Master List of the Best Water Storage Containers and Tanks

We’ve sorted through dozens of water containers for virtually every perceivable emergency situation. Here are the results of 70+ hours of hands-on research.

Updated: November 15, 2023
Jeremiah Zac


Our team of experts independently researches and tests products to bring you our best recommendation. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our affiliate disclaimer here.

Augason Farms 55 Gallon Drum

Best Long-Term Storage

  55 Gallons
  BPA-free polyethylene plastic
  35" Tall

reliance aquatainer

Reliance Aquatainer
Best Portable Container

  7 Gallons
  BPA-Free Polyethylene Plastic
  15.75" x 11" x 11"


Best Mini-Sized/Stackable

➤  3 Gallons
  BPA-Free Polyethylene Plastic

Best Large-Sized Container

  500 Gallons
  BPA-free polyethylene plastic

polymart tank

Best Rain Barrel

➤  100 Gallons
  Polyethylene Plastic
  41" Tall

The longest amount of time a human being can survive without water is about three days.

So, at the 72-hour mark, you'd better be near a river or stream or have come across an emergency water bottle.

What would you do if your water supply were suddenly cut off?

Experts recommend having at least three days' worth of clean water stored away at all times in case of emergency.

And the reality is that many people aren't prepared for a disaster situation should one come unexpectedly. Those who rely on a private water source such as a well or stream might be better off than those who rely on city water.

But the truth is water emergencies can happen to anyone and happen unexpectedly, so it's best to always be prepared.

So, how does one go about storing water for emergencies?

Is it as simple as filling a few jugs of water and storing them in the closet for later use?

There are actually some pretty important factors that need to be considered when storing water for long-term emergency use.

Some factors will increase the length of time it can be stored and help with ease of access during an emergency, while other factors may increase the risk of contamination. We'll cover how to purify water for long-term storage and the recommended guidelines for rotation.

We’ve compiled information from the CDC, the EPA, and FEMA, as well as books and articles from professionals and preppers, about the proper and most effective practices in ensuring safe, practical water storage for you and your family.

In this article, we'll cover:

  • Reviews of the best water storage containers and tanks for both emergency and long-term storage
  • General guidelines for water storage such as volume, space, and maintenance.
  • What to consider when selecting a storage container and how to make the best decision for yourself and your family
  • Purification options for water storage

Our Choices for Best Water Storage Containers and Tanks


We've divided our selections for best water storage containers into two categories: long-term water storage tanks and portable water containers.

Long-term water storage tanks are much larger (50 - 500 gallons) and are meant to keep vast amounts of water safe for long periods of time. These are the types of water tanks you'd keep stored away in a basement or storehouse and access when the main water supply has been cut-off.

They're meant to sustain groups of people for days on end until the main water source can be accessed once again.

Portable water storage containers can range between 5- 15 gallons in size and are meant for quick transportation. These containers usually have a built-in handle for easy carrying and can be kept in a vehicle or place of easy access.

These are generally used in emergency situations that require you to be on the move.

The retailer we get most of our water containers from is The Tank Depot. They have the largest selection of high-quality water storage tanks and containers.

Long-term Water Storage Tanks

  • 55 Gallons
  • BPA-free
  • 35" Tall

This BPA-free, food-grade barrel from Augason Farms meets all the standards of the EPA for long term water storage. Made from heavy-duty, thick, high-molecular-weight polyethylene resin, this highly-rated drum stands 35-inches tall and is 23-inches in diameter.

The Augason Farms 55-gallon Barrel is perfect for long-term water storage

  What we like most about the Augason Farms 55-gallon drum

It's the standard blue water storage drum that's in many basements across the United States. What we like most about the drum is its simplistic design that protects water for long-term storage extremely well. The entire drum is a single piece of opaque polyethylene plastic that won't leak unless you shoot a bullet through it, and it seals very tightly with the cover. The water is accessed easily through the top holes with a pump.

