Best Survival Water Storage Solutions (& mistakes to avoid)

By Will Brendza | Updated: 05/19/2023

How To Build A Water Storage System For Long-Term Emergencies

Water Bricks In Storage Pantry

Most people incorrectly assume emergency water storage is simple.

Yes, it’s NOT rocket science…

But if you don’t take the time to learn the best solutions (and mistakes to avoid), it can ruin your entire supply of water.

And water is one prep item that’s often overlooked.

How do I know this?

Because a poll of U.S. adults found that 53% of US homes don’t have at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food and water in their homes…

Yes, 53%!

Food Stockpile Statistic

In a widespread panic, water and power will be the first two public resources to shut down.

And while humans can usually survive quite long without electricity

We cannot survive nearly as long without water.

That’s why it’s “the most important” survival resource.

But you can’t just put the rain you collect off your roof put it old milk jugs.

It won’t be safe to drink exactly when you need it most.

It can (and will) become toxic.

So today, I’m going to use my extensive experience in Survival & Preparedness to cover the following topics:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

↓(click to skip ahead)↓

How NOT To Store Water…

How To Store Water The Right Way

9 Best Water Storage Containers

Best Water Storage Tips & Tricks

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Survival Water Storaged

How NOT To Store Water…

Let’s get some misconceptions out of the way.

  1. First, just because the water is clear doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink. Contaminants are often colorless, and no one likes drinking poison (or parasites).
  2. Two, water DOES NOT have a real expiration date. But that doesn’t mean you can rely on the same water in the same container forever.
  3. And three, yes, you can die if you do this wrong. It’s simple to store water safely for the long term, but if you do it wrong, you’re putting your life on the line.

At the very least, you’ll get sick, and getting sick or injured sucks (especially in a survival situation).

Therefore, before we get into how you should store water, I will explain how you should NOT:

→ DO NOT store water in anything besides food-grade water containers.

I will repeat that throughout this article often; it will hurt your head.

ONLY FOOD-GRADE WATER CONTAINERS!

I know those Home Depot buckets are cheap.

They are also damn near indestructible.

You can buy lids for them, and they’re an awesome bright orange color.

But you shouldn’t store water in them.

You should never store water in anything not made for holding food/water.

You can tell if a container is food-grade in several ways:

  1. Plastics #1, 2, 4, and 7 are used for food-grade containers. You can find this number in the little triangular recycle symbol on the bottom.Recycle Symbols
  2. Also, on the bottom, a symbol will indicate the container safe to freeze or store in a pantry.
  3. The container often says on the package when you buy it, “Freezer, Refrigerator, Pantry Safe.” Or something like that indicates that you can put food and water there.

→ DO NOT store water in food-grade containers that have previously stored other items.

I’m talking about milk jugs, soda bottles, beer kegs, or anything used to hold another food or drink (oils, chemicals, etc.).

Even if you’ve washed it out a thousand times!

It’s extremely difficult (maybe even impossible) to rinse all the sugars and bacteria left over.

And even trace amounts of sugar or bacteria will taint your water.

→ DO NOT store water in cardboard containers.

That sounds obvious – but I’ve seen boxed water before, and that cardboard crap won’t last.

Don’t rely on it for long-term H2O storage.

→ DO NOT store water in metallic containers that aren’t stainless steel.

If it’s not stainless steel, it will corrode, and your water will go bad.

Rusty water is gross and not what you want here.

→ DO NOT try to store water in something that cannot be sealed.

With only a few rare exceptions, storing open water is bad because it’s susceptible to contamination.

Particles from the air, animals, and insects can fall into your water. 

Bird poop in your survival water is no good.

→ DO NOT store it in anything that can become contaminated.

If you doubt the history container, don’t store water in it.

Find something else.

→ DO NOT store water in direct sunlight or heat.

You want a shaded, temperature-controlled room.

Basements, windowless pantries, temperature-controlled garages, or underground cellars are smart locations.

Sunlight, heat, and temperature changes are hard on everything.

These are the enemies of long-term water storage and will contribute to faster spoilage.

UV rays and heat are hard on plastic; sometimes, even glass can leach chemicals.

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The Right Way To Do Long-Term Water Storage

You already know the container needs to be sterile and food safe.

But even within those parameters, there are a lot of choices.

