Cleaning Emergency Water For Survival


Plan to store water for emergencies like power outages, hurricanes, or other natural disasters. Storing water before an impending catastrophe is one of the most important things you can do for your family’s survival. Following is the information I researched for my family’s water storage. I hope this helps you plan for your emergency water needs.

Most of my water is stored in 55 gallon blue barrels because they hold a significant amount of water and they are easy to treat with bleach.

Scott, ReadySquirrel.com

You can store water indefinitely. Water doesn’t go bad or expire. It does get contaminated and needs to be cleaned by filtration, boiling, purification, or evaporation. Contamination occurs when water is exposed to chemicals or water-borne pathogens like giardia, cryptosporidium, shigella, e—Coli, and viruses. Contamination may make water unsafe to drink and make it unpalatable.

Follow the Link to Ready Squirrel’s article Can Clorox Be Used to Purify Drinking Water for the steps required to disinfect water with bleach and the suggested ratios of bleach to the water.

Interesting Fact: The water we drink today is the same water that has been on the planet for 5 billion years, some of it older than our sun. Washington State University

Water Cleanliness depends on 3 factors

  • The storage environment. Water will last longer if stored in a cool, dry location without severe fluctuations in temperature. For example, water stored in a cold dark basement will last longer than water stored in the trunk of a car or a hot garage.
  • The container used to store it: Clear glass or plastic expose water to light, which increases the speed of oxidation. If plastic is used to store water, it should be UV-resistant and food-grade, or it will leach chemicals into the water.
  • Cleanliness and the proper processing of water and equipment for storage. If water goes into the container with contaminants or if the water isn’t handled in a sterile environment, it may be contaminated going into the barrel.

If you would rather listen than read, check out the “How Long Will Water Last” YouTube Video.

How Much Emergency Water Should I Store?

When it comes to the minimum water storage for an emergency or natural disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set the bar at one gallon of water per day, per person, for a bare minimum of a 3 day supply. Ideally, you will have at least two weeks of water stored.

Occasionally, Florida is affected by severe weather systems like hurricanes, floods, or other natural disasters. In their wake, people can be left without electric power and/or running water for days or weeks at a time. University of Florida Extension

One gallon of water per day per person is a bare minimum and does not account for the water necessary to cook food. It’s a good starting point from which to build but plan for your own emergency water needs.

Interesting Fact: The United States Geological Survey estimates that the average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day for domestic use.

Under ideal storage conditions, you can expect the following shelf-life for your stored emergency water.

Water/Container TypeShelf-Life
Hermetically Sealed Metal Can 20 to 50 years
Store-Bought Plastic Water Bottles2 + years
After 2 Years, water will still be good, but it may not taste good due to carbon dioxide dissolution and chemical leaching from bottles.
55 Gallon Polypropylene Barrels5 + years, if adequately treated, cleaned, stored, and handled. Check your water annually. It is challenging to keep the water clean. Ask anyone who homebrews, and they will tell you it’s really easy to contaminate water
Unprocessed Tap Water Stored in Metal or Glass Containers6 months

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1 Gallon of water will last one person one day in an emergency. One half of the water is for hydration, and one half is for hygiene and sanitation. The minimum suggested emergency water storage is 3 gallons of water per person for natural disasters and emergencies.

Use the chart below to figure out the minimum amount of water you need to store for 1 to 365 days based on the length of the catastrophe and the number of people in your group.

How Much Water To Store: 1 Gallon Per Day Per Person

Duration of Daily Water Storage1 Person
Gallons to Store
2 People
Gallons to Store
3 People
Gallons to Store
4
People
Gallons to Store
5
People
Gallons to Store
6 People
Gallons to Store
1 day1 23456
2 days24681012
3 days369121518
4 days4812162024
5 days51015202530
6 days61218243036
7 days71421283542
14 Days142842567084
21 Days21426384105126
30 Days306090120150180
60 Days60120180240300360
90 Days90180270360450540
6 Months182.5365547.5730912.51,095
12 Months3657301,0951,4601,8253,285
Water Requirement Based on FEMA’s 1 gallon of water per day per person. Storage suggestion from 1 Day to 365 days for 1 to 6 people.

