By Chris Andrews

June 3, 2024

5 Steps How to Store Water Long Term

As a prepper you will be well aware that storing water for the long term is an essential aspect of preparedness. But the methods for how to store water long term go well beyond just filling up containers and stashing them away.

Missteps in this process can lead to unsafe drinking water when you need it most. With the right materials and techniques, you can secure a safe, reliable water supply.

Whilst the process is relatively simple, you should still pay attention to it beyond the headline 5 steps used to categorise the work required here

Key Takeaways

Use a new HDPE barrel and avoid second-hand containers to prevent contamination.

Secure water with proper tools and the EPA-approved water preserver for a stable five-year storage.

Ensure the hose is of food grade

Fill and store with care, mark the date, and continually check maintenance guidelines.

Keep your knowledge up to date from trustworthy sources like the CDC

Key Principles of How to Store Water Long Term

Selecting a Suitable Water Container

When securing a container for your long-term water requirements, it’s imperative to opt for a new high-density polyethylene (HDPE) water drum

Seek out containers labeled with HDPE and the recycling symbol #2, confirming their suitability for storing water over extended periods. Refrain from the temptation to save money with formerly used barrels, even if they once housed innocuous products, as residue can permeate the plastic and foster bacterial contamination.

Utilization of Non-Toxic Storage Materials

It’s crucial to ensure that any materials in contact with your water supply are designated for food use, minimizing the risk of harmful substances leaching into your vital water supply. Steer clear from repurposed or non-specific barrels, which may be tainted by their previous contents, as no level of cleansing can fully eliminate residues that compromise water safety.

Bung Wrench and Utility Tools

For efficient maintenance of a watertight seal, a dedicated bung wrench is essential. This dual-purpose tool not only secures barrel caps to prevent leakage and contamination but also doubles as a gas shutoff instrument, facilitating resourceful management in emergencies.

How to use the Bung Wrench and Gas Shutoff Tool:

  • Use the bung wrench to carefully remove or tighten the drum’s caps.
  • Utilize the rear slot of the wrench to operate gas valves as needed.

Selecting Appropriate Hosing

To introduce water into your storage container, a food-grade hose, distinguishable by its blue or white color, should be used. These hoses are crafted for safe consumption and can be easily found at general-purpose stores. Traditional garden hoses are unsuitable as they can contain heavy metals and harbor bacteria from exposure to the environment.

Features of a Food-Grade Water Hose:

  • Safe for potable water usage.
  • Durable and designed to prevent contamination.
  • Available for purchase at common retail establishments like Walmart.

Storing Water with a Preservation Solution

The Risks of Chlorine Bleach for Water Treatment

When you’re preparing for long-term water storage, it’s essential to use methods that ensure your water remains safe to drink. Some might suggest using chlorine bleach as a sanitizer, but this is not the best option for several reasons. Chlorine bleach, while a prevalent household cleaning agent, comes with certain impurities like mercury and arsenic, which are substances you certainly don’t want in your emergency drinking supply. More crucially, bleach is not chemically stable for extended periods, which diminishes its effectiveness as a long-term water storage solution. The goal is to keep your water pure without introducing these contaminants, which could pose health risks when you most need the water to be safe.

To bypass these hazards, you should consider exclusively using Water Preserver Concentrate. This substance is the single product acknowledged by the EPA for guaranteeing a five-year shelf life for stored water.

RequirementSuggested ProductReasoning
Storage container55-gallon HDPE barrelOpaque to prevent light, decreasing bacterial growth
SealingBung wrenchEnsures airtight seal without damaging caps
FillingFood-grade water hosePrevents lead and bacteria contamination
Sterilizing agentWater Preserver ConcentrateEPA approved, stable for 5 years

Firstly, acquire a new 55-gallon high-density polyethylene (HDPE) barrel, identified with the number 2 and the letters HDPE on its side, which signifies it’s safe for water storage. Avoid second-hand barrels as they’ve likely contained substances that you can’t completely cleanse, and residual contamination is a risk you shouldn’t take.