So, let’s delve into what materials you CAN use for storing water long-term.

Commercially, there are many drinking water container options on the market.

And they come in all different shapes and sizes.

What material you use and what size you get is all dependent on the following:

  • How much storage space do you have?
  • What’s your budget?
  • How many people do you plan on sustaining with your water supply?
  • How long do you think you’ll need the water?
  • Where you live and your geography relative to natural water sources

So, here’s a variety of the best water storage containers available on the market today:

Best Water Storage Containers

1. Food Grade Plastic Containers

The advantages of plastic are plentiful. It’s lightweight, durable, cheap, easy to come by, and replaceable.

Plastic is the preferred storage method for many because it’s the most obvious choice.

Unfortunately, plastic also has some serious disadvantages too.

For one, food scientists have a growing fear that plastic can leach chemicals into water over time.

This is especially true if introduced to direct light or heat.

But, if stored properly, there’s less risk of these problems (so long as you occasionally replace your water) – we’ll hit details on this later.

1 Our Top Recommendation
5 Gallon Legacy Premium Water Storage System

By far my favorite plastic container (and favorite containers overall) is The 5 Gallon Legacy Premium Water Storage System.

Here are a few highlights of these 5-Gallon Water Containers:

  • Holds 5 Gallons of Water, Dry Foods, or Ammo
  • Stack-able to Maximize Storage Capacity
  • Easy-Grip Design Makes it Easy to Carry
  • Virtually Indestructible!

They are a solid investment and one of the best long-term survival storage solutions.

Plus, if you get the 30-gallon package (6 containers) you will also get the following bonus features:

  • A handy cap wrench (to ensure you completely lock and seal these containers)
  • 2 spigots (this allows you to tap into two of the jugs at the same time). This is a nice option if you'd prefer to keep sanitation jugs and consumption jugs separate.
  • Water Purification Drop Treatment Solution (the perfect amount for 30 gallons).

NOTE: These are the containers I choose for my own emergency water stockpile – click here to read a detailed review and short “How To” for these containers.

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2. Plastic Bladders For Your Bathtub

I’ve heard folks talking about filling bathtubs and sink basins with water as soon as shit hits the fan.

They claim you’ll have a solid amount of water stored and ready.

In theory, this is a very smart, functional idea.

But upon closer scrutiny, it starts falling apart.

Mainly because bathtubs and sinks aren’t sterile containers, nor can they be sealed off.

But a Bathtub Water BOB is a simple solution to that very problem.

You can put a refillable bag in your tub, shower, or sink and fill it with water without fearing contamination.

The bags hold as much as 100 gallons of water and can be emptied and packed for transportation.

These are some of the best water containers on the market, and I highly recommend investing in a few.

Not only is it a great tool – but it’s cheap too!

Our Pick
WaterBOB Bathtub Emergency Drinking Water Container

The waterBOB is a water containment system that holds up to 100 gallons of fresh drinking water.

It's designed to fit in any standard bathtub.

This means you'll never have to wait in line to buy expensive bottled water or worry about keeping large barrels or tanks.

Instead, collect water in the large container that you already have—your bathtub!

Simply lay the liner in any standard bathtub, attach the fill sock to the faucet, and fill the bladder to capacity, which takes approximately 20 minutes.

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3. 55 Gallon Plastic Drums

They take up a lot of space and are very heavy when full.

But these plastic barrels are one of the most reliable ways to store water easily (and cheaply) for a long time.

Traditionally plastic water barrels are blue for easy identification.

And now for the much more reasonably priced plastic 55-gallon drum barrel

Our Pick
Augason Farms Water Storage Barrel 55-Gallon Drum

There's not much to say about these simple containers:

  • They store up to 55 gallons
  • They're BPA-free
  • Made with food-grade polyethylene
  • Measures 22.95" diam. x 35.13"h
  • Weighs 18.2 lb.


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4. Glass Containers

You can always trust glass and sanitize it before putting your purified water into it.

The FDA classifies glass as “GRAS,” which stands for “Generally Regarded As Safe,”… so take that with a grain of salt.

If you’re hoping to re-purpose an old glass container, but it was used to store anything else in a previous life, find a different container.

The big disadvantages to glass are it’s heavy and breaks easily.

