Skip to Content

How to Store Water Long Term in 4 Easy Steps

Knowing how to store water long term is a life-saving skill for hundreds of survival scenarios. City water systems are reliable, but not foolproof. Freezes, deterioration, and other events can destroy pipelines and delay urban water delivery for days. And survivalists know that, if society falls to disaster, there won’t be potable water coming through on-grid pipes.

How to Store Water Long Term

The uncertainty of where to acquire water in an emergency is relieved by storing water in advance. Knowing that you have water stocked for the future is necessary to be truly ready for anything.

Why Is Storing Water Important?

Even whenever city water lines are functional, some become contaminated with toxins that can erode your health. And city-provided water is not a guarantee in a state of emergency. Not to mention that the supply chains providing bottled water will also be absent when there is a shortage or disaster.

The human body only lasts an average of three days without water. Breathing, sweating, and eliminating bodily waste are all functions that require internal water replacement. Whether you’re drinking water, bathing, cooking, or a completing a variety of other daily tasks, knowing how to store water long term will ensure that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle if society takes a downturn.

1. Decide How Much Water to Store Long-Term

Your decisions regarding how to store water long term will largely depend on your space and your budget.

Bare Necessities

If you haven’t started storing water yet, begin by making sure that you have access to at least three days’ worth of water for unpleasant surprises.

One gallon per person per day minimum

The minimum amount of drinking water to store per person per day is half a gallon, which means that the minimum three-day water storage per person is a gallon and a half. For hygiene purposes, the needs of each individual doubles. So one gallon of water can hydrate and clean one person a day, for a total of three gallons over three days.

Short-Term Preparedness

Three days of water will tide you over for brief disruptions, but they won’t provide the same security as greater water storage quantities. Once you start storing water in quantities large enough to meet three days’ worth of needs for you and your survival team, it’s advisable to expand your stores to last for two weeks.

For a single person, 14 gallons of water will cover drinking and hygiene needs. For a household of four, that multiplies to 56 gallons.

How to Store Water Long Term

Hopefully, you won’t ever unexpectedly need to provide water for yourself and your loved ones for years at a time. Even if you did need to, most people don’t have access to the budget, equipment, or space needed to store years of water. So, stockpiling a month’s worth of water is considered the standard of well-preparedness.

For water self-sufficiency that outlasts a month, consider developing your own at-home filtration system or off-grid water system.

In a 31-day month, 31 gallons of water per person is necessary to insulate yourself against the scourges of natural disaster or public emergencies. Using the aforementioned family of four, that becomes 124 gallons of water.

Is a Gallon a Day Enough?

If you’re asking yourself how to store water long term, you’re probably wondering if the “gallon per day” rule is sufficient.

Person drinking water

Although a gallon of water a day is enough for one person to survive, it isn’t enough to thrive. A gallon is only intended to provide hydration and cleansing. This does not include cooking, washing dishes and clothes, caring for crops and livestock, or first aid.

Depending on your specific household needs, you’ll need to do specific calculations to determine how much water is really necessary for your wellbeing. Hot weather and physical activity necessitate more water, as do health factors such as pregnancy or nursing.

Although you can conserve water by rationing, here are some estimates for additional concerns relating to how to store water long term:

  • Cooking: Half a gallon to two gallons a day
  • Washing Dishes: One gallon a day or more, depending on how many dishes you’ll clean regularly
  • Washing Laundry: Two to five gallons of water a day, depending on how frequently you’ll launder
  • First Aid: Half a gallon a day or more
  • Plants: Half a gallon a day or more, depending on the variety and quantity of plants
  • Animals: Half a gallon a day or more, depending on the size and number of animals

Excluding plants and animals, this raises the recommendation to five gallons of water per day per person. That’s 15 gallons per person for three days, 70 gallons per person for two weeks, and 155 gallons per person for a month. Four-family requirements rise to at least 60 gallons for three days, 280 gallons for two weeks, and 620 gallons for a month.

Numbers that high can be daunting, so get started storing what you can using the one gallon minimum. Keep your other needs in mind so that you can add to your water stores as you reach each preparedness milestone.

2. Prepare Your Water Storage Environment

You need a clean, dark, and cool environment for storing water long-term. How much space you have will impact how much water you can safely store. Apartment-dwellers may only be able to stock the three-day minimum, but those with more space can grow their stash.

Heat promotes the growth of algae and other undesirables. Storing your water at temperatures between 50° F and 70° F is ideal. You can also freeze your water, as long as you leave extra room to allow for expansion.