  What we don't like

One would think that a large piece of molded plastic shouldn't be too costly, but the need for more water storage containers may be what's driving the price up. This isn't necessarily the manufacturer's fault, but one drum can be a bit pricey.

 Is it for you?

If you recognize the importance of having 3-days worth of water stored away for emergencies and have not yet done so, then you should get on it. If you have the space in a garage or basement to store away a couple of 55-gallon barrels, Augason Farms is the brand you should get.

  • 55 Gallons
  • BPA-free
  • 35" tall
  • Complete filtration system

Augason Farm's 55-Gallon BPA-free, polyethylene barrel already comes with the water filter pump and bung wrench necessary to access water from any 55-Gallon barrel.

The complete filtration kit comes with Aquamira disinfection drops, a hand pump for easy water access, and a barrel opener

  What we like most about the Augason Farm barrel and filtration kit

The barrel along with the complete filtration kit covers everything you'd need to safely store water and access it whenever necessary. Having all the needed items in one package makes it very convenient and Augason Farms certainly thought of this ahead of time.

  What we don't like

While it is quite a convenience to have all of the water treatment items in one package, most preparedness-driven folk will likely already have these items in their possession. Thus, it might be unnecessary for them. For beginners though, it may be perfect.

  Is it for you?

If you're ready to start your first water storage supply and have absolutely no supplies on hand, this is the perfect starter kit for you. Complete with a heavy-duty barrel, purification drops, water pump, and barrel wrench, you have everything you need to safely store water for that dreaded day you hope never comes.

  • 100 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic
  • 41" Tall

polymart tank

While many rain barrel consumers have noticed leakage in quite a few products on the market lately, Bushman's Rain Harvest Collection Tank is one of the most durable you can find. This USA-made 100-gallon tank has a built-in 12" stainless steel strainer to keep debris away. 3/4" and 1.5" bulkhead fitting for spigot installation. Dimensions: 30" diameter x 41" height.

The built-in mesh screen allows for easy integration with existing downspouts. Just place the downspout above the barrel and debris will be blocked.

Rain gutters can be channeled via a tubing system. Excess water can be purged via the overflow valve.

  What we like most about Bushman's rain barrels

Bushman (formerly known as PolyMart) is one of the tried-and-true standards for rainwater harvesting containment, and for good reason. The Bushman rain barrel comes with all of the features necessary for properly collecting rainwater. The built-in mesh screen, in particular, is a simple feature that protects the contents of the rain barrel from accumulating debris such as leaves, twigs, and stones.

  What we don't like

The one particular factor we're less than pleased about has less to do with the quality of the product and more to do with the shipment process. Likely due to high demand, many of the sizes will often be out of stock and the ones that are available may take some time to be shipped out. Be sure to order in advance.

  Is it for you?

If you're serious about rainwater harvesting then there's no better place to start than with Bushman's rain barrels. All of the features built into the barrel make it much easier to get started as opposed to adding accessories.

  • 160 Gallons
  • BPA-free
  • 45" Tall each
  • Stackable

This 160-Gallon upright water tank from WaterPrepared stands 45-inches tall and 29-inches wide. Can be used for indoor or outdoor water storage and can withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Water is accessible through a brass spigot.

The flat back allows the tank to be placed flush against a wall, saving space

  What we like most about the WaterPrepared upright tank

It's massive and well-designed for storing large amounts of water. The flat-back design allows for it to be placed flush against any wall, which doesn't seem like it would save much space, but for a tank as large as this, it makes all the difference. Plus, they're stackable, which helps in increasing water volume and saving space even further.

  What we don't like

They are big and heavy so once they've been filled with water, you can forget about trying to move them. The brass spigot is nice but it would've been even nicer to have another one placed slightly higher. Since they're low to the ground you definitely need to attach a hose.

  Is it for you?

If you need a single, sturdy, water container for storing a huge amount of water for your family, the WaterPrepared tank is perfect. It's sturdy, stackable, and surprisingly space-efficient considering how large it is.

