When the next natural disaster or emergency strikes, you might find yourself without an adequate amount of water… and that would be unfortunate. Join us as we detail how to properly store a safe supply of emergency drinking water, and you’ll soon be storing water like a pro.

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Microscopic Woes

If water doesn’t spoil like food does, you might be wondering why you need to read an article like this one. Although it’s a fairly straight forward process, there’s a little more to storing a safe supply of emergency drinking water, than simply filling up a bottle and capping it off.

When not properly managed, water can (and eventually will) become an active breeding ground for harmful bacteria, molds, and even parasites. Your choice of container matters too: toxic chemicals and vapors might pass through its walls, or even leach out from the container itself, further contaminating your precious water supply.

Don’t take shortcuts that won’t pay off. There’s no sense in preparing for an emergency, if all you’re really doing, is creating another one for yourself.

Getting a Head Start

There’s many options for safely storing water, and like everything in life, there’s pros and cons to each. Stainless steel, glass, pottery, and plastics are all viable choices. So, let’s jump right in, and start with one of the most popular and economical materials.

Plastics: Your Lucky Numbers

Not all plastics are created equal, but most are considered relatively safe to store both food and water in. Always choose airtight or tightly sealing containers — this is especially important for long-term storage.

Plastic food-grade containers are easily identifiable by their numbers, markings, or symbols. Look for one of these resin codes (usually molded on the bottom of the container):

Plastics: No Favors Here

Just as there are safer plastics to use, there are also ones which you should avoid. Some plastics are more prone to releasing or breaking down into toxic chemicals. Watch out for these codes or symbols:

Containers embossed with a No. 7 resin code, are in a kind of catch-all class. These products are made from a variety of mixed plastics, some of which could be a health hazard. Out of caution, we’ve decided to include it in the “don’t use” category, but don’t let it scare you if you also see the Food Grade Symbol, the words “Safe for Food” or “Food Safe”.

Plastics: Don’t Be a Jughead

No matter how tempting, don’t even think about reusing your empty milk or juice containers! Although you can’t see it, there’s bound to be a thin layer of residue left behind from these beverages. Unfortunately, this invisible film is difficult to completely remove, and will encourage bacteria and molds to thrive in your water reserves — which is exactly what you don’t want.

Old School Classics

Plastics are cheap, lightweight, and readily available, but they’re certainly not your only option. Glass, stainless steel, copper, fiberglass, and unglazed pottery are also safe vessels for water storage.


Glass jars have long been used as storage containers. Because they are inert and not reactive, they won’t effect the quality or taste of your water, which means glass is considered one of the safest forms of storage.

On the downside, glass containers can be bulky, heavy, and cumbersome. They’re also not the best choice for areas prone to earthquakes or hurricanes, as they could potentially break. Watch out for glass that contains cadmium or lead.

Stainless Steel

Considered easy-to-clean and fairly lightweight, stainless steel is a long-time favorite for storing water. Chances are, that you’ve seen more stainless steel water bottles, than any other kind. Not only is it a strong material, it’s also non-polluting and sustainable, making it an environmentally friendly option.

Cost is the biggest disadvantage of stainless steel, as it is typically much more expensive than other storage options. It’s also known to be a hotbed for germs, when not sanitized properly.


Another sustainable alternative to plastics, copper has been used to craft eating utensils and storage vessels since the ancient times. What makes copper an excellent choice for water, is its built-in oligodynamic properties. Over time, the metal ions will diffuse into the water, effectively acting as a self-sterilizing container. These ions have long been known to have a lethal effect on bacteria, and are toxic to mold, spores, and viruses.

Copper is more expensive and can be heavier than other storage options. It’s also difficult to find containers that can be tightly sealed, so it’s hard to keep out harmful fumes and other air contaminants. Another downside, is that your water will begin to develop a metallic taste over time. For some, this might be a deal breaker.

Pottery (Earthenware)

Unglazed cooking pottery can make an excellent choice for keeping a water reserve. It’s been safely used throughout the world for thousands of years, and the clay content can help to moderate acidic water. As an additional bonus, clay pots are natural water coolers. As they “sweat”, the water inside will cool through evaporation of the moisture on the outside.

Like glass however, earthenware tends to be on the heavy side, and although more durable, is still prone to breakage. Its porous nature also makes it a very small risk for allowing some chemicals to transfer to the water inside. If stored off the ground, this really shouldn’t be problem, but always make sure that your container’s pottery doesn’t contain lead, cadmium, or arsenic.

Preparing for Success

Sanitizing New Containers

Storing water for the long haul, means you must first clean and sanitize your storage containers — even if they’re brand new. All that’s required, is a little soap and water. Make sure that you rinse well afterwards, perhaps going the extra mile by rinsing a second time.

Disinfecting Used Containers

In the case of previously used containers, you’ll need to substitute soap with bleach. It’s extremely important that you only use regular unscented household bleach, or potentially toxic chemicals may be left behind.

First, fill your container with water, and then add a teaspoon of bleach for every quart. Give the container a vigorous shake to make sure that the bleach water reaches every parts of the inside surface. Wait at least ten minutes for the bleach to neutralize any pathogens, before dumping the solution out. Let your container air dry, and any residual bleach will quickly and safely dissipate.

