Food Storage Basics: Step 1 – Water

by Erich

Water Storage Basics What does water have to do with food storage? Well, you can have all the food in the world but if you don’t have water you won’t be living long enough to enjoy that food. In most cases, you’ll be around for only three days. One easy way to remember this is with the 3-3-3 rule. Generally speaking you cannot live longer than 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.

In an ideal world, we would all have a years supply of water stored away. However for most people, storing a years supply of water is not practical and in many cases not necessary (I’ll be covering water filtration methods later). At a minimum you should store at least 2 weeks (14 days) worth of water.

  • You should have at least one gallon per person, per day, for 14 days
  • Store the water in a cool, dry, dark place
  • Ideally PETE or food-grade plastic containers should be used
  • Thoroughly wash your containers before filling them up
  • Treat non-chlorinated water with bleach
  • Rotate the water regularly

Here’s some helpful pointers:

  • You should have at least one gallon per person, per day, for 14 days: 14 days acts as a buffer zone that gives you time until the infrastructure problem is fixed or at least until you can figure out other water-procurement methods.

    If you live in an arid area where water is hard to come by then it’s absolutely important that you store as much as is practical. If you have the space, look into purchasing some 55 Gallon Water Barrels.

  • Store the water in a cool, dark place: Light and heat break down plastics and can contribute to bacterial growth. Limit exposure to both. Preferably avoid moist areas where mold easily forms.
  • Ideally PETE or food-grade plastic containers should be used: Used soda bottles work great in a pinch. Just be sure to clean it out well. I wouldn’t recommend used plastic milk jugs though. Milk contains a protein that doesn’t easily wash out and may contribute to bacterial growth. Plastic ‘water’ jugs with screw-on tops can be used although they need to be rotated yearly due to becoming brittle with time.
  • Thoroughly wash your containers before filling them up: Wash the containers with warm, soapy water and sanitize them by putting a teaspoon of household bleach (non-scented) in a gallon of water. Pour this solution into the container and let it sit for about two minutes. Then rinse out with potable (suitable for drinking) water.
  • Treat non-chlorinated water with bleach: Most municipal water sources are chlorinated so bottles can be filled up right from the tap. If you get your water from a well or other water source than adding bleach will prepare the water for storage. The general rule is 8 drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach per gallon of water (2 drops per quart).
  • Rotate the water regularly: If you are not storing commercially bottled water then it’s a good idea to rotate the water every six months. I find it easiest to just use the water, then when finished I’ll follow the steps above putting the newly-filled water container in the back of the storage queue FIFO style (first-in first-out).

Storing water is an easy step. Instead of throwing out your used water jugs or soda bottles, clean them out and fill them up with water. With time the process becomes a regular habit and you’ll have your minimum 2 weeks of stored water in no time. Just be sure to start now!

In the upcoming article, I’ll be covering the next step in food storage: the 3-month supply…

Here are the links to all the articles in this series:

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Comment by Security Guy
2010-07-03 14:50:52

Some really good information on water. I’ve been doing some calculation on the amount of water that my family of 5 need to have for a 2 week period. I have to say that I don’t have nearly enough, especially when you add bucket baths, cooking, flushing the toilets, etc. I think I am going to have to rethink my storage needs.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2010-07-04 21:20:46

Thanks SG,

I’ve been reading through some of your blog posts as well. You’ve got a good thing going there, keep it up.

Comment by Bayahoo
2010-08-04 08:34:37

Is there any reason not to buy cases of bottled water in 16 oz size? Although it isn’t cheap water, it’s easy to find, prepackaged, portable, expiration dates from the manufacturer tend to be two years, and easy to rotate.

Comment by Erich
2010-08-04 17:21:04

Like you said the biggest reason not to is cost. If that is not a factor than by all means go for it. First off, 16oz bottles tend to be better quality and longer lasting than your standard “milk jug” water bottel. Also, the two year expiration date is mainly related to the quality of “taste” that the water will hold. In reality the water is quite potable many years after that date. As long as you keep the water bottles stored in a cool, dark place it should be good for you many years to come.

As far as the ‘taste’ goes, water tends to “go flat” as years go by. To re-oxygenate the water, just pour it from one to container and back again (repeat a few times). This will restore that fresh taste.

Hope that helps…

Comment by bayahoo
2010-08-11 18:58:32

Thanks, that does help. I opted to buy 35 packs of water bottles. At 16.9 ounces per bottle, they each yield just over 4.5 gallons per case. I purchased 2 per person at the supermarket for $3.99 each. Agreed, not cheap water. But like so many other people, I had nothing saved. With one car trip to the grocery store I had jumped a first hurdle — created a reserve of 1 gallon of water per person for 9 days. It got me off doing nothing, I stopped considering containers, purifying, managing, etc. and did what you suggested – I just started now. And do the math backwards — in an emergency would you pay $8 per person for 9 days of water? Hell yes, cheap insurance. This weekend I’ll add another case per person to get to a two week minimum reserve. Then I’ll consider options for storing greater amounts of water…

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2010-08-12 12:25:43


Great job getting started! That’s really the key since once you get started you’ll start to feel momentum building behind you that will carry you into the next steps and beyond. Keep it up! We’d love to hear your progress so keep us posted.

