“Can water go bad?”
I always thought that was the sort of question destined for Jay Leno to be asking stupid not-so-on-the-ball people on the street.
It turns out I wouldn’t want that mic thrust in my face.
Newsflash for Katie: Water can go bad!
I still don’t really get it, since it doesn’t make quick sense to me that water could go rancid, moldy, sour, or any of the other lovely ends I expect food that gets too old to meet. However, I suppose I can buy into the fact that if there’s any bacteria whatsoever in stored water, it would get comfy there and multiply, and then your water would “go bad.” But it’s weird.
Storing water for drinking just isn’t as easy as “fill some jars and forget them for a year.” Sigh.
How Much Water to Store
Although I think having any water on hand is better than none, and I’d be happy if I had a gallon (and the knowledge of how to keep it potable), the guidelines for preparing for a disaster from the CDC is that each person will need a minimum of one gallon of water per day, a half gallon for drinking and the other half for cooking needs. (Don’t forget pets, too.)
How to Make Water Safe to Drink in a Disaster
1. Chlorine Bleach
As it turns out, there are a number of options for making your stored water safe to drink. Of course, numero uno is chlorine bleach, which I’d prefer not to be using and particularly not ingesting.
Even if you just kept bleach on hand strictly for emergency water purification, you’re probably going to have a problem: bleach goes bad too. More specifically, it breaks down and loses its germ-killing potency bit by bit:
We recommend storing our bleach at room temperatures. It can be stored for about 6 months at temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. After this time, bleach will be begin to degrade at a rate of 20% each year until totally degraded to salt and water. Storing at temperatures much higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit could cause the bleach to lose its effectiveness and degrade more rapidly. (from a Chlorox representative via Survival Topics)
Buying a new jug of bleach every 6 months definitely isn’t eco-friendly in any way. Nix that one.
(To avoid the problem, you can use calcium hypochlorite, which I believe is like powdered bleach. More here. However, I like a few of the options below better.)
2. Water Purification Drops
If you’re a real backwoods camper, you’ve probably heard of these. We lug our own water into the backwoods, so of course I hadn’t! Both of the solutions below are extremely effective at killing everything and making any contaminated water safe to drink. That’s a good thing.
Stabilized Oxygen or Aerobic Oxygen is a safe, non-toxic stabilized liquid concentrate of electrolytes of oxygen.
It has been used for years by knowledgeable travelers to purify drinking water in foreign countries such as Mexico, India, Russia, etc. Adding Stabilized Oxygen to water kills hostile microbes, anaerobic bacteria and viruses. Many school districts in California use Stabilized Oxygen in 55 gallon drums of water for their natural disaster storage programs. One ounce of Stabilized Oxygen makes 55 gallons of water safe to drink for 5 years or longer.
Stabilized Oxygen is oxygen in molecular form. One of oxygen’s many properties is that it destroys harmful bacteria.
Researchers have not found any anaerobic infectious disease bacteria that Stabilized Oxygen does not kill. This includes Salmonella, Cholera, Streptococcus, E. coli, Pseudomonos, Staphylococcus and even the dreaded Guardia-Lamblia, just to name a few.
It is interesting to note that the friendly aerobic bacteria which we need in our digestive systems is not affected by Stabilized/Aerobic Oxygen. In fact, the good bacteria thrive in its presence.
Thanks, Camping Survival, for the breakdown!
Note 2015: One commenter says he has learned that stabilized oxygen does absolutely nothing. Worth looking into!
At first, I thought maybe chlorine dioxide drops or tablets might be the same as stabilized oxygen, but I’m not finding anyone to confirm that. I’m going to assume they’re different substances until I’m corrected!
Chlorine dioxide seems to be the more popular version, and also deemed safe. My gut is telling me stabilized oxygen is the wiser choice, but chlorine dioxide also releases oxygen into the water to purify it, contains no chlorine, and is supposed to be very stable.
3. Hydrogen Peroxide
I’d been wondering whether hydrogen peroxide would work to purify water, and it does, but with some complications:
- Hydrogen peroxide breaks down pretty quickly too, so you really have to stay on top of your storage of it. I keep it on hand for cleaning, so it’s usually fresh.
- It’s more difficult to figure out ratios of hydrogen peroxide to water.
I’m indebted to this article for just about all my information; please visit there for more details.
The CDC’s recommendations for boiling say to boil rapidly for one minute to purify water. This will only kill things, not get out sediments or anything, so you may have to filter/strain it if cloudy.