Interesting Fact: the minimum 365-day water supply for six people is 3,285 gallons of potable water. That is equivalent to 27,396.9 lbs of water weight. You won’t be carrying that out in a bug out bag.

Note: One gallon of water per day is not a lot of water. If you flush a toilet once, you’ve used approximately 1.6 gallons of H2O.

10 Steps to Store Drinking Water From A Chlorinated Public Water Source

Store this emergency water before municipal water is contaminated.

  1. Wash 1-liter plastic pop or juice bottles in soapy water
  2. Sanitize containers by pouring 1 Teaspoon of unscented household bleach in one gallon of water
  3. Pour bleach solution in bottles and let sit 2 minutes
  4. Pour bleach solution from the bottle
  5. Rinse bottle with clean potable water
  6. Fill plastic bottles from the faucet
  7. Cap Bottles
  8. Label as drinking water and date
  9. Store in a dark, dry and cool location
  10. Empty every six months and start again at step 1

5 Steps to Boiling Water When City Water is Contaminated

  1. Bring water to a rolling boil for 3 minutes
  2. Let Cool
  3. Pour boiled water into disinfected water containers or a clean pan with a lid (use bleach disinfection method above)
  4. Boiled water will taste bland because it’s not oxygenated. To improve taste, pour water back and forth between two clean containers to oxygenate. It will taste much better.
  5. Boiling will not remove chemicals in contaminated municipal or well water. Water is commonly contaminated with chemicals via flooding or groundwater surges from hurricanes.

Does Commercially Bottled Water Go Bad?

Commercially bottled water doesn’t go bad. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers bottled water to have an indefinite shelf-life as long as it is stored appropriately, unopened in a properly sealed container. Also, it must be packaged according to current Good Manufacturing Practice Regulations enforced by the FDA.

Plastic in water bottles may leach chemicals into the water if the plastic breaks down. Plastic leaching is a controversial subject without hard, fast answers. To be safe, store bottles in a cool location, out of the sunlight, and rotate, so bottles are no more than two years old.

Note: The FDA does not require manufacturers to have an expiration date on bottled water but some do. Manufacturers may also put a “best buy date, so the consumer is drinking water when it tastes fresh.

9 Things That May Cause Emergency Water To Go Bad: Contamination

  1. Time: bottles will begin to break down over time, causing plastic chemicals to leach into emergency water. Even BPA free containers leach chemicals.
  2. High Temperatures: Plastic bottles will shed chemicals when introduced to high temperatures of around 125° F + Don’t store water in a hot garage or car if you have other options.
  3. Contaminated Containers: storing water in a container that hasn’t been adequately cleaned or a container that contained hazardous material before usage for water storage.
  4. Dirty Water Storing water containing chemical or biological impurities before purification or filtration.
  5. Contaminated items like pumps, hands, and bung wrenches contaminate water when processing water for storage. Disinfect your water purification equipment and storage before using it to store water.
  6. Carbon dioxide dissolution: Carbon Dioxide dissolves into stored water, increasing acidity and giving it an off-taste. Resolve carbonization by oxygenating, which is merely pouring water back and forth between clean containers.
  7. Improperly sealed or stored containers: allow contaminants into the storage container through leaching or spills.
  8. Water Storage Containers aren’t food-grade: Some plastics will leach chemicals into a water supply and are not manufactured for the storage of potable water.
  9. Chemicals and Solvents: store your water storage away from chemicals

Tip: When Storing water, keep a bleach solution close to water storage vessels, so they are handy for disinfecting everything that comes in contact with water. A cup of household bleach to 1 Gallon of water is the ratio suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention for disinfectant cleaning.

How Can I Tell if my Emergency Water Supply is Bad?

Water that is safe to drink will be clear with no off-flavors or smells. There are exceptions to this but the only way to be truly sure if the water is safe to drink is by testing it.