Use a good quality bung wrench to handle the barrel caps, creating a tight and secure seal. Choose a hose specifically designed for drinking water—available at locations like Walmart—to fill your barrel with potable water. Ordinary garden hoses are inappropriate; they often harbor harmful elements and bacteria.

To sanitize your water, rinse the new barrel with a bit of clean water, add five gallons of water and the correct amount of Water Preserver Concentrate. After stirring the mixture to sanitize the inside, continue filling the barrel to the brim, leaving a small air gap, and fasten the caps with the wrench. Once sealed, your water will remain usable for up to five years, making it perfect for your long-term emergency storage plan. Don’t forget to label it with the date of storage, ensuring you keep track of its shelf-life.

Remember, cutting corners on your emergency water supply isn’t advisable. Making informed choices now will give you confidence in the quality and safety of your water in any future necessity. For more in-depth advice on water storage and other preparedness topics, make sure to explore additional resources.

Preparing Your Barrels for Longevity

how to store water long term - preparing water storage Barrels

Cleansing Practices for Barrels

To begin, acquire a new 55-gallon barrel designated for safe water storage, notably one fashioned from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), identified by the number 2 stamp and HDPE mark. The importance of newness is due to previously used barrels harboring irremovable residues which promote bacterial proliferation, rendering them unsuitable for water intended for long-term consumption.


  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) barrel
  • Bung wrench with gas shutoff slot
  • Food-grade water hose (blue or white)

Before using the barrel, thoroughly rinse it with clean water.

Filling Your Barrel Correctly

After sanitizing the interior with a preliminary rinse and a mixture of five gallons of water and water preserver concentrate, you make sure every surface inside, including the lid, is clean. The use of water preserver concentrate, approved by the EPA for a five-year shelf life, is crucial as it doesn’t have the impurities found in bleach, which is not recommended for drinking. Loosely place the caps on and agitate the barrel to distribute the sanitizer.

Steps to Follow:

  1. Rinse the barrel with clean water.
  2. Mix water preserver with 5 gallons of water in the barrel.
  3. Agitate the barrel to distribute the concentrate.
  4. Fill the barrel to approximately two to three inches from the top.
  5. Seal the barrel with caps, tightly secured with your bung wrench, to ensure an airtight container.

Ensure the barrel remains in your intended storage location prior to filling as it becomes quite heavy. Record the date of filling for tracking purposes and consult our blog for a deep dive into storage strategies.

Storing and Upkeeping Best Practices

Selecting the Right Spot for Your Supplies

Materials: Opt for a new 55-gallon high-density polyethylene (HDPE) drum, marked with HDPE 2 to ensure it’s suitable for storing water safely over the long term. The opaque nature of this material is key to limiting sunlight and preventing microbial growth.

  • Visibility: A blue plastic barrel is preferable—it blocks light effectively, reducing biological growth potential.
  • Safety First: Used barrels might be less costly, but they are a false economy. They could previously contain substances that permeate the plastic, leading to bacterial contamination which can’t be sanitized away, not even with bleach.

Location Setup:

  • Weight Considerations: These barrels can get hefty, making movement difficult. Expect up to 450 pounds when full. Arrange to position and fill your container in its long-term location.
  • Cleaning: Even new barrels need a rinse. Swirl around a mix of water and a preservative—which we’ll cover shortly—to clean the interior and the lid areas before the full fill.

Marking System and Freshness Assurance

Importance of Tracking:

  • Date Recording: Always mark your barrel with the date of filling. It’s crucial for tracking the water’s usability period.
  • Labels: Clear labeling ensures you know its contents at a glance and avoid unnecessary disruptions when you need to access your emergency supply.