  • 50 Gallons
  • BPA-free
  • 60.5" tall

The ProChem tank is a sturdy, BPA-free, food-grade, polyethylene plastic barrel for long-term water storage. Demarcations on the outside surface show the exact volume of water content. There's a mounting platform on top which allows for the easy addition of a pump. Dimensions: 34" diameter x 60.5" height.

Demarcation lines on the outer surface indicate the volume of water without having to open the tank

 What we like about Prochem's water tank

The demarcation lines are quite helpful in quickly indicating how much water is left without having to open up the tank. While the plastic tank itself is opaque enough, shining a powerful flashlight through can reveal the waterline.

  What we don't like

While 50-gallons is pretty standard as far as water storage goes, these tanks are a bit tall and narrow. At 60.5" in height, a shorter person might have a bit of trouble trying to pump water from the top opening. But you could always get a stool.

  Is it for you?

If you need to access water often enough to where you'd like to be able to quickly read the water level from the outside, this tank might be perfect for you.

  • 600 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic
low profile cistern

Underground water tanks might be ideal for those living in cold climates where water might freeze if stored above ground, or in places outside interference or tampering may be an issue. Underground water tanks must be accessed via a pump.

  What we like about the Norwesco underground cistern

These tanks truly are for long-term water management. The fact that they're meant for underground storage protects it from freezing conditions, ideal for those in cold regions.

  What we don't like

They're large and will require a lot of digging and prep before installing this tank. Additionally, a proper pumping system will be needed to withdraw water from the cistern.

  Is it for you?

If you live in regions where frost is common and you're in need of something that will store a large amount of water for your family, the cistern is perfect for underground water storage.

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  • 500 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic

Larger, above-ground, vertical water tanks can be used for much longer-term storage or as a backup supply for an entire household – ideal for rainwater storage. This thick-walled, heavy-duty tank by Norwesco is approved for potable water and is perfect for supplying water to entire homes.

  What we like most about the Norwesco Above Ground Tank

It's large, it's thick-walled, and it'll withstand a variety of weather conditions. Its large size and opaque color make it ideal for outdoor water storage and rainwater collection. The above opening can easily be adapted for a downspout. Additionally, the overflow valve allows for daisy-chaining multiple tanks together.

  What we don't like

They only come in 2 colors: dark green and black. For outdoor usage, dark green might fit most people's preferences. But to assume it fits everyone's garden scheme is a bit shortsighted.

  Is it for you?

If you're ready to up your rainwater harvesting game from the standard 60-gallon tank to something a little more serious, you can't go wrong with Norwesco's above-ground tanks. They're sturdy, they're safe for water, and they're weather resistant. That is, of course, if you don't mind green or black.

Portable Water Containers for On-the-Go Emergencies

Reliance’s 7-Gallon Aqua-Tainer is durable, easy to carry, and suitable for emergency water storage. Comes with a five-year manufacturer’s warranty. Hideaway spigot and screw-on vent. Dimensions: 15.75 x 11 x 11 inches. BPA-free and food safe.

Aquatainer's square shape and built-in handle allow for easy lifting and transporting

Spigot can be detached and hidden away

  What we like most about the Aquatainer

The Aquatainer is a sturdy, well-balanced portable water container that is fairly easy to carry considering a full tank can weigh up to 55 lbs. The hideaway spigot is perhaps the most unique feature as it allows the spigot to remain inverted within the container itself while being stored away. When ready for water to be poured, the spigot is flipped outward. This hideaway feature keeps the spigot safe from potential damage when the Aquatainer is being transported.

  What we don't like

Though a minor nuisance, the plastic wrapping around the Aquatainer can often come loose after wear and tear. It's often best to just remove it entirely to avoid any loose plastic hanging from the container.

  Is it for you?

If you need a sturdy water container that you can grab at a moment's notice, the Aquatainer is the way to go. It's durable enough to be tossed around, and in an emergency situation, being gentle might not be a priority.