5 Signs Your Emergency Water Supply Is Not Safe To Drink

  1. Water is cloudy
  2. The water smells like fish, metallic or like rotten eggs
  3. Water has debris or things floating in it
  4. Water is brown, yellow, or black
  5. Water may look and smell clean but Colorless and Odorless chemicals may be present. These chemicals can only be discovered with chemical testing.

How Do I Test My Water To See If It is Safe to Drink?

There is a multitude of in-home water test kits. Companies like Culligan will test your water for a price.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, county health departments will test for bacteria and nitrates.

If you want more extensive water testing, follow the link below for EPA Water Certification Programs and Certified Laboratories for Drinking Water Testing. EPA Link

6 Reasons To Store Water for an Emergency or Natural Disaster

During a natural disaster, you can only last three days without water. Store emergency water because municipal supplies can be contaminated or cut-off quickly without notice. If you don’t store emergency water, you may be left with no water to drink, clean, or cook.

  1. Hygiene: You need clean water to maintain hygiene. Reduce the amount of water you use for hygiene in an emergency by stocking antibacterial wipes and waterless soap
  2. Sanitation: You need clean water to maintain sanitation. Reduce sanitation water usage by using a 5-gallon plastic bucket, contractor-grade plastic bag, and saw-dust as a porta-potty. With this method, you don’t have to use precious water to flush, but you maintain sanitation.
  3. Hydration: You need a minimum of 1/2 gallon of water per person per day to stay hydrated
  4. Cooking: You need water to cook staple items like white rice, rolled oats, instant soups, etc. To reduce or eliminate the need for cooking water store foods that don’t require water like canned soups and other non-perishable foods.
  5. Gardening: This may seem strange, but depending on your climate, you may wish to incorporate rainwater or another form of catchment into your emergency plan so you can keep your vegetable garden going in case of a drought or water loss. Especially important for a long-term survival situation. Have emergency crop irrigation worked out before the tap runs dry.
  6. Pets: Dogs, cats, chickens, horses, or hamsters. Plan to store enough water for your pets and livestock.

10 Easy Steps to Fill an Emergency Water Barrel

  1. Location: Place your barrel where you want it before you fill it. A filled 55-gallon barrel weighs 459 lbs.
  2. Floor: Place your barrel on crates or wood to ensure no chemical interaction between concrete and plastic. ( I didn’t do this but it’s probably a good idea)
  3. Remove the bung plug with a bung wrench. I used a regular screwdriver.
  4. Pick A Hose: It is suggested that you use a food-grade hose. I used a regular garden hose.
  5. Clean Your Barrel inside and out, including the bung area and plug. I used all-purpose, unscented-bleach for this purpose.
  6. Fill the 55 Gallon Polypropylene Barrel with clean, potable water.
  7. Remove the fill hose.
  8. Disinfect your hands, the bung, the bung area, and the bung wrench with a bleach solution.
  9. Water Treatment: If water isn’t chlorinated, add 1/4 teaspoon of calcium hypochlorite (pool shock) or two tablespoons of unscented bleach to the 55-gallon barrel. Some choose to treat water when they use it instead of when they store it.
  10. Place Cap in top of the barrel and tighten (Don’t tighten too much or you will strip the fittings)

How Do You Remove Water From a 55 Gallon Barrel?

During a recent move, I had to empty my water barrels. Following is a Ready Squirrel Video showing how I removed the water using a simple, inexpensive handpump.

Top Tips for Storing Emergency Water In A Vehicle

The long-term storage of water in a vehicle is crucial because you never know when your car will break down or when you will have to hit the road in an emergency or natural disaster.

You can just throw a case of water in your car, that may work, but there are better options for the extreme conditions inside a vehicle.

Store Emergency Water In Your Vehicle: Hot Climates

The logical choice for vehicle water storage seems like it would be the inexpensive pre-packaged water bottles you can get at the grocery store, but they aren’t the best option for long-term water storage in a vehicle.

