A useful tip for storing emergency water supplies

I thought that, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, my readers might like to hear a useful tip about keeping reserve water supplies.  FEMA suggests keeping a minimum reserve supply of one gallon per person per day, for a minimum of three days.  However, I regard that as far too little.  It leaves nothing for personal hygiene, and precious little for cooking, cleaning, etc.  I prefer to work on three gallons per person per day, and keep a minimum of one week’s water on hand at that rate – preferably two.

I use three sizes of storage container;  5-gallon, 6-gallon and 7-gallon (follow the links to see them at their respective suppliers).  Their price and availability can vary widely from time to time, as demand waxes and wanes, so it might pay you to shop around, and wait for better prices if necessary.  Also, if you’re limited in terms of physical strength or dexterity, these large containers are very heavy and awkward to handle when full.  You might do better to purchase smaller containers (such as, for example, one of the many 2-gallon designs).  I also try to keep half-a-dozen flats of drinking water bottles in stock, each with 24-28 16-20oz. bottles of water.  We use them regularly, and replenish our stocks as needed.

Unfortunately, every aftermarket plastic water container I’ve ever used has tasted strongly of plastic – or, rather, the water in it has tasted of plastic.  The only way I’ve found to reliably remove that taste is to follow these steps.

  1.  Pour half a gallon of plain ordinary white vinegar into each container, fill it with water to the very brim, then put the cap on.
  2. Stand the container in the hottest place available (e.g. direct sunlight in a warm place, or next to a heater if it’s in the middle of winter – but don’t melt it!).  Let it stand there for a couple of days.
  3. Dispose of the water/vinegar mixture, rinse out the container, and refill it to the brim with fresh water.  Cap it, and repeat step 2.
  4. Empty the container and allow it to air-dry.  That should remove most of the plastic taste from the next batch of water.

It’s important to use a potable water hose to fill the container.  Ordinary garden hoses can have contaminants such as lead that will leach into water passing through them – something that you really, really don’t need!  I also store an inline potable water filter with the hose, in case our local water supply becomes dirty or polluted.  That will remove a lot of contaminants that you’d otherwise have to filter out, jug by jug, as you use the water for drinking and cooking.  I add water treatment drops to each container prior to putting it away.  They keep the contents fresh for up to four years.  I have powdered “Pool Shock” chlorine bleach in my emergency supplies, so I can purify any water I get from unknown, untrustworthy sources (here’s how to use it);  and I have a family-sized water filter as well.

Finally, we have in reserve a 100-gallon-capacity WaterBOB.  Given even half an hour’s warning of an emergency, we can unfold this in a bathtub and fill it with water.  With all our containers full, including the WaterBOB, we’ll have over 200 gallons available, plus (hopefully) the contents of our 50-gallon hot water heater.  That should last Miss D. and I for up to a month or more, all being well;  and even if we don’t have time to fill the WaterBOB, we’ll have enough water for two to three weeks.  I sleep better at night, knowing that.

(I covered this subject in a lot more detail some years ago, if you’re interested.)



  1. For those who have weight or dexterity restrictions, buying 1 gallon jugs pre-filled is easier. Not too expensive (like a buck or less) and they can fit in smaller places than huge jugs.

    Something I've done for disaster prep is using heavy duty, 33 gallon or larger, totes for non-potable water. Place 1 in the kitchen, 1 or 2 in each bath, fill with water. Use this water for washing and flushing (you can even have a waste kitchen water tote and use that for flushing, if necessary.) After the disaster period is over (storms, fire season, rabid ninja rabbit attacks, whatever) you can dump and clean out the totes, and save for the next period of craziness. This works really well in small apartments where you need floor space during normal times, but don't mind cramped quarters during 'hunker down' times.

    Doing this and using water jugs of whatever size gives the single bathroom person the ability to use the bathtub for bathing and sheltering. Those BOBs are great for multi-bathroom houses.

    You can also find plastic totes big enough that the BOBs will fit in, if you are space restricted, thus giving some portability to your water storage system.

  2. An editing check: You discuss a water/ vinegar mixture, but then refer to a water/ bleach mixture – I think you meant vinegar both places; might want to double check.

  3. One other thing: Even once you've done the bleach and/or vinegar procedure, if you decide to keep water in the containers as part of your preps but in a particular situation you have enough advance warning of a potential need for the water, use the water in your garden or for cleaning and refill with fresh.

    The jugs continue to leach plasticizers into the water they contain almost indefinitely (in a lab I once worked in we verified it in carboys in service for over 10 years) and if you have a choice it's probably better not to consume it.

  4. I've started using empty milk jugs (or even old bleach jugs – Thoroughly washed, obviously, and don't buy flavored bleaches) for water storage: They're a convenient size, have an easy-carry handle built it, they're food-grade plastic, and best of all they don't cost anything extra.

    The only downside is that they don't stack well.

  5. For weight calculations, figure 8 lbs/gal for water.

    Consider closing your water valve that feeds the house as soon as trouble occurs. A break in the city service could drain all your water, or if it gets contaminated, that can end up in your house. Also close any sprinkler system valves and garden hose faucets at the same time, as they can also drain the house.

  6. Glass carboys – they are usually 5 to 7 gallons. A homebrew supply place will have them in stock along with handles and caps. I fill the 2 six gallon ones I have anytime I see a storm approaching.

  7. Folks don't think about water which is scary. Think of your water system and how little of it will work without electricity!

