First published on by Gregg Stanton

Storing Tap Water

Storing Your Tap Water for the Long Term

By now I don’t need to tell you the importance of storing water for an EMP, hurricane, earthquake, financial collapse, civil unrest, polar shift, or any other major disaster. Water is extremely important (humans are made up of at least 70% water) and going without can cause death in a matter of days. If you don’t want to buy your water from a store, learn here how to treat tap water for long term survival situations.

Preparing Tap Water for Long Term Storage

Every prepper should have some professionally manufactured water bottles stored away. You never know when you might have to grab these and leave in a hurry (small water bottles are extremely portable).

However, it is not very practical to store enough small water bottles to supply you and your family with the water you need to survive a long term disaster that could cause a disruption with basic utilities.Bottled water can also cost a considerable amount if you are attempting to store enough to last a year or more. Tap water isn’t free, but it’s definitely the cheapest water you can probably get your hands on.

That’s why most preppers will store large quantities of tap water in large containers.

Here I will discuss some of what’s involved in putting away your own tap water for the long term. Keep in mind there are many different opinions about the methods to accomplish this. I will cover the most widely accepted and used method.

Type of Containers for Long Term Storage of Tap Water

There are about as many different container choices for water storage as you can imagine. You could use anything from empty milk jugs all the way up to thousand gallons (or more) commercially available storage tanks. What you choose is entirely up to you. Here’s some brief information on some popular choices:

Used Milk Jugs – These are about the worst types of plastic containers to choose. The plastics used in milk jugs will leach into the water making your water smell and taste like chemicals (drinking two-year-old water that was stored in a milk jug tastes like you are drinking solvent). Not to mention that these containers are structurally weak. After a few years, these containers often spring a leak.
Water Storage Specific Containers – These containers are manufactured with the specific purpose of storing water for the long term and typically come in two different sizes: 5 or 7 gallons. These will cost a bit of money, but if you want your water to remain portable and still be in a quality container, this is the way to do it. The plastics used in the construction of these containers will not leach chemicals into your water and these products are much more durable than a milk jug. They are also not made of clear plastic, keeping light inside to a minimum and therefore inhibiting bacterial growth.
Collapsible Water Store Containers – These containers most commonly come in the 5-gallon size. The container itself is made from flexible food grade plastics which makes it easy to store it in a small space when it’s empty. These are great for short term storage of water (for a vacation, camping, etc) but not ideal for long term storage. Although the plastic is generally thick high-quality plastic, they can be prone to leaks or punctures when stored full of water for years on end. Also, they are not stackable, making it difficult to store large quantities of these containers when full.
5 Gallon Office Bottles – These 5-gallon containers are what you generally see at your office upside down in a water cooler. They are fairly inexpensive and use quality plastics that will also not leach chemicals into your water. These are generally made of clear plastic which means you will have to be extra careful to store them in a dark area as light will encourage bacteria growth in the water. They are available online or even often times at local stores (such as Walmart). Being only 5 gallons makes them fairly portable if you need to leave your house in a hurry. Get the type that has handles built into the plastic for added mobility.
Water Totes – These are generally larger containers (15 -30 Gallon) and are also made of food grade plastics. You can store more water in these than the previous examples while still being confident that it will be safe to drink when disaster strikes. These totes solve some of the mobility problems that are usually associate with storing water in larger containers by mounting wheels to the container. Opaque plastic ensures that sunlight reaching the water is reduced to a minimum level, inhibiting bacteria growth.
55 Gallon Drums – These containers are used in the commercial world to store foods, syrups, industrial solvents, chemicals, petroleum, and more. The plus side is that these are widely available as they are used in so many applications. This keeps their prices low and also means you have many options to get great deals on used 55-gallon containers. The down side is you have to be extremely careful if you buy a used one to store your water supplies in. If they have been used previously for anything except food storage you could have seriously dangerous contaminants in your water. For this reason, I strongly suggest you buy these new and not used. These are also heavy and difficult to move.
Family Sized Water Storage Containers – These are generally over 100 gallons in capacity (the one pictured to the right is 260 gallons) and made to be stored at home. Most preppers will put something like this in their garage as they are often a similar size to a water heater. If they are specifically constructed for water storage then they are usually safe for long term storage and you need not worry about chemicals leaching in the water over time. These are not considered portable and are only fitting for someone who is preparing to stay in place during a long term disaster.
High Capacity Water Storage Tanks – High capacity tanks are generally 500 gallons or more and are meant to be installed in place and not moved. The tank with the arrow in the picture to the right has a 2000 gallon capacity. These are a great way to store lots of water at home or at your bug out location. If possible, installing one of these on a hill or raised above ground level is best to ensure even water pressure. Before you buy one of these make sure it is FDA approved for drinking water.

Best Types of Plastics to use for Long Term Water Storage

If you plan to store water in a plastic container for the next EMP, hurricane, earthquake, or any other crisis, you need to make sure you choose the right type of container. Some plastic containers are not made for this purpose and therefore will leach harmful chemicals into water over time.