When superheated, plastic bottles leach a chemical into your water called BPA.

BPAIndustrial Chemical called bisphenol A- controversial chemical that leaches from some plastics, under certain conditions like extreme heat. It causes water to taste off and may have adverse health effects.

9 Emergency Water Containers To Store In a Hot Vehicle

  1. Stainless Nalgene
  2. Klean canteen (outdoor-stainless)
  3. Nalgene Bottles (BPA-free) My daily carry.
  4. Military Surplus Canteen
  5. USGI Cold Weather Canteen (steel)
  6. U.S. Arctic Canteen (Stainless steel interior, Aluminum Exterior)
  7. Scepter 5 Gallons Jugs: Military-grade water storage. A good option for bulk water storage in hot weather.
  8. Single-walled Stainless Steel Canteens and Bottles. Look to the backpacking world on YouTube to research the perfect stainless container for your needs.
  9. Pre-packaged Emergency Water: Including mylar bags, boxes, cans, and BPA-free plastic bottles
    1. I’m not a fan of pre-packaged emergency water because it is expensive for the amount of water you get.
    2. Instead, I’d spring for stainless steel single-walled containers that are multi-purpose, reusable, and last for years.

Fact: If it’s 100° F outside of a vehicle, interior temperatures can reach 130° to 170° F due to the green-house effect.

Cold Climate Emergency Water Storage for Your Vehicle.

If you think your canteen or water bottle is going to freeze in your car, only fill it 3/4 full to leave room for expansion.

Consider keeping a small hiker’s stove with fuel and store uninsulated single-walled stainless steel containers in your vehicle that you can use with the stove to melt frozen water and cook emergency rations.

Do not store white gas or any other backpacker’s fuel in your vehicle in a hot climate; it may explode.

8 Emergency Vehicle Water Containers To Store In Freezing Temperatures

Single wall stainless canteens and bottles make an excellent addition to your cold-weather vehicle bugout bag. They can also be used for cooking food.

  1. Stainless Nalgene
  2. Klean Canteen (outdoor-stainless)
  3. Single-walled Stainless Steel Canteens and Bottles
  4. Military Surplus Canteen
  5. USGI Cold Weather Canteen (steel)
  6. U.S. Arctic Canteen (Stainless steel interior, Aluminum Exterior) (Do not heat on an open flame)
  7. Heavy-Duty Glass Containers are stored in a small cooler and wrapped with a blanket or other insulation. Make sure they are secured, so they don’t go flying around inside the car or trunk.
  8. Emergency Water in mylar bags, boxes or BPA-free plastic bottles (very expensive)
  9. Store-Bought Plastic Water Bottles: If you decide to go this route, store 1/2 liter water bottles inside a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag in case they burst.

Tip: Don’t use a stove or campfire to heat an insulated or multi-walled thermos or stainless bottle. Heat may damage the lining of the bottle.

Water Containers That are Not Optimum for Long-term Storage in a Vehicle

  • Glass breaks easily and can be dangerous in a car.
    • The last thing you want flying around your bugout vehicle is shards of glass.
    • If you use glass, don’t fill to the top of the water container; leave room for expansion as water freezes.
    • Store in a secure container that will keep it from breaking or moving around in the vehicle.
  • Thin plastic water bottles you buy at the grocery store. When Super-heated leach chemicals into your water. They are an excellent choice for short trips or a temperature-controlled environment.
  • Canned Water: May burst in heat or cold
  • Plastics: Don’t use plastic water bottles that contain BPAs in a hot environment or plastic bottles that aren’t food-safe.

