The Definitive Guide To Emergency Water
I looked up at the scorching summer sun and realized I’d never felt more thirsty! So I brought my water bottle to my parched lips to catch the last few drops I could.
Clearly, I was ill-prepared for my afternoon trek in the blazing heat of Las Vegas. Luckily, I ran into an ambitious teenager selling overpriced water with the catchphrase, “don’t let dehydration ruin your vacation.”
I was so desperate at that moment that I would have paid double! Now imagine the same desperation, in the aftermath of a disaster, with no idea where to find your next drink of water.
That’s the reason you need your own supply of emergency water.
Emergency water may feel like a dry subject (pun intended). Nevertheless, it’s arguably the most critical part of your emergency kit!
In a crisis, you could be on your own. So, you must prepare enough survival water to last several days, if not a few weeks.
There’s a lot of information available from various federal, state, and local agencies about emergency drinking water. But reading so many overlapping details about water needs, options, storage, additional sources, and treatment methods can get confusing.
That’s why I’ve done all the research for you! I’ve combined all the recommendations into one concise, easy-to-read article.
So, let’s dive into the definitive guide to emergency water!
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How Important Is Emergency Drinking Water?
Water equals life. It’s that simple.
A person can only live for about three days without water. So the amount of survival water you have saved is directly related to how long you can last on your own following a disaster.
That’s why it’s vital to prioritize emergency drinking water as an essential part of your emergency kit.
Why Is It Your Responsibility To Store Your Own Emergency Water?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that every household store enough emergency drinking water for at least 72 hours.
It’s easy to get complacent when all the water you need comes into your home. But suppose that infrastructure is disrupted or destroyed in a disaster.
In that case, you could be waiting days or weeks for clean drinking water. And despite their best efforts, authorities cannot help everyone immediately.
So, you must be prepared to survive on your own. Taking responsibility for maintaining your emergency water gives you time and options when responding to any crisis.
How Much Emergency Water Do You Need?
FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least one gallon of emergency water per person daily. An average person needs to drink three-quarters of a gallon of water daily, with the additional one-quarter of a gallon used for personal hygiene.
However, these recommendations can vary based on age, health, physical condition, diet, and climate. For example, children, nursing mothers, and those with illnesses may require more water.
And don’t forget your pets! Each one will also need a gallon a day.
FEMA and the CDC recommend that every household store a 2-week survival water supply.
However, storing more is even better because a medical emergency or blistering weather could double your water needs. So when in doubt, round up!
Commercial Emergency Drinking Water Options
Buying commercially bottled emergency drinking water for your survival kit is a great choice. According to the CDC, unopened commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable.
That’s because, as FEMA notes, “when individuals bottle water themselves, they’re more likely to get contaminants in it that could risk harm after years of germination.” Whereas professionally bottled water is packaged in a “cleaner and lower risk environment.”
However, not all bottled water is created equal. Therefore, you want to ensure that it has been processed effectively against parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia.
Look for water labeled with any of the following:
- Reverse osmosis treated
- Filtered through an absolute 1 micron or smaller filter
- One-micron absolute
- Emergency purified water in compact 125-ml sachets
- USCG, Canadian Coast Guard, EC, and NZ approval (NSN 8960 0112 4454 3)
- 5-year shelf life
- 24-can pack of 12-oz water with a proven 30-year shelf life
- The 8-stage purification process results in a crisp, clean and fresh taste
- No leaching and zero deterioration from sun or heat
- 24-can pack of 12-oz hermetically sealed corrosion-resistant aluminum cans
- Lab-certified 50-year shelf life makes it the most cost-effective emergency water available
- Stores safely in heat between 33°F to 150°F without affecting the taste
Do-It-Yourself Emergency Water Options
Another popular option is to prepare your own survival water. Just remember that you should replace any non-commercially-bottled emergency water every six months.
If you decide to do it yourself, use durable, food-grade containers that you can seal tightly. That’s because food-grade containers don’t transfer toxic substances into the water.
If you are unsure if a container is food-grade, contact the manufacturer to determine if it is FDA-approved. Also, never use a container if it has ever held liquid or solid chemicals.
Steps To Clean And Sanitize A Water Container
Once you’ve chosen your emergency water containers, use these steps from the CDC to clean and sanitize them.
Steps to clean and sanitize a water container:
- Use a durable, food-grade water storage container.
- Wash and rinse the container thoroughly with water.
- Next, create a sanitizing solution by mixing one teaspoon of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach (5%–9% sodium hypochlorite) in one quart of water.