But it can last forever, is dishwasher friendly, easy to come by, and easy to sterilize.

You can reduce the chance of breakages by wrapping your stored glass containers with newspaper and cardboard.

Our Pick
Pratico Kitchen 18 oz.Leak-Proof Clear Glass Bottles

Comes with 6 Clean & Clear Glass bottles so you can safely store up to 18 oz. of water.

Each BPA-free, lead-free clear glass water bottle is made with premium soda-lime glass, high-quality 304 stainless steel, & food-grade silicone gasket

Includes a leak-resistant cap that prevents messy spills

Clear glass drinking bottles are dishwasher-safe!


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5. Food Grade Stainless Steel Drums

This is possibly the safest bet when it comes to storing water long-term.

There are no chemicals that can leach into the water.

It protects contents from sunlight, and it’s durable.

Unfortunately, this is also the most expensive option.

Stainless steel containers also tend to be heavy.

You also must be careful what you put inside them.

Storing tap water treated with chlorine will erode the protective surface of the stainless steel.

That’s called corrosion, and corrosion is always bad.

That’s how your water gets poisoned.

Make sure your heavy-duty stainless-steel container is FOOD GRADE or FOOD SAFE!

Our Pick
SKOLNIK Stainless Steel Drum, 55 gallons

This stainless steel drum comes with a tight-head drum to be used to store and transport hazardous liquids.

It comes with 2" and 3/4" NPT bung openings and plugs on top can be used for filling and venting.

Stainless steel is more resistant to rust and corrosion than carbon steel

It has a synthetic rubber gasket that helps prevent leaks.

It weighs 48 lb empty and measures approximately 33" high and 22-1/2" in diameter.


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6. Large Containers (i.e., Water Tanks)

They are big, they are expensive, and they’re hard to move once in place!

But if you have a water tank hooked up, you will be set on drinkable, usable water for a long time.

Large water tanks can hold 1,500 to tens of thousands of gallons.

This is pretty much the ultimate long-term water storage tool.

7. Your Backyard Pool

Okay, let’s clear this up once and for all – yes, you can drink pool water if it’s treated properly.

Even though it’s treated with chemicals, as long as it’s under 4 ppm, it isn’t poisonous to ingest.

How many kids end up inadvertently drinking gulps of pool water? A lot.

And when’s the last time you heard someone keeling over sick because they drank water from their swimming pool?

Rarely, if ever.

When all other clean water is gone in a serious emergency, you start using what you’ve stockpiled.

Stick your head in the pool and start drinking the wet goodness.

But there are some things to keep in mind:

First, you can’t seal backyard pools.

So, they’re susceptible to contamination from bacteria and insects.

If you want to use your pool water in an emergency, you’ll want to have a purification and filtration plan.

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Nasty Backyard Pool Water

Also, your pool filtration system won’t work if the electricity is down.

So, the chemicals in the pool that keep bacteria out will subside—leaving the water open to serious contamination.

It turns into a swamp if you’ve ever seen an unfiltered, unmaintained pool.

If you want to use your pool water for survival, you must do so long before it gets to that stage.

And better to be safe than sorry – always boil or chemically treat pool water before you start using it, to be safe.

8. Water Wells

I suppose this is more of a water generation system than “storage,” but I’m adding this anyway because it’s relevant.

Wells store and produce water.

So, if you can build one on your property, you should have a good source of drinking water for an emergency.

However, this highly depends on how much of your well is mechanized.

But the fact remains:

Someone with a working water well will survive a disaster far easier than the rest.

If you have a well, purchase a hand well pump kit just in case the power goes out!

9. Plastic Water Bottles

“Well, can’t I just buy some twenty packs of bottled water, chuck them in the basement and call it good?” – you might ask.

While water has no expiration date, those cheap plastic bottles will, over time, leach BPA and other nasty chemicals.

Even if stored out of sunlight and heat.

Plastic water bottles are suitable for storing water on a short-term basis only. 

But this option is acceptable if you have a diligent water rotation plan.

Our Pick
Nestle Waters North America

Ok, don't overthink here, look for a bundle deal that gives you the most oz. for your money.

At the time of publishing, this was the best deal.

But it may no longer be true when you're reading this...

So do some comparison shopping.

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Best Emergency Water Storage Tips & Tricks

How much water do you need?