8 Emergency Water Storage Tips For Your Vehicle:

  1. Secure Your Water If you decide to store water in your trunk, use a net, bungee cord, or storage container to keep bottles from flying around as the vehicle travels.
  2. Taking a road trip or traveling through remote-territory, bring a lot of potable water in whatever containers(s) are handy.
  3. Water insulation: place water containers in a soft or hard sided-cooler with no ice or wrap in a wool or mylar blanket.
  4. Water Filter: store a Katdyne, Sawyer or Lifestraw and an empty container in each vehicle, just in case
  5. Stainless Steel Water Bottles Are Preferred: They don’t explode, leach chemicals, they are tough, and they are multi-purpose.
  6. Water Treatment Tablets: Store tablets and an empty water container to process water on the fly. This tip depends on where you live, don’t rely on this in the Sonoran desert or areas without accessible water)
  7. Backpackers Stove and Fuel– Store in your trunk in cold climates, do not store, in your vehicle, in a hot environment. Useful if you are using stainless steel, to melt frozen water, and for cooking Ramen when you’re stranded on the roadside.
  8. Handwarmers I’ve seen it suggested that you can wrap a frozen can or bottle in a blanket with a handwarmer to thaw. I haven’t tried this, so I don’t know if it will work.

The Best Water Storage Container for Vehicle Bugout

The best container to store long-term emergency water in a vehicle is a single-walled, stainless steel canteen or water bottle. It is water safe, doesn’t leach chemicals, can be heated in cold weather, robust, multi-purpose, and reusable—the perfect choice for a vehicle bug-out bag.

How long will water store in a 55 Gallon Drum

Water stored in a 55 gallons drum that is appropriately stored and kept free of contaminants should last indefinitely. Check your water every year and know how to treat drinking water with unscented Bleach or Pool shock.

Tip: If you find your emergency water is contaminated with biological agents five years down the road, you can treat it with unscented bleach, pool shock, or boil it when you need it. Having water to clean is a considerable asset.

Tip: Check your water regularly; if it looks cloudy, smells, or tastes off, consider dumping it, sterilizing the container, and refilling.

7 Ways To Store Water for the Longest Shelf Life?

  1. Store in a sterilized container like a 55-gallon blue barrel
  2. Disinfect your hands and anything that comes in contact with water by using a bleach and water solution to sterilize
  3. Make Sure water is free of chemical and biological contamination before storing
  4. Use food-grade containers
  5. Store water in a cool, dry environment far away from any solvents or chemicals that may leach into stored water
  6. Ensure containers are sealed and that the water is protected from contaminants
  7. Keep water containers away from sunlight; it breaks down the plastic and causes growth in your water.

Do I Need to Add Bleach or Pool Shock to My Emergency Water?

If your Emergency water isn’t chlorinated, you need to treat it with unscented bleach or pool shock before storing it or before you use it. Most municipal or city water comes out of the tap chlorinated, so it isn’t necessary to chlorinate before storage.

There are other options you. You can plan on boiling water or filtering it as you remove it from your containers but this is less convenient and may be more difficult in an emergency situation.

To learn more about treating stored emergency water check out Ready Squirrel’s comprehensive article, Can Clorox Be Used to Purify Drinking Water

11 Emergency Water Storage Container Options

  1. Commercially Packaged Water Bottles: The easiest to rotate and replenish
  2. Reclaimed PEP Plastic Bottles sterilized for water storage: For budget concerns, you may have to go this route but ask yourself if you are being penny-wise pound foolish. It’s difficult to get the flavor of juice and soda out of a PET food-grade plastic bottle. Only store water in a pre-used, decontaminated container if you know what was in it before using it for water storage.
  3. 3.5-gallon water bricks-Stackable and Robust
  4. 5-Gallon Water Storage Cubes
  5. 15-gallon Barrels
  6. 45-Gallon Barrels
  7. 55-Gallon Blue Barrels
  8. 100-gallon Bathtube Tote This is a novel way to store emergency water short-term, like if you know a hurricane is coming. Throw this in the bathtub and fill it. You’ve got 100 gallons of clean water in your bathtub. I see two companies selling these, WaterBob and AquaPodKit
  9. 275-gallon IBC totes You can purchase refurbished, food-grade totes, just do a google search or look on Craig’s list. Make sure the totes stored edibles if they are refurbished because they are also used to store chemicals.
  10. 330-gallon IBC totes *see 275-gallon IBC tote comment
  11. Mylar bags stuffed in 5-gallon buckets- Mylar bags break easily.

