Stockpiling Water in Milk Jugs: Is It Safe? | Build a Stash

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Key Takeaways

  • Storing water in milk jugs is not ideal for long-term storage.
  • Milk jugs are biodegradable and will develop holes over time.
  • If you must use milk jugs, only store them for three months, then throw them away.
  • Using soda, Gatorade, or Powerade bottles is better as the plastic is thick.

When first prepping, filling any drink container with water, even milk jugs, can be tempting. But is this a good idea?

Using milk jugs for long-term water storage is not recommended as they are biodegradable. Small holes can form within a couple of months, causing leaks and contamination. If you have no other containers, limit storage time in milk jugs to three months.

Drinking water is a necessary component of any emergency preparedness kit. However, ensuring the water is stored properly and in the correct containers is important. As someone who believes in always being prepared,  I know how important it is to have drinking water on hand and that it is stored properly. Keep reading for more info on storing water in milk jugs, including how long it is safe to do so, why other containers are a better choice, and how much water to have on hand.

Table of contents


Is it Safe to Stockpile Water in Milk Jugs?

The answer to this question is no. Although milk jugs are easily accessible and typically free, they are not ideal containers for stockpiling water. Milk jugs are made of high-density polyethylene plastic, much thinner than other containers for water storage. This can cause many issues with water quality and storage time.

Why are Milk Jugs Bad for Water Storage?

There are a few reasons why investing in a water storage container is better than using milk jugs.

Milk Jugs are Biodegradeable

The thin plastic used to make gallon milk jugs is not designed to hold anything long-term. They are biodegradable, meaning they will deteriorate with time. While this may not happen for a few months, the jugs will months develop holes that will cause leaking and contamination.

Not Airtight

The spout on the top of the jug may not be airtight, allowing contaminants to enter the water.  If you use milk jugs as water containers, ensure they have a screw top for the best possible result.

Also, milk jugs are made from porous plastic. This means air can get through the plastic, causing the water to become stale and possibly contaminated. It can also make the water smell and taste bad.

Bacteria Growth

Another reason to avoid using milk jugs for stockpiled water is the chance of bacteria growth from the cultures found in milk residue. Even if the jug is washed, there may still be traces of the bacteria that can contaminate your water supply.

Not Ideal for Storage

Although most milk jugs look like you can stack them, this is not a good idea as they are not designed to be. You will soon find that if you store a couple of milk jugs on top of one another, they will leak or even burst.

Milk jugs are durable but not made to hold up under stacking pressure. The reason for this is the increased pressure from the added weight on top. It is also due to bacteria growing inside the milk jugs. During this process, excess gas is produced, causing the jug to deteriorate quickly. When this happens, you will see the jug wrap or crack.

How Long Can Water Be Stored in Gallon Milk Jugs?

If you must use milk jugs for water storage, limiting them to three months is best. After this period, the plastic will degrade, becoming brittle and more likely to break or leak. At this time, you will need to replace the water and the jug.

While this may be convenient, there are better long-term options. It is also important to note that the water should be changed every six months regardless of the container.

Is it Better to Wash Plastic Soda Bottles for Water?

When choosing between soda bottles and milk jugs, clean soda bottles are the clear winner. Soda bottles are made of thicker plastic and will last longer than milk jugs. Furthermore, the spouts on soda bottles provide an additional layer of protection from contamination due to the screw-top design.

If using plastic soda bottles, be sure to thoroughly wash them with hot water and soap before filling them with water. Make sure to clean the top and the cap too!

What is the Best Way to Store Water Long Term?

There are a few ways to store water that are better than saving and filling milk jugs. These water storage containers are better for long-term storage and won't need to be replaced every three months.


The WaterBrick is a practical yet reliable size to store water - just 9 inches wide, 18 inches long, and 6 inches high. It offers a capacity of 3.5 gallons of water storage, perfect for household usage or emergencies.

The WaterBrick is stackable, which makes it great for storing a large amount of water in small spaces. It also features integrated handles for easy transport and is made of BPA-free, FDA-approved polyethylene. WaterBricks are easy to find at camping supply stores or online retailers.

Thick Plastic Bottles

Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade come in thick plastic bottles, perfect for stockpiling water. Before filling the bottles with water, be sure to rinse them out with hot water and soap. As a side note, the water stored in the bottles may taste like Cherry, Lime, or your favorite flavor of Gatorade.

This is due to the water absorbing the flavor from the plastic. If this does not bother you, great. If it does, ensure you use the water for cleaning or other non-cooking or drinking applications.

To ensure safety, opt for polyethylene-based plastics—also known as plastics #1, #2, and #4. To understand what number the plastic is, look for the recycling logo on the bottle. Inside will be a number that identifies the plastic the bottle is made from.

55 Gallon Barrels

Using 55-gallon barrels is a great way to store large amounts of water. These water storage barrels are a dark blue color; this limits light penetration and the development of organisms like bacteria and algae.

Choosing a 55 Gallon water storage container is also good for labeling, as blue containers typically signify that the contents are safe for human consumption. Also, the water barrels are made of plastic #2 and BPA-free.

Finally, these containers are for long-term storage and often come with pumps to make retrieving the water fast and easy.

Commercially Bottled Water

The simplest method is store-bought water. Many preppers do not like this method, but if it is stored correctly, in a dark, cool location away from heat and light, the water will be fine for years.

One big reason I like this method is that bottled water is already safe to drink.  It tastes way better than tap water and doesn't have a chemical aftertaste. Also, bottled water is from possible contamination while bottling.

Large gallon jugs are better than thin one-use bottles. However, if you choose this route, ensure you do not store the water on the floor, as this makes it more likely to be damaged and undrinkable.  

How to Clean Milk Jugs for Water Storage

If you do decide to use milk jugs for water storage, make sure to clean them thoroughly. Start by emptying them and rinse them with hot water and dish soap. Then fill the jugs with one teaspoon of bleach and one gallon of water.

Let it sit for a couple of minutes, empty the jugs and rinse with clean water twice. Then, to dry them out, place the jugs upside down on a towel and let the air circulation do its thing.

Lastly, when the jugs are dry, fill them with water and store them in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

How Much Emergency Water Should I Have On Hand?

The CDC recommends one gallon of water per person per day. This allows a half gallon for drinking and a half for cooking, cleaning, and hygiene. Make sure you have enough for at least three days, but it is best to be prepared for up to two weeks of water supply.