How Long Will Five Gallons Of Water Last One Person In An Emergency? | Build a Stash

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One of the most critical items to stockpile in an emergency is water. How long will five gallons of water last one person in an emergency?

With the news blaring conflict and mayhem every evening, more and more Americans are stockpiling basic foodstuffs in the event of a national emergency. From buying in bulk to ordering ready-to-eat meals to grow their produce, the work of self-sustaining families has never been more intense. Many preppers do a great job preparing their food pantry but forget the most basic requirement - a reliable water source. If it is one thing a pandemic has taught us, it is that bottled water will be the first commodity to leave grocery shelves in any kind of emergency.

Depending on usage, a five-gallon water bottle should last one person for about two weeks. If you use water for bathing and cooking rather than just for survival, the water will be depleted significantly. Bottled water must be used within two years of its production date.

Considering that a person can only last a few days without water, it is easy to see how vital this resource is too basic survival. The last thing you want to do is not have adequate access to purified water for meal prep or survival or have your family be forced to drink tainted water. How much water should you stockpile? What is the best way to store water? Before you just go out and scoop up countless cases of bottled water, are there some things to know? What’s the difference between drinking water and distilled water? There are so many questions and just not enough answers.

This article addresses the need for water storage in a national emergency. We hope to answer your questions and help you prepare for whatever event might lie ahead because how you plan could affect your family’s future survival.

Table of contents


How Long Does A Five Gallon Bottle of Water Last One Person?

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), for basic survival and sanitation, you should plan on using one gallon per person every three days of emergency. This formula means that a five-gallon water bottle should last one person for about two weeks, give or take if used sparingly. If you are planning on using the water resource for anything other than basic survival; pets, cooking, sanitation, home cleaning, etc. - you should increase the amount of usage accordingly. The CDC recommends that families have at least a two-week supply per person on hand at all times. (This would mean that a family of three should have 15-20 gallons of water set aside and stockpiled for access during a national or regional emergency.

Should your situation include a hotter climate, or the need to supply water for pregnant women or the elderly with immune-compromised health issues, you should increase the amount of water you plan on stockpiling.

A five-gallon container of water will have an expiration date stamped on the neck of the bottle. The general shelf-life of bottled water is two years. Many families have a dedicated FIFO system so that the oldest water supply is used first. Any water that is stored longer than two years will taste bland and stale.

In addition, if tap water is still available, you could consider boiling it on the stove for cooking or cleaning. Bringing tap water to a raging boil for a couple of minutes will kill any microorganisms, bacteria or protozoans that can cause disease. This method may also help to ease the demand on your bottled water supply and make it last longer. However, since no one knows if families will have access to water resources from the tap, it is best to plan to stockpile enough bottled water for all usages or plan to ration the amounts consumed.

What is the Best Way to Store Bottled Water?

Most long-term food preppers recommend storing bottled water in five-gallon containers that can be easily stacked and stored. Many families have purchased a water dispenser to house a single container of water that can be drawn from as needed. A five-gallon container of water weighs 42.7 pounds, so whatever container you choose to use, families should be mindful of the effort it will take to move these kinds of containers.

If you do not have access to purified bottled water, you can use a container that many camping or online survival sites offer for purchase. For an example of a water container, check out Any non-purified water should be stored for no longer than six months. Do not use containers that have not been thoroughly cleaned or rinsed and are suitable for storing drinking water. Any container that previously housed chemicals or non-consumable liquids should never be used to store any water.

What is the Difference Between Drinking and Distilled Water?

While you can drink distilled water, it might not be the healthiest water for you. Distilled water is boiled, and then the recaptured steam is turned back into a liquid form. The boiling process removes all bacteria (good and bad) and results in a product free of any impurity.

Water labeled drinking water goes through a filtration process, where impurities are removed (reduced) before being bottled and distributed for purchase.

Spring water is by far the best and most healthy water to drink. Studies have shown that intake of spring water can directly affect LDL - bad cholesterol, which is a primary source of heart issues. For a discussion of the health benefits of spring water, check out

This type of water is filtered and bottled at the source of the spring. Suppose you have access to spring water or well water. In that case, it is always a good idea to test the water for contaminants leaching from nearby chemical sources or sewage or radiation. See for an example of the best water testing kits.

What Are Some Things You Can Do to Help Preserve Water?

While it may not seem like it, water can go bad, especially if it is not stored correctly. Distilled water has no impurities, and because of this, it lasts longer. Spring or mineral water has all kinds of minerals or impurities and lasts the least amount of time. What can be done to help preserve the shelf-life of water?

Store Away from Direct Sunlight

Direct sunlight and heat can activate any algae or minerals in the water and turn the color green. Any water should be stored in a dark, dry, cool place that is readily accessible to a homeowner but is not prone to moisture or humidity. Never store water bottles on the concrete floor of a basement or garage. The concrete will absorb moisture and could create increased deterioration of the container.

Do Not Stack Water Bottles on Top of Each Other

While space may be at a premium for your long-term storage area, storing water battles on top of each other is not advisable. Use shelving with a dedicated FIFO system so that the oldest products are used first.

Five Gallon Jugs means Less Waste in Landfills.

Choosing a larger container initially can have a dramatic effect on the environment. While smaller 8 oz bottles might seem that they are convenient, they just end up creating lots of space in the local landfill.