Comment by Linda
2010-09-20 08:12:51

I have an abundance of quart fruit jars, flats/lids that are used, and rings. These are not being used, so couldn’t the tap water just be stored in the sterilized jars, using sterilized flats with rings screwed on? There are plenty of cabinets for storage of the jars with water–right where they were stored empty.

Comment by Erich
2010-09-20 09:09:13


Yes and no. First off, glass by itself is an excellent storage medium — it is easily sterilized, doesn’t corrode and is impermeable to air and pests. The downside is that it lets in light (which in the case of water storage is perfectly fine) and breaks easily. Assuming you can store them in a location that won’t topple if there were an earthquake or a mishap (ie accidentally bumping it) the jars would be fine. However, this applies only to glass. One thing you’ll want to be aware of is that the lids can and do in fact corrode over time — especially if they’re not processed in typical canning fashion to be airtight. If you are using old used lids without processing them through a hot-water bath then the chances of them corroding over time is greatly increased.

Hope that helps.

Comment by CoffeeHeidi
2010-10-07 07:35:02

What about stackable water cooler style bottles? I saw some at our local NJ Sam’s Club the other day and they seemed to be of thicker plastic than the round (non- stackable) type? Would they possibly last longer than the gallon jugs of water? (We have a food grade siphon, so getting the water out wouldn’t be a problem.)

We currently have water in 3 packs of gallon jugs, those kind that always end up leaking which is why we keep them in a never-used basement shower basin. Like another poster, we also have many multi-packs of 16 oz. bottles.

Because we don’t drink soda and rarely buy juice, storing water in those kinds of containers is a moot point. And I fear that our 85+ year old concrete basement floor couldn’t take the 400+ concentrated pounds of a filled 55 gallon water barrel. (Oh, but I wish it could as it would store 1/2 our needed supply.)

Thanks muchly for any advice 🙂


Comment by Erich
2010-10-08 07:43:55


First off, thanks for visiting!

If i’m thinking of the same stackable cooler bottles that you’re thinking about then yes I think they would be better than the “milk jug” style of water bottles and last longer to boot. Without seeing them in person though I can only assume.

As far as other storage options, you may want to look into these 275 gallon storage totes: They hold a lot of water for a small area.

Also, I wouldn’t worry about the weight on your basement. A 55-gallon tank has an area of around 452 square inches at the bottom, which when divided by 470lbs of water weight only comes out to around 1 pound per square inch. Unless your basement is made out of paper you should be fine. 🙂

Hope that helps!

Comment by Honora Renwick
2011-03-13 05:10:02

We’ve just endured 2 earthquakes of 7.1 and the more devastating 6.3 magnitude here in Christchurch, New Zealand. The first time, we got the water back on the next day but the second time, it took about a week. I had only 6L of water stored, which is just over a gallon. It took us 2 days to use this up as we opened tins of food for our evening meals. I got water from the creek to flush the toilet for wees and we dug a pit for the solid stuff.

Now I have 30L of water stored and we use this for our drinking and cooking. We go into the countryside every weekend and I replenish the empty bottles so we are using up this non-chlorinated water in a short time. I’m not keen on chlorinated water which is why we have given up using our tap water. Because for the first time in our city’s history, the water is chlorinated. Fortunately our workplace water is from 2 separate deep artesian wells that get tested every week or every month respectively.

I estimate that we’re using probably 15L a week for the 2 of us for cooking and drinks. That would equate to 3 1/2 gallons a week for the 2 of us. The first few days we didn’t wash our plates – we just wiped them dry with tissues. I used methylated spirit based body wipes at work as well.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence .NET
2011-03-13 18:20:07


Thank you for your comments and report from on the ground! I really appreciate the details on how much water you guys were using and the needs vs. wants contrast. Is everything now back online for you guys (in the sense of utilities etc)?

Also, any other lessons learned that you would like to share?

Comment by dnsnthegrdn
2011-06-21 12:48:46

I’ve been reusing bottles for a while now and one thing I’ve learned is DO NOT reuse Gatorade bottles or sports drink bottles. No matter how much you wash them and let them air out they will make the water taste horrible for some reason.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-06-21 16:35:54

Thanks for the great tip!

Comment by Stephen
2011-10-03 15:57:35

Hi, great post, one quick question: My water heater holds 60 gallons. Should I or should I not include that as counting towards my calculation, and if not, why not?


Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-10-03 18:28:28


Absolutely you can include your hot water heater. It’s a great backup source that is completely potable. Just be sure you can easily access the drain outlet.

Comment by baseball training
2013-06-18 16:31:58

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2015-01-21 15:11:44

Storing water is something that I started to thing about lately! I started with buying bottles and put them in the basement! I really didn’t know how serious it is! I am excited to learn more about storing water because I believe it is really important! Thanks for the post!

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Comment by Albert Clayton
2019-11-12 20:21:46

To start I don’t know what a URI is. Now, I live in South Alabama where it is warm to hot most of the year and no such thing as a basement, so how much heat can stored water stand without adverse effects. Have just in the last year started thinking ahead and now trying to catch up. Thanks.

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