ve chosen a way to store water, you’ll want to know about the cleaning and sanitation of containers. Additionally, I’ll also walk you through the process of disinfecting the water before drinking it. Follow these steps carefully to ensure the safety of yourself and your family.

Cleaning the Containers Thoroughly 

Before you put water inside your containers, you must clean them thoroughly. Start by washing the containers with soap and warm water. After that, you should rinse them. If food and drinks were previously stored inside the containers, you could disinfect them in the following way. 

Firstly, you will have to fill the container with water and mix liquid household bleach. For every liter of water, you’re going to have to mix in one teaspoon of bleach. I recommend using a bleach that contains five to six percent sodium hypochlorite.

You have to cover the container tightly and shake it well so that the sanitizing bleach reaches all the insides of the container. After thirty seconds, pour the sanitizing solution out. 

If you’re using stainless steel or a heat-safe glass, you’ll want to submerge the containers in boiling water. Do this every ten minutes. For every 1,000 feet or 300 meters, submerge the containers a minute extra in the boiling water. 

The best method of cleaning and sanitizing the containers is by boiling because if there’s a chance bleach might corrode the metal. But if you do end up using the bleach method, you’ll need to wait till the sanitized container is wholly air-dried. 

Disinfecting the Water 

If you can’t drink water directly from your tap, you should disinfect it before you store it. Additionally, you should also do it if you’re drinking from the tube well. You can do this by bringing the water to a rolling boil for about a minute or two if you’re above 5,000 ft. 

But if you can’t boil the water, your best bet is bleach. You’ll want to mix in a half tablespoon of bleach that’s also free of additives for every five gallons of water. Also, make sure that the bleach is unscented. If the water appears to be cloudy or discolored, you can double the bleach amount. 

Once you have finished it, you’ll want to let the water sit for about thirty minutes and wait for a faint chlorine scent to appear. When the smell appears, repeat this process and let it rest for another fifteen minutes. 

As I’ve mentioned before, for emergencies, you can also use a purification tablet. But be careful if you are using them because too many of these tablets might lead to thyroid dysfunction. So it’s best if you used them sparingly. 

Filtering the Contaminants 

When you boil the water or bleach it, you’ll be successful in removing all the microorganisms. Even so, you won’t be filtering out heavy metals or lead in the water. 

If you think that your water is contaminated by drainage from mines, farms, or factories, you’ll want to pour the water through an activated carbon filter. You might also want to use a reverse osmosis filter. 

Additionally, if you don’t have enough resources or access to these methods, you can make your filter. It might not be as effective as the previous two, but it’ll be successful with removing sediments and some toxins. 

You’ll need quite a few things to make our filter. Among the items, you’ll need plastic bottles, a craft knife, a hammer and nail, a large mug, a coffee filter, activated charcoal, sand, gravel, and a cup to hold the water. 

  • Firstly, you’ll have to cut the plastic bottle at the bottom with a craft knife and poke two neat holes near the cut edge of the bottle. Then you’ll thread a piece of string through these two holes and tie the string into a knot. 
  • After that, use a hammer and nail to make a new perforation in the bottle’s lid to slow down the water flow and make the filter more effective. Then take the coffee filter and place it on the mouth of the bottle and then tighten the cap. The cap will keep the coffee filter in place as well as keep the charcoal from falling out. 
  • Then you’ll want to put the bottle cap-side-down on a mug to keep the bottle steady. Now take the activated charcoal and fill the bottle up to one third but make sure to put it in small pieces no larger than a pea. 
  • In the next step, you’ll have to fill the bottle with sand to the middle of it. I don’t recommend using colored sand as it might leak dyes in the water. 
  • Once you’re done, use the gravel to fill the rest of the bottle but make sure to leave a space between the cut portion of the bottle and the gravel. You’ll need to do this to avoid spillage of water and fast draining. 

Also, use two types of gravel: a fine-grained one and a chunky one. First, put in the fine-grained gravel, then you’ll put the chunky one over the fine-grained gravel. 

To use it, pour the water slowly till the water is clear. But even after all that filtering, it’s best if you boiled the water before drinking anyway. Before storing the water inside a container, wait for it to cool. Additionally, make sure not to leave it standing for too long to prevent bacterial growth. 

5. Storing the Water

All the tricky bits are done and dusted. The next few steps are simple and easy but very essential. Follow the below steps to store your water in the do net for the long term. 