  • 3 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic


3-Gallon portable container made from BPA-free high-density polyethylene plastic. Thick, durable walls can withstand the weight of a 250 lbs man. Dimensions 18 x 9 x 6 inches. 4 inch diameter lid. Stackable.

Grooves in the side of the container make them easily stackable

  What we like most about the Aquabrick

Though a 3-gallon container seems smaller than the rest of the containers on this list, there's a lot you can do with 3-gallons. One of these containers will supply one person with water for 3-days. The fact that they're very portable and stackable makes them one of our favorite containers.

  What we don't like

The lack of a built-in spigot really makes each container ideal for personal use, not for a group.

  Is it for you?

If you like the idea of each individual in your party being responsible for their own water supply, this may be the answer. Ideally, several Aquabricks can be stacked and kept in storage. Then, when they're needed, each person can grab one or two of their own.

  • 5 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic

Zoro - Wavian water container

Wavian’s 5-Gallon is BPA Free and UV stabilized for extended outdoor use. Its jerry can shape and handle allows for easy transportation and storage.

The Wavian water can's twist-off cap is secured by a plastic leash

  What we like about the Wavian

The traditional Jerry-Can style container makes it easy to pick and go and store in narrow spaces. The attached cap ensures it won't get lost in a scuffle.

  What we don't like

Wavian could do with a wider variety of colors to distinguish the can from other containers. As of now, black and olive green are the only options. While it does display the word "water" clearly on the side, a nice blue might've been more immediately noticeable to the eye.

  Is it for you?

If you like the slim Jerry-Can style for a quick grab-and-go, the simple yet sturdy Wavian is a great choice.

At 27-inches tall and 14-inches in diameter, this 15-gallon water barrel from Legacy Premium Food Storage is a perfect step down from the larger 55-gallon barrels. Made from BPA-free, food-grade plastic, this barrel is perfect for smaller-space storage. Weighs at 125 lbs. when filled and comes with a heavy-duty carrying handle.



  What we like most about the Legacy water container

The Legacy water container holds the largest volume of water among the portable container category. It holds 15 gallons yet it's small enough to be transported small distances. It can get quite heavy when full, but the durable handles at the top make it possible for lifting and carrying.

  What we don't like

While the handles surely are durable, their shape can get a bit uncomfortable on the hand when lifting, especially when a full tank can weigh up to 125 lbs. Wrapping the handles with a cloth or electrical tape can soften the pressure.

  Is it for you?

If the 5 or 7-gallon water container isn't quite large enough for your needs, but you do need something that is transportable, the 15-gallon Legacy container might be the right choice. While it can get heavy when completely full, the durable handles make it possible to load up onto a cart or truck bed for further transportation.

Horizontal leg tanks are practical for transporting water to an emergency or disaster site. Its low profile and sturdy legs prevent tipping and could be easily placed on the bed of a truck. Ribs in the design prevent sloshing from excessive movement and allow for rope or bands to be tied and secured. 3-inch drain outlet and 10-inch lid. Dimensions are 48 x 36 x 28 inches.

  What we like about the Norwesco/RomoTech Reservoir

The grooves in the tank allow for straps to be used to secure the tank in place. When used for transporting on the back of a truck, you can rest assured that the tank is safe and sturdy, no matter how much water may be sloshing around inside.

  What we don't like

Its translucent design definitely indicates that it isn't the best choice for long-term storage, but for mobility. Opaque containers are best for long-term storage as it decreases the chance of sun-induced bacteria growth.

  Is it for you?

If you're a first responder or have the need to transport a large amount of water to a disaster site quickly, then the Norwesco/RomoTech reservoir is perfect. It straps securely to the bed of a truck and can be accessed via the 3-inch drain outlet.

  • 5 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic

saratoga farms stackable

5-Gallon stackable containers made of BPA-free, high-density polyethylene food-grade plastic. The built-in handle makes it easy to carry.

The molded upper portion allow for easy stacking of multiple containers on one another

  What we like most about the Saratoga Farms containers

The molded design allows for easy stacking of 5-gallon containers on top of each other. The traditional 5-gallon Jerry-Can style won't allow for stacking in the upright position, so the Saratoga Farms design allows for a lot of space-saving.