Bleach has corrosive properties when it comes into contact with metals, so boiling is the recommended choice for disinfection. Simply submerge your container in a pot of boiling water for at least ten minutes. If you don’t live near sea level, you’ll need to add an additional minute for every 1,000 feet of elevation.

Bottling Satisfaction

If you live in an urban area, you probably won’t need to disinfect or filter your water — bottling water straight from the faucet will be your last and only step prior to storage. But if you live in a rural area, your water is probably sourced from a groundwater well, and you’ll want to take a few additional steps.

Crystal Clear

Running your water through a filter isn’t usually necessary, but clear water can be satisfying. You can buy one off the shelf, or you could even make one yourself (out of sand, gravel and charcoal). Just remember, filtering your water supply will only remove contaminants and pollutants, but it won’t kill microorganisms.

Boiling Your Troubles Away

Disinfecting your water, is almost like the process of sanitizing your storage containers — so there are no surprises here. You can either choose to boil or chlorinate, and both are considered equally effective treatments.

Boiling water might take a little bit longer, but it has the advantage of being available for immediate use. There’s no skill required here, just make sure you bring your water to a rolling boil for at least three minutes. As before, you’ll need to add an additional minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level.

Don’t forget to let the water cool, before pouring it into any storage container — especially plastic ones.

Bleaching the Enemy Within

Chemical treatment is just as easy as boiling. All you need, is a bottle of household bleach. Just add 1/8 teaspoon for every gallon of water. If your water is cloudy, it probably has a lot of organic materials in it, and you’ll need to double the dose of bleach for each gallon.

If you choose to disinfect your water by chlorinating it, you must use a non-scented and additive-free chlorine bleach. These are usually labeled “regular”.

After treatment, you can immediately bottle your water for storage. It takes approximately 30 minutes for the chlorine in the bleach to harmlessly dissipate, so it won’t be safe to drink until then. This is important to remember, if you ever need to treat water for immediate use. Always wait for 30 minutes!

We probably don’t have to remind you, but it’s vital that you don’t touch the rim of your container or the inside of its lid with your hands. The last thing that you want, is to accidentally contaminate all of your hard work, or risk endangering your life when you need to tap these reserves.

Pooling the Reserves

Once your water has sufficiently cooled, and you’ve capped it off, you’re well on the home stretch. There’s just a few more things we need to cover: storage, safety, and beyond.

Label for Life

It’s a pretty good idea to clearly label each of your containers with “Drinking Water”, and the bottling date. Technically your water reserves shouldn’t go bad, but there’s always a small chance of microorganism growth. Because of this, it’s recommended that you rotate your water supply every six months, and clear labels will make this process much smoother.

Store and Protect

Sunlight and temperature fluctuations can damage containers, and although some are more resistant than others, UV rays will eventually cause plastics to breakdown. When exposed to sunlight, mold and algae can grow inside of your water. Translucent containers increase this risk, but you might be surprised to learn that even bottled water from the store isn’t immune!

Obviously, your best option is to find a cool and dark place for storage. Depending on how much emergency water you plan to keep on hand, this may or may not be a problem. For small quantities (such as a 72-hour supply), we suggest you stow it in a bottom cupboard. For larger reserves, you might stake out a corner in your garage, carport, or covered patio.

Ideally, you’ll want to keep your water on a shelf or off the ground, as you don’t want chemicals or vapors penetrating and poisoning the drinking water you worked so hard to store. Along the same lines, be sure to keep pesticides, petroleum products, and other toxic chemicals away from your storage area to avoid accidental spills or contamination.

Status Check

Finally, you’ll want to check on your water stash periodically. If it’s turning green, cloudy, discolored, or gives off an odd odor, assume it’s no longer safe to drink. Rather than waste it, use it to water your garden or houseplants.

Tapping Your Supply

With a little bit of luck, you’ll never have to use your water reserves. But if you find yourself in a situation where you do, only open and use one container at a time. This will not only help you to keep your stockpile clean and ready for future use, but it will also make rationing and conservation much easier.

Best Practices:

  • Don’t drink directly from the water container.
  • Wash your hands before handling a storage vessel.
  • Avoid touching the rim with your hands or other objects.

The Golden Rule

The average person requires a minimum of one gallon of water per day. Half of this will be used for drinking, and the other half will be divided between food preparation and hygiene related tasks.

That’s for the average person. Increase this amount by 1/2 gallon for children, nursing mothers, or sick persons. A hot climate or high altitude area will also require a similar increase in rationing.

Most water disruptions and emergencies (especially in urban areas) are not expected to last much beyond 72 hours. Having a minimum of three days worth of water, will probably get you through the most critical period — but more is always better.

Off to the Races

Well, that’s pretty much all you need to know about building your own long-term emergency water reserve. If you’d like to learn about other emergency water options, why not read our article:

Water, Water, Everywhere. So Many Choices, Should You Care?

Or, if you’re looking for immediate solutions to round out your home preparedness or travel emergency kit, you might consider checking out these items:

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