How Much Water Do You Need to Store for Emergencies? | Build a Stash

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Key Takeaways

  • FEMA and the CDC recommend one gallon of water per person per day.
  • If you live in a warm climate or are active, double the amount of stored water.
  • If you reuse containers, make sure to clean them with bleach before storing water.
  • Rotate filled containers of water every six months to ensure it is free from contaminates.  

Preparing for emergencies is vital to survival, and having water on hand can make all the difference. So how much should you have for an emergency?

According to the CDC and FEMA, storing at least one gallon of water per person per day for two weeks is ideal. This breaks down to a half gallon for drinking and a half gallon for cooking and cleaning for each household member. If you cannot store this much, keep as much as possible on hand.

You should never underestimate the importance of emergency preparedness. As someone who likes to be ready for the unexpected, I understand the importance of knowing how much emergency water to have. Below I discuss how much water to have per person in detail. I also cover how much to store for your emergency supplies, how to ensure water is safe to drink, and other important tips.

Table of contents


Why Do I Need Emergency Water?

In an emergency, access to potable water can be scarce. Therefore, it is important to store enough water so that you and your family have what you need to survive a natural disaster or other unforeseen circumstances.

Water is necessary for drinking but also for hygiene, cleaning and cooking. Washing dishes, cleaning clothes, cooking meals, and first aid also require access to clean water. These are often overlooked when calculating how much water you should have.

People are often cut off from their normal water supply during storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. This can last weeks or even months in the direst conditions. In addition, contaminated water can spread quickly in these situations making fresh water difficult to come by.  That is why it's important to store extra water in advance.

How Much Water Do You Need to Store for Emergencies Per Person?

Calculating how much water you need for emergencies comes down to a fairly simple equation. FEMA and the CDC recommend one gallon per person per day. This allows plenty of water for drinking, hygiene, medical, and food use.

Keep in mind this is for an average person. If you live in a warm weather climate or are active, you will need to double this amount - when it comes down to it, the more, the better. In most situations, you will only be without water for up to three days. With modern infrastructure and living “on the grid,” water outages are restored quickly in most situations.

One thing to remember is that only using one gallon of water per day will require some big lifestyle changes. When you factor in handwashing, showering, cleaning, cooking, and drinking water, the average American uses between 60 and 150 gallons of water daily! The amount varies by state, with Arizona using an average of 147 per day and Maine using 55 per day.

When living on your emergency water supply, you must limit your water use to only the basics. Drinking obviously falls into this category and should always be your number one priority. Next should be cooking. Try not to waste any water, and remember that conserving your supply is essential in an emergency.

How Much Water Should I Store for Three Months?

The amount of bottled water to have on hand for three months depends on your household size. If you live alone, 90 gallons is the recommended amount to store. However, if you live in a hot climate or have an active lifestyle, you will want to double that amount.

The formula is straightforward: the number of people x the number of days = Gallons of bottled water on hand. Multiply by two for warm climates and active people.

Are 200 Gallons of Water Enough for an Emergency?

While 200 gallons seems like a lot of water, is it enough to get your family through an emergency? For a family of four, 200 gallons will last about 50 days. This should be plenty for a short-term water outage if you stick to the suggestion of one gallon per person per day.

What Should I Store Emergency Water In?

If you're looking for a way to store water safely, food-grade containers designed specifically for the task are your best bet. These containers will ensure your water remains uncontaminated by leeching chemicals in non-food grade storage containers. In addition, the container should have an FDA-approved lining and be made from BPA-free plastic.

In addition to food-grade containers, you can also use smaller reusable plastic bottles—for example, soda bottles or any other container meant for food use. If you use a container with other foods previously stored in them, make sure to sanitize the container before adding the water.

This is done by adding one teaspoon of non-scented bleach to a quart of water and switching it around, ensuring it covers the entire storage container. Then remove the water and fill the container.

Other considerations include the following:

  • Ensure the lid or cap will seal tightly
  • It is made from durable plastic or other material that will not break
  • Choose a container with a narrow opening so it is easy to pour the water
  • Juice and milk containers should be avoided as they are more prone to bacteria growth

Should I Keep a Water Filter in My Emergency Stash?

Worried that you don't have enough commercially bottled water for an emergency? Grab a water filter to add to your emergency kit.

A water filter can be a lifesaver during an emergency. This will allow you to supplement your stored supply with contaminated water and make it safe for consumption.  Water filters come in various shapes and sizes, all designed to remove bacteria, heavy metals, and other contaminants from your water supply.

In addition, they are easy to use and require minimal maintenance. All you need to do is replace the filter periodically and ensure it functions properly.

Where Should I Store Emergency Water?

After collecting your water, it is essential to store it correctly. The most suitable place for this would be a dark and cool area where temperatures do not fluctuate. Also, make sure the location is away from windows, as direct sunlight can damage the plastic containers.

This is essential to bear in mind as extreme heat, and temperature variations can cause the plastic container material to degrade, consequently allowing contaminants into your water.

To ensure your water remains fresh, label containers with their content and date of filling to keep up with rotation easily.

Placing the water containers off of the ground is equally as imperative. When frozen, water expands, which can cause the container to expand and burst. Keep smaller bottles and jugs on a shelf to help reduce this risk.

How Often Should Water Be Rotated?

If you fill our jugs and bottles from the tap, you should rotate them every six months. Labeling the containers with the date helps know when it is time to refresh.

If you only plan to buy commercially bottled water, you do not need to worry for about two years. Technically the water has no expiration date, but due to the possibility of contamination from the container, most water manufacturers will place a two-year shelf life on them.

If you store the containers away from light and heat, you can keep them beyond this time. Use your best judgment when it comes to store-bought drinking water. If you think the jug has been damaged in any way, replace it.

Does Water Need to be Boiled Before Bottling?

The only time water would need to be boiled before bottling is if the source was contaminated, to begin with. Regular tap water does not need this step, and you can safely fill your jugs.

If you are worried about your water source, contact your local water department, and they will share a breakdown of what is in the water. Of course, if it makes you feel better, boiling does not hurt anything.

Should I Add Bleach to My Water Before Storing it?

If you plan to fill jugs with tap water, you normally do not need to add bleach, but the CDC recommends adding 1/8 teaspoon of bleach to each gallon of stored water. Make sure to use household liquid bleach containing 5 to 8 percent chlorine. This amount is for clear water you are storing for drinking. If you want to treat cloudy water, double the amount of bleach per gallon.