  What we don't like

The entire design is almost perfect except for missing a built-in spigot. The spigot is detachable, but having it built-in would have been a nice feature.

  Is it for you?

If you'd like to have multiple 5-gallon containers that can easily be stored away in tight spaces and easily grabbed as needed, the Saratoga Farms container is the design to go for.

  • 5 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic

skilcraft 5 gallon jerry can

A genuine, US Military issue water conotainer made of BPA-free plastic. Meets the toughest standards for durability and ruggedness. Dimensions 18.5 x 14 x 6.3 inches.

  What we like about the Scepter Jerry Can

It's the tradition Jerry Can at its best. It's a military-grade, polyethylene water container that's rugged and ready to be thrown in the back of a truck. Two sizes for openings allow for the attachment of a spigot or a straight pour.

  What we don't like

The handle could be a tad bit bigger. Those with large hands might find themselves wishing for a centimeter or two of extra space.

  Is it for you?

If you want the tried-and-true Jerry Can issued by the U.S. military to carry your water in, this is it.

  • 5 Gallons
  • Polyethylene Plastic

collapsible water container

Constructed of BPA-free, food-approved high-grade polyethylene. This portable, sturdy, collapsible 5-gallon plastic water container is ideal for camp, picnic, sports events, travel and emergency water storage.

  What we like about the Textport Water Carrier

It's collapsible, meaning, it isn't necessarily something you'd fill with water and store away. Rather, it's something you can pack and bring along in an emergency bag and use as a water dispenser for a group or party. When folded and stored away, it takes up a very minimal amount of space and weight. When filled completely, it can hold up to 5 gallons of water.

  What we don't like

The plastic is very strong and not very pliable. When folded away, it tends to lose its form and come unraveled so it's necessary to keep it held down with some rubber bands. A nylon tote bag would have been a nice addition to the package.

  Is it for you?

The Textport water carrier provides the convenience of dispensing water very easily from whatever water supply you have. Constantly bringing out the 7 or 15-gallon water container whenever someone is thirsty can get tiring and risks contaminating the supply. This, virtually weightless container provides a convenient solution for dispensing water to a group of people quite easily.

  • 30 Gallons
  • BPA-free inner lining

aquatank water bladder

Pillow tanks are used for storing large amounts of potable water in remote locations for a certain duration. The ease of transport and setup make it practical for onsite disaster relief, where manpower and precious time can be devoted to other needed actions.

60-Gallon water bladder with inner lining made of BPA-free, food-grade polyurethane. Outer shell made of durable nylon. Very easy to transport and fill. Standard garden hose connection. 36"W x 48"L x 16"H

  What we like about the Aquatank2

Sharing the same idea as the Textport collapsible water carrier, the Aquatank can be transported while empty and then filled with water when on site. It can also be used for mobile homes, RVs, and camping situations. The ultra-durable nylon bag ensures that it will withstand up to 920 lbs of top pressure without bursting.

  What we don't like

The hose connector can get jammed up sometimes but it's easily replaceable with an adapter

  Is it for you?

If you're looking for something that will hold a large amount of water but won't take up too much space, the Aquatank is the perfect solution. It's durable, large, and will make any RV owner or camper very happy.

7 Things to Consider When Choosing a Water Storage Container

2 Blue water storage containers in wood shed, art

While the process of water storage is a simple concept, there are a number of things that need to be taken into consideration in order to ensure that your supply is clean, contaminant-free, and available.

Before deciding on a container to purchase, be aware of the purpose it will be used for, the amount of water you intend to store, and the length of time you intend to keep it. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I storing water away for long term with the purpose of accessing it during a natural disaster or emergency?
  • Is it just for myself or for my entire family?
  • Do I need a container that I can easily transport?

Here are seven factors that will help determine the best water storage containers for your situation.

