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Storing and Cleaning Emergency Water Containers

by Jim Serre

How Not to Store Water

In an emergency survival situation, you may be tempted to store water in any available container. However, when you can plan for emergency water storage, your water storage options can be better defined consider these emergency water supplies. Let's start with what not to store water in:
  • Containers that can't be sealed tightly
  • Containers that can break, such as glass bottles
  • Containers that have ever held any toxic substance
  • Plastic milk cartons or bottles
  • Hard plastic bottles made with polycarbonate plastics and identified by the #7 recycling symbol
  • Used pre-packaged water bottles
Any containers that can not be sealed tightly are not a good choice for water storage as contaminants may easily enter the container. While glass bottles are easily cleaned and may seal well, their breakability and weight make them less desirable for emergency water storage use. Obviously, you would not intentionally store water in any container that previously held a toxic substance. Such substances can not be adequately cleaned from the walls of the container. If you don't know what was in a particular container - it should not be used. The biggest problem with plastic milk cartons is their inability to be resealed, plus they are difficult to clean and break down over time.

We now know that hard plastic bottles made with polycarbonate plastics and identified by the #7 recycling symbol, may leach BPA (Bisphenol A) and should not be used for water storage. The type of plastic bottle in which water is usually sold is generally a #1, and is recommended for one time use only. Do not refill these pre-packaged water bottles.

How to Store Water

Refill your emergency water storage container with tap water. You should dump and refill each container every 6 months to keep it fresh.

TIP: Using a garden hose to fill containers from an exterior hose bib can result in water that has a distinct plastic or rubbery taste. Instead, try using a potable water hose found at most RV service centers.

All public water supplies are already treated and should be free of harmful bacteria. However, as an additional precaution, it is recommended that you add 5-7 drops, about 1/8 teaspoon, of chlorine bleach per gallon of water stored. This precaution protects you against any lingering organisms in storage containers that may have been inadvertently missed during the cleaning process.

You may also extend the storage life of your water by using a product called Water Preserver™ Concentrate. This is a liquid additive that disinfects, preserves and extends the safe storage life of emergency drinking water. Water Preserver™ provides 5-year storage guaranteed for regular tap water or commercial bottled water. Water Preserver™ kills and prevents the re-growth of Coliform bacteria and other disease-causing microorganisms for 5 years, when used as directed. Water Preserver™ kills the pathogenic organisms responsible for typhoid, dysentery and other serious diseases, and also kills and prevents growth of yeast, mold, fungi and algae which also make water undrinkable.

Do not store your emergency water supply in the attic due to the potential for excessive floor loading (water weighs 8.3 lb/gallon) and leakage. Don't stack containers over 2 high and secure them from falling over, especially in earthquake zones.

If possible, store emergency water in a cool dark place. To increase the shelf-life of water stored in translucent containers, group the containers together in dark plastic bags to keep out the light.

Store your water supply away from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides, or similar substances that give off vapors.

Recommended Water Storage Containers

Plastic water bottles are very convenient for carrying water around when we are on the go, as they don't break if we drop them. However, it is worth paying attention to the type of plastic your water bottle is made of, to ensure that the chemicals in the plastic do not leach into the water. To be certain that you are choosing a bottle that does not leach chemicals, check the recycling symbol on the bottle. If it has a #1, #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene), #4 LDPE (low density polyethylene), or a #5 PP (polypropylene), your bottle is fine.

Survival quantities of water can be purchased in small single-use emergency water pouches. Such water is packaged with a 5 year shelf-life as approved by the U. S. Coast Guard. Larger quantities of water may be stored safely in approved containers such as 2 gallon plastic bags, 5 gallon containers or 55 gallon barrels. A key consideration with larger containers is the inability to move them or carry them very far once they are full.

Cleaning Water Storage Containers

Assuming you are using an approved storage container as noted above, follow the steps below to clean your container.

Step 1: Drain all water from your emergency storage container. Keep in mind, you do not have to throw this water away, it can be used to water plants, the lawn, or even give the dog a bath.

Step 2: Mix dish washing soap and clean water and pour into your storage container. Agitate the container so that the soap and water mixture hits all of the cracks and crevices and internal surfaces including the cap or pour spout.

Step 3: Thoroughly rinse your water storage container several times with clean tap water to remove any soap residue.

Step 4: Mix a solution of 4 cups water and 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach (with 5.25% - 6% sodium hypochlorite as an active ingredient) for every gallon of water your storage container holds.

WARNING: Do not use scented or “color safe” bleach products. Liquid bleach loses strength over time. If the bleach is a year old, double the amount to 2 tablespoons. Two year old bleach should not be used. Bleach should be stored out of direct sunlight and away from heat to avoid deterioration.

Step 5: Pour the bleach solution into the container and close the top of the container and shake it, roll it and swish the solution around in the container until it has been well rinsed. Allow the solution to sit in the bottom of the container for at least thirty minutes. This solution will clean several containers.

Step 6: Open the container and pour the solution into the next container, assuming it is the same size. Repeat the rinsing action described in Step 5. When done, dispose of the bleach solution in a load of white laundry in your washing machine.

Step 7: Thoroughly rinse the container(s) several times with clean tap water. If any algae or discoloration is visible, do not reuse the container.

Dangers of Water Storage

If water is stored improperly (in heat, lid not tight, outside air comes in contact with the water, etc.), or if the freshness/expiration date is exceeded, the water may become contaminated.

Vapors from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides, paint or similar substances can permeate Polyethylene plastic containers (water, milk, and bleach bottles) and affect the water quality. Thick-walled polyethylene containers are significantly less permeable to such vapors.

Stored water may eventually develop a disagreeable appearance, taste, or odor. A lot of times people will refer to stored water as “tasting flat.” This condition can generally be resolved by pouring the water from one container to another, back and forth about three or four times to aerate the water.

Public water agencies don't chemically treat drinking water with the intent of keeping it preserved forever. While Chloramine is a good preservative, public drinking water is not designed to have a long shelf-life. When you pour water into a container, don't assume it will last forever.

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