  • Your Tools: A specifically designed bung wrench to open and seal the drum, and a food-grade hose for contamination-free filling—find these at RV supply sections in stores like Walmart.
  • Preservative: For lasting quality, utilize a water preserver concentrate approved by the EPA for a guaranteed five-year shelf life, avoiding common household bleach due to its inherent impurities and instability.
  • Filling Up: Once sanitized with the preservative mixture, top the barrel to a couple of inches shy of the brim and firmly secure the lid.

Parting Thoughts on Water Storage Wisdom

From someone with a firm footing in disaster readiness, without careful preparation, numerous errors can easily creep in when it comes to long-term water storage, sparking concerns about the reliability of such emergency resources. 

At the risk of repeating the earlier information, it is absolutely essential to navigate through the proper approach to securing your long-term water supply.

Firstly, acquiring a new 55-gallon High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) water barrel is crucial. The blue color hinders sunlight penetration, curbing bacterial and algal growth. Ensure the barrel is marked with “HDPE” and the number “2” to confirm its suitability for storing water safely.

Steer clear of previously used barrels, despite their enticing price tags. Whether they previously contained fruit juice or other products, contaminants seep into the plastic and remain, promoting bacterial growth—rendering them unsuitable even after thorough cleanings.

Additionally, a handy bung wrench is indispensable for creating an airtight seal on your barrel without damaging the caps. Opt for a bung wrench that also serves as a gas shutoff tool—practicality at its best.

For filling your container, source a food-grade water hose—blue or white—typically used for RVs and available in stores like Walmart. Regular hoses can leach lead and harbor bacteria, risking contamination.

When planning storage spanning five years, my suggestion is to use Water Preserver Concentrate, the only solution EPA-tested and approved for five-year potency. Unlike bleach which includes various impurities and lacks stability for long-term storage, this preserver is tailored for consumption.

With these top-tier choices for equipment, the filling process becomes a breeze—yet always remember to fill the barrel in its final storage location due to its hefty weight when full.

Clean the barrel, introduce five gallons of water mixed with the preserver, loosely place the caps, and swish to sanitize every nook. Continue filling till a couple of inches from the top before sealing with your bung wrench. Then, simply mark the date of storage.

Remember, anticipating disaster entails unwavering commitment to preparation—shortcuts simply won’t suffice when safety is a priority.

For an in-depth guide, ensure you visit the appropriate online resources such as the CDC for more extensive information.

Summary of Key Steps

  • Water Storage Barrel: Seek a 55-gallon HDPE #2 barrel. Its blue, light-obscuring plastic impedes the growth of bacteria and algae.
  • Bung Wrench with a Dual Function: It’s instrumental both for sealing barrels airtight and can double as a gas shut-off tool.
  • Approved Water Hose: Insist on a food-grade hose – look for blue or white colors that are indicators of its safety for handling potable water, unlike standard garden hoses.

Now for the additive that ensures water remains viable for up to five years, the “water preserver concentrate” comes highly recommended. This solution is the only EPA certified product assuring a half-decade of water purity, unlike household bleach, which, due to its contaminants of mercury and other substances, is unsuitable for long-term water storage.

  • Water Preserver: Approved by the EPA, ensuring a stable five-year shelf life for your water.

Remember to place the barrel at its final storage location before filling to avoid having to move a quite heavy object. Starting with a pristine barrel, introduce five gallons of water along with the water preserver, loosening the caps to mix well. Eventually, fill the barrel to a couple of inches below the top, then secure with the bung wrench, marking the date for reference.

  • Storage Date – Meticulously mark your storage date.
  • Knowledge – keep up to date with the latest knowledge

Don’t overlook the importance of ongoing education on long-term water storage strategies. For an in-depth guide, ensure you visit the appropriate online resources for more extensive information.


Chris Andrews

About the author

Hi, I'm Chris and these days I love nothing more than spending quality time with my son outdoors. As an army cadet in the 80s I was given a real insight into how to look after myself and those around me in unfamiliar environments. No huts, no tents, just survival rations for food and ponchos for makeshift shelter. This started a drive within me to be able to take care of myself and, nowadays, my family in any eventuality.

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