1. Your overall water plan

Long-Term Storage for Families or Individuals - For those considering long-term water storage for an entire family in case of a natural disaster or an emergency, a larger 55-gallon barrel would be a good choice. These can be filled and stored away in a cool, clean area to be accessed at the time of need.

While most 55-gallon blue water barrels, which are intended for water storage, are already food-grade and safe, be sure to only purchase food-grade, BPA-free, polyethylene plastics to ensure safe water drinking.

Larger families might want to consider larger barrels or even several 55-gallon barrels. Be sure to have a water pump to access the water from the barrel.

Transportable Water Storage for Emergencies - For those in need of something smaller and transportable in case of a situation where you'd need to be mobile, like a wildfire, for example, a 5-7 gallon portable water tank would be the way to go.

Select something that is large enough to store the amount of water you'd need yet small enough so that the added weight wouldn't be too much of a factor. As with all plastic containers, select BPA-free, food-grade, polyethylene plastics only.

2. Vendor, manufacturer, or brand

There are many brands that manufacture and distribute various types of water storage containers. Some brands specialize in water storage alone; some have a broader range of preparedness products. Some brands focus on outdoor and sports activities while having a water storage line, while some brands have military and NGO roots. The best approach is to recognize brands with a reputation for manufacturing high-quality containers designed for water storage. The brands listed in this article are known for just that.

3. Design quality

Many containers, especially those not intended for long-term emergency storage, are made with thin plastic and may crack when being transported or leak over time. Containers designed for camping, parties, or outdoor use will tend to prioritize ease of use rather than durability. Avoid containers made for these purposes. Look out for weak plastic seams that occur at the bottom of the container, as it may lead to eventual leakage. Portable containers with handles that aren’t built into the container's body are unreliable and may weaken over time.

4. Storage space and weight

Larger water barrels, for long-term storage, will certainly take up more space and are heavier to move. Because these barrels won’t be moved once they’re filled with water, it is important to strategize where they’ll be stored for easy access. Consider the available room in your storage area and how convenient it will be to access water from there.

water barrel sizes

On the other hand, portable water containers are designed to be moved. Water is heavy, and a full 5-gallon tank will be significantly heavier than an empty one. Consider the amount of weight, the strength needed to carry them, and the distance they’ll be brought when selecting a portable container size. There will certainly be a trade-off between the amount of portable water available and the energy required to transport it. Consider using stackable container options to save space and contribute to your overall emergency plan when storing portable water containers.

Heavy lifting guide

Consider the weight of the water container once filled, especially if relocation is necessary. A 55-gallon water barrel weighs 23 lbs. when empty but can weigh up to 484 lbs. when full.

Location and accessibility are important factors to take into account when storing water in larger, more long-term vessels. A 5-gallon water jug, more reasonable for portability, can still weigh about 45 lbs. when full.

Container size

Weight when empty

Weight when full

5-7 Gallon Container

< 1 lbs.

44-60 lbs

15-Gallon Barrel

7.5 lbs

133 lbs

30-Gallon Barrel

14 lbs

264 lbs

55-Gallon Barrel

23.5 lbs

484 lbs

5. Container material

Plastic is the safest and most convenient material to use for water storage due to its lightweight and reduced tendency for microbial growth. However, not all plastics are considered safe.

The safest plastics to store water in are polyethylene-based, food-grade plastics marked with #1, #2, or #4 on the bottom of the container. Those marked with a #3, #5, #6, or #7 are not food-grade. Food-grade plastics are safe for water and won’t leech chemicals into the supply.

food grade plastic symbols

6. Storage safety and container colors

Even food-grade plastic can pose some risks if not handled carefully. Opaque plastic is less likely to allow bacteria and algae growth due to its ability to block sunlight. Nevertheless, storing water containers in a dark place, away from direct sunlight, is best. Plastic containers can leech contaminants from substances and materials it’s in contact with. Avoid storing plastic containers directly onto concrete, which contains lots of chemicals that can leech into the container and eventually into the water. Instead, place containers onto a wooden palate or prop them up with 2x4s.