7 Large Water Storage Tank Options for Emergency Water

  1. Food-grade Plastic Water Storage Tanks made from FDA approved polyethylene resins these tanks come in sizes from 120 to 15,500 gallons
  2. Fiberglass Water Storage Tank: Non-corrosive, above or below ground
  3. Carbon Steel Water Storage Tank:
  4. Pillow Tank: These come in small sizes starting at 25-gallons and go all the way up to 20,000-gallon storage capacity. Smaller units fit nicely in the bed of a truck, but check the max payload of your vehicle before purchase.
  5. Steel Tank Bolted: hold volumes of water over 150k gallons
  6. Corrugated Steel
  7. Pre-Cast Concrete

Top 4 Lightweight Emergency Water Filters For Bugging-out On Foot

Backpacker’s Water Filters: Not a method of storage but instead a way to treat water when you are hiking out on foot. Even the small filters like the Sawyer Mini will filter 100,000 gallons of water.

You won’t be able to carry much more than a gallon of water in a bug-out bag; even that amount is questionable with all of the other gear you are taking. If you are in an area with ample fresh water, consider using a portable backpacker’s filter. My personal choice is the Sawyer Mini. I used it hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and it did a great job.

MakeLifetime Water Purification (Gallons)Contaminants Removed
Sawyer Squeeze100,000 Gallons99.9% of all bacteria including salmonella, cholera, and e.coli, Removes 99.9 % of all protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium
Sawyer Mini100,000 Gallons99.9% of all bacteria including salmonella, cholera, and e.coli, Removes 99.9 % of all protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium
Sawyer Micro100,000 Gallons99.9% of all bacteria including salmonella, cholera, and e.coli, Removes 99.9 % of all protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium
Life Straw1000 GallonsProtects against 99.999999% of bacteria (including E.coli, Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), 99.999% of microplastics, dirt, sand, and cloudiness
Information provided by manufacturer(s)

Portable Water Storage When Bugging Out In a Vehicle:

If it were me, I’d have water to throw in my vehicle, but if possible, I would rely on filtering water if it’s readily available.

  • 5 Gallon Jerry Can(s)
  • Water Brick
  • Water Jugs (the kind you see in office water containers)
  • Store Packaged Clear Water Bottles and Jugs
  • Water Filtration System (s)
  • Empty Water containers to hold filtered water. Something like Nalgene bottles, canteens, or some other water storage cup or glass.
  • I like the idea of using a single-walled stainless steel canteen that is rated for use on a campfire. That way, I build in redundancy, allowing me to boil water for purification, and I can cook in the canteen.

Methods to Remove Chemicals from Emergency Drinking Water

If you find yourself in a situation where groundwater is contaminated from chemicals such as during water surges from a hurricane, you will have to remove the chemicals before drinking the water.

  • Distillation water is cleaned by boiling and capturing the water vapor. Distillation Systems will remove common chemical contaminants, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, nitrate, sodium, sulfate, and many organic chemicals.
  • Reverse Osmosis will remove common chemical contaminants (metal ions, aqueous salts), including sodium, chloride, copper, chromium, and lead; may reduce arsenic, fluoride, radium, sulfate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, nitrate, and phosphorous.
  • Nano Filtration will remove particles from  0.008 microns to 0.01 microns. Nanofiltration has a moderate effectiveness in removing chemicals

Filtering Methods That Do Not Remove Chemicals from Emergency Drinking Water

  • Ultraviolet Water Treatment is not effective in removing chemicals from water.
  • Boiling water removes biological contamination, but it will not remove chemicals. Boiling causes a reduction in water and increases the volume of chemicals.
  • Backpack style water filters only remove biological contamination they do not remove chemicals.

Good Resources

A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Choosing Home Water Filters & Other Water Treatment Systems: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Water: Ready.gov

21 Sure-fire Water Containers: Ready Squirrel click here

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