    If you plan on using the water in your water heater you need to flush the tank regularly and inspect it when changing the anode. You may have 10 gallons of water and 40 of sediment if it has gone un-maintained.

    Flush toilets use a lot of water, a small portable one or even a field expedient one in the back yard can save a lot of water you can then use elsewhere.

    If you have nothing else to store water in trash can liners will convert almost anything to a water storage container. You may not want to have that as your primary water supply but if you get really thirsty your standards will be a lot lower.

    A couple trash bags in your tub or even a plastic drop cloth will keep anything from coming back up from the sewer into the tub. With no liner both the drain and overflow can become a problem if the sewer backs up. Again many places depend on electricity to keep the sewage flowing so it can become a problem once their pumps fail.

    Keep a few buckets handy, used dish or other water is fine for flushing the toilet or many other tasks. Don't dispose of any water until it can't be reused for something.

    We live in Phoenix and if the water goes out, with about 5 million people in the area, water is going to be a huge problem. Folks that have prepared are going to be making some tough calls when the neighbors who haven't come knocking on the door.

  8. If I am worried about possible water outages, I pull out my wading pool, put it together and fill it. That will keep us going with non-pot and potable (after it goes through the Berkey) for quite a while.

    In an emergency, your hot water heater holds quite a bit of water.

  9. Do not store plastic water containers on wet ground, especially the clear bottled water type or soda jugs. Contaminants will leach through over time. Something they learned with bottled water after Hurricane Andrew.

    They aren't cheap, but if you think you'll need some help moving/lifting heavy items, such as water storage, consider a hydraulic table cart. Still requires a short lift, but far less than a counter to get height for flow or siphoning.

    This one from Harbor Freight is $170, but will lift 500 lbs. Might be an opportunity for someone to make one with less weight capability but at a cheaper price.

    Also, you can get a foldable hand truck for about $25.

  10. Bottled water companies will deliver the 5-gallon carboys; order enough at once they'll discount and waive the delivery fee. Wire rack shelves (Home Depot, $99 reg, $79 on sale, 48"X18"X 6 shelves) will hold 4 5-gallon carboys per shelf (I assembled mine with 4 shelves to hold 16 carboys). Yes, 5 gallons of water is heavy; gravity sucks. Live with it. Amazon has a wire rack and a clamp-on valve to hold one at a 45 degree angle for use. No pumping, no power required.

    Use a Sharpee to put month/year on the caps when you get them so you FIFO.

    Potable water hoses – get 3/4" plastic threaded plugs and caps to close the ends when not in use. Keeps dirt and bugs out. Pour 50/50 bleach & water (or 50/50 vinegar and water) through the hose followed by known clean water and drain out before capping. You'll use the hose, set it aside for days/weeks/months then discover at next use it's got all sorts of stuff that likes dark, damp places growing in it.

    Pro Tip 1: Put two valves in the water line between your water meter and your dwelling – closest to the meter is a manual drain valve, immediately next to it and between the drain valve and your house is a manual shutoff. When SHTF, turn off incoming water at the meter and at your second control valve so contaminated water doesn't get past the meter and into your home system (which includes the line from the meter). When SHTF is past and "regular" water service returns, check with the utility and see when they'll add extra chlorine to make sure the distribution lines are clean. Near the end of that cycle, make sure control valve #2 – the manual shutoff you installed between the meter and the line to the house – is off, then open the manual drain upstream from the meter and let it run for a while to make sure undesirable stuff is purged from the delivery line connected to the water main in the street.
    Pro Tip 2: If you're on public sewer consider installing a shutoff valve in your sewer line; make it upsized (3 inch standard sewer line, install a 4 inch or 5 inch valve). It means you won't be able to use any plumbing fixture in the house that drains, but it also prevents sewage backflows into the house.
    Pro Tip 3: When building or remodeling, put your toilets on a completely separate manual valve-controlled water distribution line, with a one-way valve (backflow preventer) between that water line and the potable water line in your house and a shutoff valve at each toilet, plus a way to supply pressurized water to the toilet water lines. If you have a non-potable water source yiou can shut off the valve between the toilet water line and the potable water line and non-potable water can be manually or electrically pumped into the toilet water line to refill the tanks without contaminating the potable water distribution system in the house.

  11. I agree with tsquared about carboys. As a brewer and wine maker I have quite a collection of them in 3 gal, 5 gal and 6 gal. I keep them filled with water for emergency situations when they are not in use for the purpose that I purchased them for. I've never gotten any off flavors from the plastic ones since they are specially made to not impart them to wine or beer. You can buy special carrying handles for them at wine making/brewing supply stores. While I am able to carry them I prefer to slide them onto a small dolly and wheel them into the garage. Work smart, not hard. Another nice thing is that the plastic caps from Polar water jugs will fit on all of them. I used to bring them home from work from the empties. You can also purchase a little battery or hand power pump that attaches to the to of a carboy to make it very easy to get water out without handling a heavy container……..

  12. We used this method and I have posted this several times through the years
    For potable water storage,
    1. New 30 gallon garbage cans with lids.
    2. New 55 gallon trash bags.
    3. One gallon plain bleach.
    4. One measuring tablespoon.
    5. Duct tape.
    Place trash bags in garbage cans, fill bags with tap water, add 1 tablespoon of bleach, tape bag shut and place cover on garbage can.
    You then have about 28 gallons of potable water per can that should stay potable for longer than a week.

    Another thing, a good camping / hiking water filter with spare parts.
    Katadyn makes some of the best.

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