7. Rotation

While water itself doesn't expire, it is best practice to replace the water supply every year just to ensure the environment and conditions haven't altered the water in any way. While there are precautions we can take to ensure that the water is clean in its stored state, it is always safer to change it out every year.

How much water do I need to store for emergencies?

best water storage containers

Each Person Needs At Least 1 Gallon of Water Per Day

According to the CDC, FEMA, and the EPA, the universally recommended amount of water a person needs per day is one gallon, half-gallon for drinking, and half-gallon for washing and cooking. The recommended amount to have on hand during a disaster situation is at least 3-days worth but two weeks is ideal.

So, in order to survive without normal water channels during an emergency, one person should have about 15 gallons of water already stored away.

For an entire family, the numbers start to add up very quickly. In an everyday setting, the average family uses 70 gallons of water per day, per person.

This includes showering, cooking, laundry, gardening, and other uses. One can imagine how during an emergency or disaster situation, daily water usage will have to be conserved drastically in order to save enough for human consumption.

How much water to store for long-term preparation?

When following the guideline of having at least 15 gallons per person stored away for emergencies, we can calculate that one 50-gallon drum would be ideal for a family of three to last a two-week period. Based on that formula, we can make the following recommendations:

A family of 1 to 3 should have ONE 50-gallon drum

A family of 3 to 6 should have TWO 50-gallon drums

A family of more than 6 should have THREE 50-gallon drums

Best strategy: different containers for different situations

Because of the nature of emergencies, we’re often unable to predict the best possible solution to an unexpected scenario before it happens. That’s why preparing for multiple possible scenarios is the ideal approach. When it comes to water storage, having multiple types of containers for various situations is much better than having only one container. You couldn’t lug around a heavy 55-gallon drum if you needed to evacuate. Nor would a 5-gallon portable container suffice if you need to shelter in place for two weeks.

Single person: ONE barrel, TWO portables

Small family: TWO barrels, FOUR portables

Big family: THREE barrels, SIX portables

Guidelines on How to Store Water for Emergencies

Convenient doesn’t mean safe!

Avoid using repurposed containers such as milk jugs, two-liter soda bottles, or chemical bottles.

While reusing old liquid containers that once held anything other than water may seem like a convenient and cost-effective solution for water storage, there’s a health risk when doing so.

Certainly, never use anything that previously contained chemicals or cleaning solutions. Even if thoroughly cleaned and removed, contaminants may be leeched into the material of the container itself and may contaminate the water when added later. There’s simply no guarantee for safe water in this instance, so it’s best to avoid these types of containers.

Milk jugs, soda bottles, and anything that previously contained food pose the risk of having microorganisms introduced into the water supply. While disinfecting the container beforehand is possible, buying a brand-new water container and having peace of mind is much safer. Furthermore, milk jugs and soda bottles aren’t often sturdy and secure enough for long-term storage. It is well worth investing in a container designed for water.

How to Clean Water Storage Containers

Before adding water to a newly purchased container or in between rotating the supply, water barrels should be disinfected to maintain a pathogen-free environment.

  1. Wash and rinse the container.
  2. Add one teaspoon (64 drops or 5 milliliters) of unscented liquid bleach per 1 quart (1 liter) of water.
  3. Pour the mixture into a clean container, cover tightly, and shake well until the entire inside of the container is coated.
  4. Let sit for 30 seconds, pour out, then let air dry
  5. Pour clean water into sanitized container and cover tightly with lid

empty water barrel

How to Make Water Safe for Storage

Most water treatment facilities treat tap water with chlorine, thus tap water is usually safe to store as it is. If storing water from a well or a source where prior treatment is uncertain, or if there’s suspicion of contamination, common methods of treating water are through water purification tablets and drops, chlorination, and boiling.

Water purification tablets and drops

When purifying large amounts of questionable water for storage, perhaps the most convenient and efficient way to do so is through water purification tablets and drops.

Simply follow the instructions on the package to determine how many tablets or drops you'd need to apply to the amount of water in the container.