- Add the sanitizing solution to your container, seal the cover tightly, and shake it well.
- Make sure the sanitizing solution touches all the inside surfaces of the container.
- Wait at least 30 seconds, then pour the sanitizing solution out of the container.
- Either air-dry the sanitized container before use or rinse it with clean, safe water.
Steps To Fill A Sanitized Water Container
When you are ready to fill your sanitized containers, follow these additional steps from the CDC to fill them.
Steps to fill a sanitized water container:
- Pour clean water into the sanitized container.
- Add two drops of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach (5%–9% sodium hypochlorite).
- Seal tightly using the original cap making sure not to touch the inside with your fingers.
- Label the container as “drinking water” and include the storage date.
- Replace stored water every six months.
- These 3.5-gallon water containers can also hold food and other life essentials
- The unique design allows cross stacking up to 4-feet to maximize limited storage space
- Made of rugged, high-density polyethylene, which meets FDA standards and is BPA free
- Shelter-in-place, BPA-free water storage drum holds up to 55 gallons of water
- Kit includes two 2-inch barrel plug fittings, a 6-foot siphon hose with a hand pump, Aqua Mira water-treatment bottles, and a pail and barrel opener
- Measures 22.95-inches in diameter by 35.13-inches tall and weighs 18.2-lbs
Where Should You Store Your Survival Water?
Once you’ve got your emergency water, you need to find somewhere to store it. Start by looking for a place in your home that won’t cause much damage if it leaks.
You’ll want to keep it away from direct sunlight and heat to prevent algae growth. Ideally, it would be best if you stored it at a relatively constant cool temperature between 50°F to 70°F.
Also, make sure there aren’t any toxic substances like gasoline, kerosene, or pesticides nearby. Strong chemicals like these give off vapors that can pass through plastic.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to keep your containers on a palate or platform if you have a cement floor. Cement contains moisture and changes temperature quickly, affecting your water stockpile over time.
How To Find Additional Emergency Water Sources
What if your survival water is destroyed or contaminated? What if it doesn’t last as long as you expected?
In an emergency, you should use your stockpile of survival water first. However, a time may come when you need to look for more water.
Luckily, there are many resourceful places to find additional water after a disaster and several techniques for making it safe to drink.
The following sections will take you through all the options inside and outside your home, the methods you’ll need to know, and the extra gear you need in your emergency kit to make it happen.
Inside Your Home
There are several valuable sources of emergency drinking water inside your home that you can consider using in a crisis.
After a disaster, officials may advise you to shut off your home’s main water valve to prevent contaminants from entering your home’s pipes. So make sure you listen for any local water precautions.
Sources of water inside your home that you can use:
- Water from your home’s water heater tank (from your drinking water system, not your heating system)
- Melted ice cubes (made with uncontaminated water)
- Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl) if it’s clear and not chemically treated with toilet cleaners
- Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables
- Water from swimming pools and spas can be used for personal hygiene and cleaning but not for drinking
Outside Your Home
There are also some sources of emergency drinking water outside your home that you can tap into during a disaster.
However, you’ll need to treat any water outside your house before using it. That’s because there is always a chance that it is contaminated with livestock waste or human sewage.
Furthermore, you should avoid any water with an unusual odor or color or potentially contaminated with toxic chemicals or fuel because it cannot be made safe.
Sources of water that could be made safe by treatment include:
- Streams, rivers, and other moving bodies of water
- Lakes and ponds
- Natural springs
What Are The Best Methods For Treating Water?
Once you’ve exhausted your supply of emergency drinking water and additional sources inside your house, it’s time to look outside your home. You’ll be dealing with water of unknown quality, so you must treat it to remove any harmful microorganisms before using it.
The CDC and FEMA recommend you treat water of unknown quality using the techniques listed below in order of their effectiveness. However, for the best results, you should combine multiple methods.
But, if you suspect your water is contaminated with fuel, chemicals, or radioactive material, remember that it cannot be made safe.
Boiling is the most effective method of making water safe to drink. Following these steps from the CDC will kill disease-causing germs, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
- If the water is cloudy, let it settle or filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter.
- Draw off the clear water.
- Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes).
- Let the boiled water cool.
- Store the boiled water in clean, sanitized containers with tight covers.
- Improve the flat taste of boiled water by pouring it from one container to another and then letting it stand for a few hours or by adding a pinch of salt to each quart of boiled water.