To ensure the container you choose is safe for long term water storage, make sure it is “food grade.” Most of these containers will also have a “HDPE 2” (which stands for high-density polyurethane type 2).

NOTE: Not all “HDPE 2” labeled plastics are safe for water storage. They also have to be “food grade” to be considered safe.

Treating Tap Water for Storage

One of the most common questions preppers have when it comes to storing water is:

Can I store water long-term straight from the Tap, or does it need to be treated first?

The answer to this question isn’t exactly as straightforward as one might think. Tap water does vary from area to area which means in some areas you may be fine to store it right from the tap and in other areas you might need to treat it first.

What determines whether it is safe to store straight from the tap or not is the chlorine content of the water. All municipal water supplies have chlorine added to the water to improve taste and ensure the water does not contain harmful bacteria. The level of chlorine that is in the water determines if it will be safe to store without treatment.

The reason for this is because water that sits for a long period of time has a higher risk of growing harmful bacteria. You want the water you store to be at the high end of the safe range for chlorine. Per the federal government, drinking water should have a chlorine content of no more than 4 ppm (parts per million).

Most municipal water supplies have a chlorine content of between 1 to 4 ppm. As a prepper, you should store the water with a chlorine content near the top of that range (2 to 3 ppm would be ideal).

There are a few ways to tell if you have the correct amount of chlorine for storage. For example, when the chlorine level is high enough that you can detect it by smell (i.e. the water has a VERY FAINT chlorine smell to it) then you are at about the top of the ideal range for storage. This method, however, is not as reliable as others as it is based on the human sense of smell. The best way is to check the chlorine levels with a test kit.

A standard swimming pool test kit can be used for this purpose. These test kits are easy to use and will measure the chlorine content of the water in ppms. With most of these kits, you take a sample of the water and add a certain number of drops of a provided chemical to the sample. The sample water will then turn a certain color.You then compare the color of the water with a provided color shade chart, match up the color, and the chart will tell you the chlorine content of the water. These pool test kits are relatively inexpensive and are much more accurate then other methods.

Once you have determined the chlorine content of your water, you will need to make adjustments as necessary to obtain a chlorine content of between 2-3 ppm.

Adjusting the Chlorine Content of Your Water

If your municipal water supply isn’t within the ideal chlorine content range for long term storage (many supplies aren’t) then you will need to treat it prior to storage.

Raising the Chlorine Levels – Raising the chlorine levels is relatively easy and can be done with regular store bought liquid bleach. When you buy bleach for this purpose make sure that the active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite (NaOCI) with a concentration of between 5.25% and 6%. It is also critical to ensure that it is standard bleach with NO additives (such as scented bleach). Some manufacturers add Sodium Hydroxide as an active ingredient as well. This additional active ingredient is safe and will not pose any health risk when purifying water.

Add a maximum of 16 drops of bleach per gallon
(Note: 16 drops is roughly equivalent to 1/8 teaspoon)

This is considered to be a little on the high end. It is recommended you start by adding approximately 1/8 teaspoon of bleach to a five-gallon bucket of untreated tap water and then recheck the chlorine levels. Repeat this until you have the desired amount of chlorine in the water (remember to try for 2 to 3 ppm). When you reach the desired levels of chlorine, write down how much bleach it took so you will know how much bleach to add in the future to your specific type of tap water.

Lowering the Chlorine Levels – Lowering the chlorine level in your water supplies is fairly difficult. Usually, preppers need to raise the levels from your municipal water supplies prior to storage. If you make a mistake by adding too much chlorine it is best to dump out the water and start over. These are the most common ways of lowering the chlorine levels:

1. Evaporation – Chlorine evaporates, and you can speed this process up by aerating the water. A popular method is to dump the water back and forth between two containers. You can also use an air pump from a fish tank to do this.

2. Filtration – Run the water through a carbon based filter. Carbon removes chlorine and other chemical particles from water.

3. Dilution – Add distilled water. Adding any type of water with a lower chlorine level will obviously dilute the water causing lower levels of chlorine.

Lastly – Find a Place to Store the Water

Now your water is treated, sealed in a suitable container, you have some small and large containers so you can go mobile with your water if you have to, it’s time to find a place to store it.

If your water is properly treated and stored, it should have and indefinite shelf life.

The only thing that may degrade over time is the taste of the water. This is because the small particles of air in the water have worked their way out and the water is now less aerated (creating a flat taste). Luckily this is easy to fix if you need to, just aerate the water by dumping it back and forth a few times between two containers. This will get fresh air mixed back into the water and restore the taste.

So where should you store your emergency water preps? In order to accomplish the indefinite shelf life, you need to ensure no light is getting into the water and that it is stored at a constant temperature. Room temperature is fine (65°F – 72°F), but cooler is better. Usually, a garage will stay at a fairly constant temperature level especially if it is on the lower level of a two-story house.

Take the precautions outlined here and it should be almost impossible for bacteria to grow in your water, ensuring your water will be ready when you need it. When the next major disaster hits, you won’t be worrying if you water preparations are good to go. You’ll have plenty of other things to worry about!

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