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How to Store Water for an Emergency - Container Edition

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

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If you’ve worked out what your household's 2 week water storage goal is, now you need to know how to contain all of those gallons of water.

All of the recommended options contain water in PLASTIC. Plastic containers are the most durable, transportable, and least likely to break. Remember - you’re preparing to SURVIVE so your family doesn’t die in an emergency. You are welcome to try out other storage options and report back to us - I would love to see some sustainable solutions! For our family's “phase 1” of water storage, we will be using plastic.

Here are the 5 most common water containment solutions, there are certainly more than this, but I want to try and keep this simple and DO-ABLE.

< Save/Pin this graphic to help you remember what you'll need to store your emergency water long term!

1. Water Bottles

Your standard 16oz single use water bottle. These are portable and pourable, cases can be transported if travel becomes necessary. The bottles can be carried by small children. Primarily for drinking. A standard case of these account for 3 gallons of water.

You should purchase these new from a local grocery or bulk store. The outside of the package will contain the overall total gallons the case contains, that will help you determine how many cased your household needs. I have not done enough research on what the best brand of bottled water is to stock up on - we’ll be using cases of Trader Joe’s Spring Water, because that is what we already use on the rare occasion we drink bottled water, so my kiddos won't complain about the taste.

2. 1 GAL Water Jugs

Large bottles of water - These are 2 liter to 1 gallon sized containers. They are portable and pourable. Older children can carry them without help. They can be used for larger needs like cooking, rinsing dishes, flushing toilets, and taking sponge baths.

You can purchase these new at a local grocery store - I prefer Crystal Geyser because their shape makes these jugs stackable, saving valuable shelf space. They also have very secure caps to reduce the risk of leaking.

You can also reuse 2 Liter plastic soda bottles or 1 gal plastic vinegar bottles if you wash them out with a drop of dish soap and sanitize with bleach. Do not refill used milk jugs as it is too hard to guarantee you’ve removed all of the milk from the side walls of the container. Those jugs are also biodegradable and not meant for long term storage, plus they do not have secure lids.

There are differing opinions on whether you should refill used juice containers. Like milk jugs, some people claim it is too hard to guarantee you've removed all of the sugar from the the side walls of the container. There are certainly preppers who claim to have done this with no problem.We don’t have any of these types of plastic bottles on hand, so we’ll be buying 1 gal Crystal Geyser bottles at the store new.

3. 5 GAL Water Bricks

Water bricks are pretty amazing. They come in 3 gal to 7 gal sizes, are extremely durable, and stackable - which really cuts down on storage space. They have a ton of extra uses in addition to storing water. Buy them new or used via online marketplaces - look for yardsale groups near bodies of water or campgrounds as these are often used by boaters and RVers.

If you don’t want to splurge on water bricks, the 5 gal water jugs that attach to water coolers are also a great option, no cooler necessary - you might even be able to find someone willing to give them away for free, for for a very low fee, and then you just have to purchase new lids. Look into racks for storing them vertically to save space.

These are still technically pourable by a very strong person, but at 40 pounds each, they may require a manual drum pump for easy access to the water. They also can not be easily moved by all members of the family. We already owned a few water bricks from several years ago, and managed to find a great deal on like-new bricks locally on Facebook Marketplace. We'll be cleaning & sanitizing them, then filling them up with our municipal tap water.

4. 55 GAL Water Barrels

Water drums are a super convenient way to knock out a huge chunk of your family’s water storage goal. They can carry from 30 - 55 gallons depending on their size. You can buy them new or used. Used drums are usually under $20 a piece. Make sure they are food grade and if they’ve carried something like soybean oil, they must be washed and sanitized extremely well before use. (Try to find used ones that previously carried WATER.)

Once they are full, they are unmovable, so consider it’s location carefully. Most people will store them outdoors, rather than indoors. Choose a shaded, covered area, and leave the last 3 inches empty for expansion - the water will freeze in the winter. They can be filled immediately by the garden hose or over time with a rain water collection system.

If you are planning to store potable drinking water in these drums, it's best to use a new, clean RV drinking water hose temporarily connected to the kitchen sink or a shower head. There are a few risks associated with using a garden hose that you can avoid by filling up your barrels this way. Finally, these are not “pourable”. You will need a manual drum pump to access the water.

5. Water Bladders

Water bladders come in a ton of sizes but one of their most useful sizes is 100+ gallons. They pack flat, but can fill your whole tub in an emergency and keep it clean inside of it’s plastic “bladder”. While you can fill and store this on the floor of a spare room, it’s best used in a spare tub (or your primary tub, if you’re willing to give that up).

This would be done at the sign of a water emergency, not before, so it is not a long term water storage option, but it is still an effective way to store a substantial amount of water if you have enough notice.

The "Water Bob" is the most popular brand. These are advertised as single use items, but I've seen some preppers claim they've dried them out and reused them 2-3 more times. Additionally, you can investigate acquiring ruggedized commercial grade bladders that can be stored in a basement crawl space long term. Visit here to learn more about water bladders.

When I calculated my family's 2 week water storage goal, I determined we needed a minimum of 197.5 gallons of stored water.

Next, I used the chart below to determine how I wanted to divide my water storage into different sized containers. I also made note of whether I needed up purchase a manual drum pump to pump water out of my larger containers and if I wanted a water bladder for future emergencies.

I recommend downloading this chart to your phone or desktop, and using basic editing software to write down your answers. You can save your answer to a "prepper" folder so you always know where to find the information.

Here is how we decided to split up our gallons amongst various containers:

1. Water Bottles (6) new cases of Trader Joe's spring water

2. 1 GAL Water Jugs (12) 1 gal jugs of new Crystal Geyser water

3. 5 GAL Water Bricks (7) 5 gal water bricks filled with tap water

4. 55 GAL Water Barrels (3) 55 gal water barrels filled by the garden hose

5. Water Bladders (1) Water Bob for emergencies

We also need a new manual drum pump to replace our last one, and we'd like to have a Water Bob just in case, so I notated that as well. You can see our household choices worked out on the chart below:

You may notice that while my family only needs a minimum of 197.5 gallons of water for two weeks, this chart has us surpassing that amount by 33.5 gallons. I originally only had two 55 gal water barrels listed. This left us still in need of 21.5 gallons of water.

I tried dispersing those gallons throughout the smaller sized containers so that I could have our chart perfectly totaled, but the truth is, I don't really want anymore water contained inside of the house than I already have listed here. We are a small home and I have to be smart about what we choose to store inside of it. I decided that I'd rather add one more water barrel outside next to the other two, where we have plenty of available space. Plus, having any extra 33.5 gallons of water CAN'T hurt.

That's a look at the MOST COMMON ways to store water long term for emergency situations. I hope this empowers you to get started on storing your own water, remember, Be Intentional, Be Brave.

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