Wed. Oct 20th, 2021

Water is one of the most basic necessities of life, so there is no substitute or supplement for it. I believe we sometimes take water for granted, which is obvious if you ever find yourself without fresh drinking water. Going thirsty, especially extreme thirst, is not a pleasant experience. The other day, I was looking at our water storage container and couldn’t help but wonder, “How long can water be stored before it goes bad?”

The length of time potable water can be safely stored ranges from a single day to indefinitely, depending on how the water is stored and the purity level of the water to begin with. Clean water left in an open cup outside for 1-3 days is likely to go bad (become contaminated). Water from your tap (assuming it is safe to drink) stored in a sealed container can last up to 6 months or longer; however, it is a good idea to check the water and add a small amount of household chlorine bleach to purify it (do not use bleach that has fresheners or scents). Purified water sealed in a food-grade container will last for at least two years, if not much longer.

Water Storage TypeAmount of time before contamination
Open cup1-3 Days
Self-sealed container of clean tap water6-12 months + (check regularly and replace)
Purified water sealed in a food-grade container2 years + (if stored properly)

Can Water Go Bad If Stored?

Water will not spoil if properly stored. The contamination that enters it is what causes the water to deteriorate. In theory, your water could store and remain good indefinitely if you take the proper precautions, such as sealing and storing it so that bacteria or other contaminants do not get into it and cause it to go bad.

Let’s get something minor out of the way quickly. Water does not deteriorate on its own. It can and does become contaminated over time. Bacteria, algae, and other pathogens are frequently responsible for contaminating water storage and causing it to “actually go bad.” Contamination can occur in a variety of ways, with varying degrees of severity.

Is it possible to keep water indefinitely?

Potable drinking water can be stored indefinitely if properly stored in food-grade containers in a dark, cool environment. To keep the water potable, chemical treatments (such as household bleach or iodine) can be used every 6 months to a year. The best practice, however, is to drain water storage, clean containers, and replace them with new potable water every two years or sooner.

Containers, including food-safe plastic containers, leach chemicals into water storage but have not been shown to cause serious health issues. However, if left in a hot environment, such as a garage or car in the summer, the water will not taste good and is more likely to be contaminated.

How to Store Water to Keep It Fresh

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends storing clean tap water in containers made of clean plastic, glass, enameled metal, or fiberglass. After filling the container, it should be tightly sealed and stored in a dark, cool place.

To keep water from spoiling, the following conditions must be met:

  • Begin with clean, potable water.
  • Clean food-grade plastic, glass, enamel-lined metal, or fibreglass containers should be used.
  • Close the container tightly to keep light and chemicals out (covering water storage with a tarp could be a good idea)
  • Store away from concrete, away from chemicals or anything else that you don’t want to leach into the water, and in a dark, cool place.

How do you know if your water has gone bad (been contaminated)?

If your water storage is contaminated,

  • It has a strange smell
  • Is murky
  • Developed a strange color
  • Green algae growing in it
  • Has floaties

Make your best decision consciously. Inspect your water storage every 6 months to see if it needs to be treated or replaced. If you are certain, simply drain the old water, clean the container, and refill with clean water.

Make Use of a Water Filter

Water that has been stored and become contaminated can be purified and reused as drinking water. I always keep a couple of new water purifiers on hand in case of an emergency. If I’m unsure about the purity of my water storage, I’ll definitely use a water purifier or purification method before drinking. I always keep a small water filtration straw and a larger water purifier on hand in case of emergency. In a carry-on and at home. It can be useful in an emergency when you are unsure whether or not your water storage has been contaminated.

Is it possible to get sick from drinking old water?

Drinking contaminated water can make you sick. However, getting sick is caused by Bacteria, Algae, and other Pathogens getting into the water source, not because the water is old. So getting sick from drinking old water is determined more by how the water was stored and how clean it was in the first place than by its age.

Drinking old water that has been sitting outside in an open cup or bottle for a couple of days, for example, is much more likely to make you sick than drinking a sealed, unopened bottle of purified water that is a couple of years old.