How does one calculate how much water one will need in an emergency?

That’s a question with a lot of variables.

The rule is as follows:

Humans need about a gallon of water per person per day.

Half of it is for drinking, and another half for bathing and other purposes.

That is an easy enough calculation – but you must also take into account the following:

  • How much physical activity you’ll be doing?
  • How many people you’re providing for?
  • What’s the weather where you live?
  • Do you have local access to water?
  • How long you’ll need to have water for?

These are the questions every survivalist must answer for themselves.

FEMA recommends keeping about three days of water on hand in an emergency.

But as a survivalist, that number sounds drastically short sited.

I recommend keeping at least a week’s worth of water in storage, ready for use.

Preferably closer to two or three weeks, as I discuss at the 4:09 mark of this video on how to get prepared.

Ideally, if you’re serious about getting prepared, you should be thinking months or even years.

I will say this:

In a long-term emergency, you can never have too much water on hand.

Rotating Your Water Supply

I’ve mentioned this a few times because it’s critical.

Water, left in perfect storage containers, even in ideal conditions, still won’t last forever.

Microscopic bugs are impossible to keep out, and the water must be replaced.

This is just a fact of emergency water – I know it’s a pain in the ass – but it’s necessary.

As a rule, you should rotate your stockpile with fresh water at least once a year.

I’m not saying you’ll contract illness from ingesting water stored longer.

But it’s a matter of being safe and avoiding sickness at all costs.

In a survival situation, you want to be sure your water supply is drinkable.

Not only because you need water on a day-to-day basis to survive, but you can’t afford to get sick during an emergency.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

Don’t throw out that water you rotate out! Because it isn’t necessarily “bad.”

It can still be used for bathing, washing dishes or other things, watering plants, etc.

That water doesn’t need to be wasted just because it was stored for too long – you can (and should) repurpose it.

Just don’t drink it.

Keeping Water Filtration/Purification Methods on Hand

Even if your basement is stocked full of stored water, you need a method for purifying it.

Whether it’s a pump filter, a gravity filter, iodine tablets, a stove for boiling, or purification packets – make sure you have something!

Collecting and filtering good, drinkable water, even in an emergency, is essential.

Because then you can save your stored water and prolong your survival window by days and weeks.

Every survivalist needs to have fuel and purification tools/chemicals.

Without them, you’re at a severe disadvantage.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter

I highly recommend you get a couple of Sawyer mini water filters.

Wait? Mini? A mini water filter?

Yes, it’s mini in size but not in volume.

It can filter 100,000 gallons of water!

Sawyer Mini Inline Water Filter 1

Sawyer Mini Added Inline To A Pack

This little water filter is ideal for travel AND building a large-volume gravity filter at home.

Perfect for your long-term H20 storage plan.

What makes the Sawyer Mini so powerful is its inline design capabilities.

You can use a simple rubber hose to add a Sawyer Mini between your drinking containers and create a large, completely passive gravity filter with a single Sawyer Mini.

Saving you hundreds of dollars vs. traditional gravity water filters!

Here’s my review video of the Sawyer Mini:

↓ Sawyer Mini Water Filter Review: Can This Filter 100,000 Gallons?

Stored Water Tastes Funny

Because stored water “goes flat” (loses the oxygen within it), it almost always tastes strange.

Don’t worry too much about this.

This is typical and can be remedied by swishing the water in your cup or shaking it up in a bottle.

Of course, if there’s a putrid, acrid, swampy smell to your water when you get it out of storage, and it tastes terrible, DON’T SWALLOW IT.

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Final Thoughts

It’s easy to overlook the obvious and get your priorities mixed up.

But human beings can only survive without water for three days.

Then we shrivel up like raisins and die.

There aren’t any survival resources that are more important than drinkable water.

This is why any survivalist not storing water is making a huge mistake.

And in locations with hot climates, water is quickly becoming a scare resource.

But if you store water correctly and have a complete water storage system, you’ll stay hydrated and ready for almost anything.

Will Brendza

Will Brendza

  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Member of The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association
  • Certifications: Avalanche 1, WFR (expired), CPR (expired)
  • 8+ Years Researching, Writing, About Survival and Preparedness
  • Awards from Society of Professional Journalists
  • Winner of Camp Cold’s “Happy Camper” award in 2020
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