There's a 30-60 minute wait time before the water is considered safe to consume after the tablets have been applied. But when purifying for long-term storage, simply apply the drops, close the container, and store away.

Water purification tablets are typically made from iodine, chlorine, or chlorine dioxide. Each chemical has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of wait time, taste, and microbe efficiency. Read our article on water purification tablets for a more detailed explanation.

Boiling Water

While boiling water might not purify as large a volume as the tablets or drops, boiling is more efficient in killing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The flat taste of boiled water can be eliminated by swishing around and letting sit for a few hours or by adding a pinch of salt to each quart.

  1. If cloudy or murky, filter the water through clean cloth or coffee filter
  2. Bring water to a boil for 3 minutes
  3. Let the water cool
  4. Store water in sanitized container and cover tightly with lid

Disinfecting With Chlorine Bleach

If water purification tablets are unavailable, household bleach (Chlorine) can be used for the same purpose. Chlorine is the same chemical used in many water purification tablets and would just need to be measured in order to have the same purifying effect.

Chlorine can kill most bacteria and viruses but is not as effective in treating the water for parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Furthermore, chlorine will not make the water drinkable if it has been contaminated with poisonous chemicals. Never use more than the recommended amount of bleach as to avoid poisoning. Be sure to heed 30-minute window before dinking.

  1. If water is cloudy or murky, filter through a clean cloth or coffee filter
  2. Mix 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) of unscented household chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of water
  3. Let stand for 30 minutes
  4. If water is still murky after 30 minutes, add an additional 1/8 teaspoon of bleach and let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. Store in clean container

Potential Water Sources

While there are numerous places which you can collect water from, be aware of the quality of the source. Some sources, such as city tap water, are already treated with chlorine and won't require any further disinfection. Other sources, such as lakes and streams, would need to be treated before storing away.

Additional Tips for Practicing Safe Water Storage

  • Drinking should always be the priority in terms of water usage. Other uses, such as washing, bathing, and cooking, must be limited so that there always remains enough for consumption.
  • Always consume clean water first. Suspicious or contaminated water can be treated through one of the methods mentioned, but it will take time for it to be consumable. Always have clean water on hand, ready for consumption.
  • Never consume water that you suspect to be contaminated. If in doubt, treat the water. Consuming contaminated water can cause illness that would need medical attention, creating a situation that can potentially be direr than water scarcity alone.
  • Do not drink caffeinated, alcoholic, or sugar-heavy, drinks in place of water. These drinks will dehydrate the body, requiring more water.
  • Never drink salt water.
  • Never consume water that has been contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals.
  • Water itself doesn’t expire; the environment in which it is stored can alter its usability over time.
  • Always use new, clean, food-grade plastic containers that are BPA-free.
  • Use opaque containers and keep them away from sunlight. Never use transparent containers.
  • Don’t store containers directly on concrete.
  • Avoid contamination of water through contact with skin or outside environment.
  • Make sure containers are sealed tightly.
  • Have smaller, portable containers ready for easy access.
  • Rotate clean water supply every year


    Water storage is something that all people should learn and become familiar with. There are countless potential events that can throw us into a situation where we’d wished we were better prepared. The CDC recommends two weeks' worth of water for an emergency situation and the average person uses about a gallon a day. Stick with BPA-free, food-grade containers made of plastics #1, #2, or #4. Take proper precautions when treating water for storage and select appropriate-sized containers for all situations.

    Thank you for reading our article on the best water storage containers. It may seem like much to learn and prepare for, but it’s certainly better to be over-prepared than not at all.

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    I'm Jeremiah, the owner of World Water Reserve. I'm a writer and researcher with a particular interest in sustainability and rural living, water scarcity, and innovative water purification methods. I utilize my multimedia and communication experience in the NGO and humanitarian fields to bring light to important topics. My passion is to educate others on the reality of the global water crisis and on ways to sustain themselves and their families in the midst of it.
    Jeremiah Zac