  • Sealing: You’ll have to seal the containers very tightly so as to prevent further contamination. Also, make sure that you don’t touch the inside of the container’s cap with your fingers. You will be leaving out chances of bacterial growth if you do that. 
  • Labelling: If you’ve done all the steps mentioned earlier and then stored the water, you’ll also want to label the containers as “drinking water.” I also recommend writing the storage date as well to prevent further confusion. 
  • Storing the Containers: I strongly don’t recommend keeping the containers in a sunny and warm spot. Please always try to keep the containers in a dark and cold place as light and heat can damage plastic containers. 

I recommend keeping the water supply at a constant and cool temperature. Ideally, it should be 50-70 degrees F. 

Besides, sunlight can also encourage algae and mold growth, especially in clear containers. You can also expect mold inside sealed or store-bought bottles if you keep them under sunlight. 

Additionally, I recommend not storing plastic containers near chemical products. It’s best if you’re the most careful about gasoline, kerosene, and pesticides. Moreover, vapors can pass through plastic containers and make the water impure. 

In case of an emergency, you can store a three-day supply in a small container. Keep these containers near an exit to make your evacuation easier. 

  • Regular Checking: If you have stored the water properly and didn’t open it, store-bought water bottles should stay unharmed indefinitely. It applies even if the water bottles have an expiration date. 

But if you’ve stored the water yourself in containers, I recommend replacing it every six months. If the plastic becomes cloudy, scratched, scuffed, or even discolored, you should get new plastic containers. 

Before you replace the containers, it’s safe to drink the old supply of water. Besides, if your stored water is not green and doesn’t smell that bad, you can sanitize it before drinking. For other contamination, you’ll need to replace the supply. 

  • One Container at a Time: During emergencies, if you need to use your water supply, don’t open multiple containers together. As I’ve mentioned earlier, you should store the water in a cold place. For opened bottles or containers, keep the bottles in the refrigerator. 

It’s safe to use an open container within three to five days in the refrigerator. If it’s been in a cold room for a couple of days, it’s also safe to drink. But if the water has been in a warm room for more than a few hours, you shouldn’t drink it directly from the container. 

You can purify the remaining water by boiling or adding chlorine. Additionally, you can also use purification tablets. To safely remove water out of the container, you need to use a new scoop every time if you’re using one. Using a clean cup every time will decrease the risk of contamination. 

It’s best if you’re careful about not touching the water or the insides of the container with your bare hands. Besides, I strongly don’t recommend scooping the safe water out of the containers with your bare hands. 

The safest way to decrease the risks of contamination is to buy an additional special water pump which you can use with the containers. Other than that, you can keep the three mugs that you can clean and reuse every time you have to scoop the water out. 

If you aren’t cautious about storing water, all the hard work you’ve invested in choosing a container, filtering the water, and sanitizing the containers will go in vain. So make sure you follow the steps mentioned above correctly to preserve the water supply. 

How Long Can Water Be Stored Before It Goes Bad?

You can store clean and drinkable water indefinitely. But that depends on how you preserve the water and the level of purity it has. Clean water kept in an open cup will most likely become contaminated within a couple of days. You can store tap water in a sealed container for up to six months. It’s also why I recommended replacing it every six months. 

Additionally, you can store bottled water for about two years or more. So, does store water go bad? If you do it correctly, the water will not get spoiled. It is also why I’ve emphasized the importance of keeping the water properly. 

But the issue with water storage lies with contamination. Water, on its own, doesn’t get spoiled, but it might get contaminated over time. It could happen in several ways and lead to different degrees of severity. 

You can identify quickly if the water is spoiled. Look for the below mentioned signs in your water to check if it has gone dirty. 

  • If the water has a strange smell. 
  • If it’s murky and develops a strange color.
  • There’s algae growth on the container 
  • It has floaties on the water.

If you see these signs, it means that your water is contaminated. Use the ways mentioned above to purify the water. So now comes one of the most critical questions: can you get sick from drinking old water?

Yes, you are most likely to get sick from stale water. It’s because pathogens enter your system and attack your immune system. Besides, you won’t get sick just because you’re drinking old water. Getting sick depends on how clean the water is and how it is stored. 

However, if your water tastes funny, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s contaminated. It could be because of the lack of oxygen. You can swish the water around in the cup many times, and it should be fine. 


It’s never the wrong decision to have a water supply ready for emergencies. It’s ideal to have at least two weeks’ water supply read at hand for such situations. Don’t feel stressed if you don’t have enough budget and space to store water. Just start with the amount you can store even if it’s just a couple of gallons. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and that I have been able to answer your question “How do you store water long term?”. So, start storing for an emergency water supply today. Good luck! 


Shanna is the 2nd half of Top Outdoor Survival. Like Forest, she has a passion for guns and knives. They love to go on a survival trip at least once a year. They love to go camping, hiking, and traveling.

Recent Posts