- The Stanley cook set with a vented top and folding locking handle is the perfect outdoor accessory for hot meals, coffee, or boiling water
- Completely BPA-free, it is constructed with 18/8 stainless steel and features two insulated portable 10-oz (295-ml) tumblers
- The mess kit weighs 13.9-oz when fully loaded and has graduated marks up to 20-oz
- This ultralight cooking system packs a stand-alone stove with a titanium burner and 0.8-liter FluxRing cookpot with built-in measuring markers, a snap-on lid, and integrated pour/drink spout
- The fuel stabilizer keeps everything stable and steady while Jetboil's iconic FluxRing technology ensures a rapid 2.5-minute boil time
- The nesting design maximizes precious pack space, packing neatly into a compact 4.4-inches wide x 5.1-inches tall and 7.1-oz (excluding fuel stabilizer)
After boiling, chemical disinfectants such as chlorine dioxide tablets, iodine, or unscented liquid household chlorine bleach are your next-best option. While disinfectants will kill harmful disease-causing viruses and bacteria, most are ineffective at killing parasites like Cryptosporidium and Giardia.
Using Chemical Tablets To Disinfect Water
Chemical tablets are one of the most popular options because they are both easy to carry and use. Just make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.
There are a few different varieties of chemical disinfectants. So whenever you purchase some, make sure you know which kind you are buying.
Chlorine Dioxide Tablets
Iodine Tablets (Tetraglycine Hydroperiodide)
- Iodine tablets kill most germs but not Cryptosporidium.
- Pregnant women, people with thyroid problems, and those sensitive to iodine should not drink water treated with iodine.
- Don’t use this method for more than a few weeks since it’s not recommended for continuous use.
- The only purification tablet (or liquid) EPA registered as a microbiological water purifier effective against viruses, bacteria, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium in all water conditions
- Each tablet is premeasured to treat one liter of water within 30 minutes without mixing or measuring (four hours if the water is cold or dirty)
- Made in the U.S.A. from the highest quality materials
- Aquatabs kill harmful microorganisms living in your water, including Giardia cysts, bacteria, and viruses
- An excellent solution in an emergency, while backpacking, camping, hiking, or traveling, add one 49-mg Aquatabs tablet into 0.75-liters to 2-liters of water and wait 30 minutes.
- Individually sealed in foil strips designed to ensure longevity, Aquatabs-treated water has no unpleasant taste, color, or odor
- Twin pack of 50 Potable Aqua germicidal water purifier tablets
- Makes questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink within 35 minutes
Using Bleach To Disinfect Water
Even if you don’t have any commercially produced chemical tablets, you can still use unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water.
Bleach comes in different concentrations, so you’ll need to check the label before you start. In the United States, unscented liquid household chlorine bleach is between 5% and 9% sodium hypochlorite. But in other countries, it might be different.
Steps for disinfecting water with bleach:
- If the water is cloudy, let it settle or filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter.
- Draw off the clear water.
- Follow the instructions on the bleach label for disinfecting drinking water.
- If the label doesn’t have instructions for disinfecting drinking water, look for the “active ingredient” to find the percentage of sodium hypochlorite.
- Use the information in the graphic above as a guide to add the correct amount of bleach with a medicine dropper, teaspoon, or metric measure.
- Stir the mixture well.
- Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before you drink it.
- Store the disinfected water in clean, sanitized containers with tight covers.
- America's #1 bleach disinfects surfaces and treats water sources
- This cleaning bleach kills 99.9% of household germs and bacteria, including norovirus, flu virus, MRSA, E. Coli, and Salmonella
- The active ingredient is 7.5% Sodium Hypochlorite
Your third best option after boiling and chemical disinfection is filtering.
Water filters with a pore size of 1 micron or less remove parasites like Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Unfortunately, most portable filters do not kill bacteria and viruses.
But combining filtering and disinfection can create a highly effective method of treating water. The filtering removes the parasites, while chemical disinfection kills bacteria and viruses.
Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your water filter. Any of the four messages below on a package label indicate that the filter should be able to remove Cryptosporidium:
- Reverse osmosis (with or without NSF 53 or NSF 58 labeling)
- Absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller (with or without NSF 53 or NSF 58 labeling)
- Tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 or NSF/ANSI Standard 58 for cyst removal
- Tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 or NSF/ANSI Standard 58 for cyst reduction
Here is the CDC’s A Guide to Water Filters for more information on water filters that can remove parasites.