Storing water in a cool dry place

When considering how to store water long term, some advice is to avoid concrete in favor of wood surfaces instead. For your safety, please do not store water near chemicals or harsh substances.

Sunlight degrades chlorine, which makes the water more habitable for organic growth. This is one of the reasons why a dark environment for your water storage is so important.

Label your stores of water. Each container should have a sticker inscribed with the intended purpose (e.g., “Drinking Water”) and the fill date. This will help you use your water in chronological order. You can apply a new sticker and information whenever you refill your containers.

3. Choose Methods for Storing Water

What containers should I store water in long-term?

How to store water long term depends on your storage container. Whatever your selection, ensure that it is well-sterilized and sealable. It’s most beneficial to use UV-resistant, opaque containers that block light from reaching their contents.

Many bulk water storage bins are blue, indicating a coating of food-grade HDPE resin that is UV-resistant. White drums may be food-grade, but maybe not UV-resistant. Black drums may not be food-grade at all.

You may need additional supplies for water storage, including: a hand siphon pump, a hose, and a lid opener. These help you avoid contaminating your water while accessing it.


Use food-grade plastic containers for your water storage needs. Intermediate bulk containers are large plastic storage units that can hold 265 gallons at a time. These are easy to fill from the top and drain quickly for easy water rotation.

Plastic water storage containers

For smaller containers, new polyethylene plastic bottles or jugs are a safe choice. Five-gallon jugs are easy to transport by hand, and can stack easily or keep on a shelf. 55-gallon drums are the largest storage container than can be easily handled by most adults while empty.

Plastic is lighter and more durable than glass and stainless steel. That said, plastic can give off chemicals that contaminate water after long periods of time. Selecting BPA-free plastic containers, and rotating your water more frequently, helps to keep your water safe to drink while storing.


Glass is suitable for storing water as long as it hasn’t held any non-food items. Remnants of these can leak into your water and contaminate it. So be selective.

Glass containers are more environmentally-friendly than plastic, and won’t risk ruining your water storage with chemicals. This material is easy to sterilize, and its transparency allows you to monitor the water quality without opening.

To keep glass storage units cool, cover them with a tarp or blanket, and keep them away from the sun. Glass is heavy and fragile, so select jugs that hold a gallon or less if you intend to move your containers frequently.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a strong choice for water storage containers. Just be aware that chlorine corrodes steel. So chlorine purification methods are not compatible with stainless steel containers. Also avoid containers containing pewter or lead, which are toxic.

Stainless steel is strong and naturally resistant to sunlight. They also won’t contaminate your water with chemicals, like plastic does. Stainless steel is more expensive than some other options, but a worthwhile investment. Practical sizes include five, eight, and 10-gallon cans.

Food-Grade Barrel or Drum

Large storage containers such as these are great for short-term emergencies that allow you to stay in one place. However, the reserves don’t last indefinitely, and they are not easily portable if you need to be on-the-move.

Be sure to thoroughly clean your barrel with soapy water, and follow-up with a rinse. Barrels also require additional equipment, such as a bung wrench, replacement bungs, and a siphon hose. (“Bungs” are the white caps on top of water barrels.)

Miscellaneous Water Containment

Other water containment units (from most to least portable) include:

  • Plastic Water Bricks
  • Mylar Water Storage Bags
  • Wheeled Water Tanks
  • Galvanized Steel Water Cisterns
  • Water Wells
  • Your Backyard Pool

Each of these can be valuable contributors in solving how to store water long term. Smaller units are typically less expensive and difficult to move, so match your storage style to your needs and resources.

4. How to Store Water Long Term with Storage Rotation

Water never expires. As long as your container and working materials are sterile and your water is purified, it will remain drinkable indefinitely.

That said, draining and refilling your water containers once a year, or once every six months, provides the peace of mind of having a clean water supply. It also helps to avoid the taste of stale water that has been stored for long periods of time.

Draining and refilling water containers every six months is a good plan

Even if you don’t refill every six months, you can still check the water for signs of contamination halfway through the year. Open your container and look for cloudiness, foul smells, or other clear signs of organic growth.

When draining water, you can reduce waste by using it to water your lawn or at-home garden. You can also invest in a filter so that you can re-filter stored water. Annual draining prevents you and others relying on this water source from contracting a sickness during an emergency.

Wrapping Up How to Store Water Long Term

Now that you know why and how to store water long term, you can get started improving your self-sufficiency. Choose the best storage unit for your needs and keep your water in a cool, dark space.

Be sure to read about how to purify your water prior to storage and how to filter it in the field. Survival aficionados can also enjoy accentuating their water storage skills with water procurement skills. Happy hydrating!