Three Ways Water Storage Can Go Wrong (become contaminated)

Contaminants leaching out of the container into the water storage Bacteria or algae were initially present in the water before it was stored in a container
Incorrect access to the water storage

Does stored water deteriorate due to bacteria or algae? Can you drink water that contains algae and bacteria?
Is your water storage green, stinky, or filled with floaties? Your water supply could be contaminated. If the water has been stagnant for a few weeks, it is easy to identify Bacteria or Algae contamination. For example, if you left a bucket of water outside for a few days, you would return to find that the water contained mosquito larvae, algae, and various other life forms that you would not want to drink.

Something leaching out of the container into the water is the second way for your water storage to become unfit for drinking. For example, storing water in a lead container would cause lead to leach into the water and make it toxic. It is critical not to store water in non-food-grade containers. It is critical to use food-grade containers because some containers (such as lead or an old pesticide container that hasn’t been properly cleaned) will actually leach toxic chemicals into your water storage, causing contamination. It is preferable, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), to store clean drinking water in plastic, ceramic, or metal containers.

Accessing the water storage improperly

The third way for your water storage to become contaminated and spoiled is by sticking your hands or other objects that may have bacteria on them in it to access it. The CDC recommends that your containers have the following features:

A small opening with a lid or cover that discourages users from putting potentially contaminated items into the stored water, such as hands, cups, or ladles;
A spigot or small opening to allow for easy and safe access to the water without the need to insert hands or objects into the container; and

Size appropriate for the household water treatment method, with permanently attached instructions for use and cleaning the container.

Teach all family members how to use your water storage properly. Be cautious, and don’t be the cause of your water storage becoming contaminated and spoiling.

Periodically clean your old water storage containers

Before storing clean water in a new water tank or container, it is always a good idea to clean it. It is also a good idea to clean old water storage containers on a regular basis. After cleaning the container, you can dispose of the old water in your yard or elsewhere and replace it with clean water.

The CDC recommends the following steps for cleaning and sanitizing water storage containers:

  • Rinse the storage container thoroughly with water.
  • Sanitize the container with a solution made of 1 teaspoon unscented liquid household chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.
  • Close the container tightly and shake vigorously. Make sure the sanitising bleach solution touches all of the container’s inside surfaces.
  • Allow at least 30 seconds before pouring the sanitising solution from the container.
  • Allow the empty sanitised container to air-dry before using it, or rinse it with clean, safe water that is already available.
  • Fill the sanitised container halfway with clean water and close the lid tightly.

Water Storage Sanitation

You can simply sanitize your water storage if it isn’t green and growing algae, or if it doesn’t smell too bad. It is critical to remember to regularly purify your water storage. Using bleach to sanitize your water storage is a good idea.

How much bleach should you put in your water?

For every gallon of clear water, add 8 drops (18 teaspoons) of household liquid bleach.
For every gallon of cloudy water, add 16 drops (1/4 teaspoon) of household liquid bleach.
Water that is crystal clear
Add 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops or about 0.75 milliliters) of household liquid bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of clear water, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Water that is cloudy

In addition, the CDC recommends adding 1/4 teaspoon (16 drops or 1.5 milliliters) of household liquid bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of cloudy water.

*Treating water with 5.25-8.25 percent chlorine household bleach

*Avoid using bleach with fresheners or scents.

This table indicates how much bleach is required to purify/disinfect 1,000 gallons, 300 gallons, 275 gallons, 50 – 55 gallons, and 1 gallon of water.

Water Amount1,000 Gallons300 Gallons275 Gallons50 – 55 Gallons1 Gallon
Bleach to Clear Water2 & 1/2 cups3/4 cup2/3 cup2 Tablespoons & 1 teaspoon8 Drops
Bleach to Cloudy Water5 cups1 & 1/2 cups1 & 1/3 cups5
Tablespoons
16 Drops

How Long Can You Store Water Before It Spoils Bottom Line

It is critical to understand how long water can be stored in various types of containers and under various conditions. Water is such an important and often overlooked asset that we should all stockpile in order to sustain our families’ lives in the event of an unexpected emergency. I hope you found this article useful, and I encourage you to store at least two weeks’ worth of water for each member of your family. Best wishes!

By Beth

I'm Beth Nunes, the proprietor of preparing in the city. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. I couldn't bear the thought of my three small children going hungry, so I became obsessed with finding simple and practical ways to be prepared for the future by building food storage and gathering other emergency preparedness items.

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