- Gravity-fed, high-capacity, hollow membrane water purifier removes virtually all bacteria (99.9999%), protozoa (99.99%), and viruses (99.999%) that can contaminate water
- The compact roll-bag reservoir has no chemicals, batteries, or moving parts, making it easy to use and maintain simply by suspending it from a support
- Produces a flow rate of 9 to 12-liters (2.4 to 3.4-gallons) of purified water per hour with a lifetime filtration capacity of 18,000-liters (4,755-gallons)
- Gravity-fed, hollow-fiber water filter system meets all EPA/NSF guidelines for removal of 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa, including Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Salmonella, and Cholera
- Hang the 4-liter dirty water reservoir and 4-liter clean water reservoir to deliver 4-liters of filtered water in 2.5 minutes
- High-capacity, replaceable cartridge produces a flow rate of 1.75 liters/minute and filters up to 1,500 gallons
- The portable Big Berkey Purification System uses gravity to effortlessly purify 2.25-gallons of water every day without requiring any electricity, tools, or plumbing
- Black Berkey Purification Elements does more than filter water; it purifies it by addressing over 200+ contaminants
- A pair of Black Berkey Purification Elements lasts for up to 6,000 gallons before needing replacement, and you can add a maximum of four to increase the flow rate
- The system is just 19.25-inches tall and 8.5-inches in diameter
Distillation kills most germs and removes heavy metals, salts, and even some chemicals. By boiling water and then collecting only the vapor, which condenses back into liquid, you can create distilled water free of impurities.
- Fill a pot halfway with water.
- Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup hangs right-side-up when the top is upside-down.
- Make sure the cup isn’t touching the water already in the pot.
- Boil the water for 20 minutes.
- Whatever water drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
Always Have A Backup
No matter how prepared you are, you can’t control what happens in a crisis. And with something as vital as emergency drinking water, you need a backup if things go wrong.
So I suggest including a personal water filter in your emergency kit or go bag. These compact and very effective filters are not as efficient as larger models, but their small size makes them convenient to carry.
- The microfiltration membrane removes 99.9999% of bacteria (including E. coli and Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), and the smallest microplastics down to 1-micron
- The microbiological filter will provide 4,000 liters (1,000 gallons) of clean and safe drinking water with proper use and maintenance
- All claims are verified with laboratories using standard testing protocols set by the US EPA, NSF, and ASTM for water purifiers
- High-performance 0.1-micron absolute inline filter removes 99.99999% of all bacteria (Salmonella, Cholera, and E. coli), 99.9999% of all protozoa (Giardia and Cryptosporidium), and 100% of microplastics
- The filter fits in the palm of your hand, weighs just 2 ounces, and is rated up to 100,000 gallons
- Attaches to the included drinking pouch, standard disposable water bottles, and hydration packs, or it can be used as a straw to drink directly from your water source
- Protects against 99.999999% of bacteria (like E.coli and Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), and 99.999% of microplastics, silt, sand, and cloudiness
- Enhanced microfilter membrane and custom backwash accessory means better performance against sand and silt, maintaining great flow over the long haul
- The ultra-compact filter is small but mighty with premium materials that are two times thicker, making it tougher and ultra leak-proof
Emergency Drinking Water Tips
FEMA and the CDC recommend the following water tips:
- Drink at least a quart of water a day.
- Never ration drinking water unless directed by authorities.
- Always drink uncontaminated water before treating suspicious water.
- Do not drink carbonated beverages or alcohol, as it will dehydrate you.
- Keep commercially bottled water in its original sealed container and store it in a cool, dark place.
- Replace commercially bottled water when it expires.
- Garden hoses contain bacteria and other contaminants, so you should never use them to fill emergency water containers.
- Replace do-it-yourself water every six months.
- Never drink water from radiators, hot water boilers, water beds, pools, or spas.
- After turning off your water, you can use water in your pipes by opening the faucet on your home’s lowest floor and capturing water as it trickles out.
- To use the water in your hot-water tank, turn off the electricity and gas, open the drain at the bottom, turn off the water intake valve, and turn on the hot water faucet.
- Don’t drink cloudy or potentially contaminated water without treating it first unless you are at risk of dehydration.
- Include a bottle of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach (5% to 9% sodium hypochlorite) with your emergency water supplies to disinfect your water and for other cleaning and sanitizing tasks.
Together we’ve covered all the essential aspects of preparing and maintaining emergency drinking water, including how to find and treat additional sources when necessary. So now it’s up to you to implement what you’ve learned.
Everybody’s survival needs are unique. But one thing is for sure, we all need emergency water supplies in our emergency kit.
So if you are looking for water supplies for your emergency kit, look no further than the Emergency Supplies For Home recommendations page.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to post any thoughts or suggestions in the comments. For more helpful tips, check out some of my other articles in the links below.