Since I want to filter our tap water anyway, it seems like the easiest option to just store water, then filter it after the fact. The Berkey filter kills pretty much everything and filters pretty much everything, too, to put it simply! You can read more (and win a big one!) this week right here.
If you’re filtering lake or river water or very questionable water, it’s simple to combine the chemical purification with the filter: add a few drops of bleach, or better yet, the purification drops (since they’re more stable over time for storage), then filter to get out anything questionable from the drops themselves. Ta da!
Remember not to rely on just any old filter; make sure it’s rated to actually purify and kill pathogens, and keep in mind you won’t have electricity in most disasters if you don’t have running water.
One last tip: make sure you have extra filters on hand. You’ll need them at some point anyway for daily life, and the filtering system won’t do you any good if the filter runs out!
Why I Want a Berkey
- The Berkey system has been tested to remove 99.9999999% of pathogenic bacteria. Dang.
- It also removes herbicides, pesticides, VOCs, organic solvents, radon 222 and trihalomethanes. If you don’t know what some of those are…I always figure if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably bad for you.
- It reduces carcinogens like nitrates and nitrites as well as lead and mercury, which no one wants to ingest.
- Unlike reverse osmosis filters, the Berkey does NOT remove the minerals we need to keep our systems healthy. Having to add mineral drops back INTO my water is one reason I shy away from reverse osmosis.
- Berkey systems do not need any electrical power to run, making it an eco-friendly option and an excellent choice if the electricity is out.
- I’m getting interested in upping our family’s level of preparedness – which is practically none right now – and the Berkey will allow me even to filter nasty river water and drink it in the case of a problem when both electrical and water accessibility is cut off.
- I’m deadly curious to find out if my facial breakouts might be caused by fluoride – I had perfect skin in high school on well water, and ever since then (on city water) I’ve gotten a teenager’s zits. An additional filter, not included in the prize package, is necessary to filter fluoride.
- My kiddos will be able to serve themselves water without a stool or chair. Ah, one less “jump up and get it” thing at mealtimes!
You’re curious about this system now, aren’t you? Read about how the Berkey filtration system works if you’ve got a science geek curiosity like I do.
6. Filtered Water Bottles
Berkey also sells a water bottle that would be great for an emergency evacuation; the filtering system works the same as in the big ones, and I’ve been very happy with mine. (See the giveaway for a $5 off deal on those!)
Life Saver water bottles are the other one highly touted by the preparedness crowd. Find more info here.
UPDATE: There’s a really cool backpacking filter description from another Katie in the comments, right here. Awesome personal testimony!
Iodine drops are kind of the traditional Boy Scout method of purifying, and it’s supposed to be pretty safe and effective, but has some downsides:
- off color
- rusty taste
- side effects after an extended period of use
If this is your only option, follow package directions or use 12 drops per gallon water; allow to stand 30 minutes. (source)
8. Bio resonator cards and atmospheric water generators
Here are two more options detailed pretty well in this article, but honestly, since I feel like there are a few viable options above, I’m not going to look into them more deeply myself. For give me! But you can, if you like.
UPDATE 2015: Here’s a handy printable of all this so you can have it when you actually need it – in an emergency!
Finding Emergency Water Sources
Let’s say you didn’t do a very good job storing water, or perhaps you are in a tough situation where you don’t have enough on hand. Here are some good ideas from the CDC on where to find more, especially for situations other than drinking:
Alternative sources of clean water can be found inside and outside the home. DO NOT DRINK water that has an unusual odor or color, or that you know or suspect might be contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals; use a different source of water.
The following are possible sources of water:
Inside the Home
- Water from your home’s water heater tank (part of your drinking water system, not your home heating system)
- Melted ice cubes made with water that was not contaminated
- Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl), if it is clear and has not been chemically treated with toilet cleaners such as those that change the color of the water
- Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables
- Water from swimming pools and spas can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses, but not for drinking.
Listen to reports from local officials for advice on water precautions in your home. It may be necessary to shut off the main water valve to your home to prevent contaminants from entering your piping system.
Outside the Home
- Streams, rivers, and other moving bodies of water
- Ponds and lakes
- Natural springs
Water from sources outside the home must be treated as described in Make Water Safe.
Unsafe Water Sources
Never use water from the following sources:
- Hot water boilers (part of your home heating system)
- Water beds (fungicides added to the water and/or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe for use)
What do I put the Water in?
Number one: do not use plastic milk jugs, and if you choose to buy bottled water, you can only safely store the jugged kind for 6 months. It leaks!
Other options include:
- plastic 2-liter soda bottles, well-cleaned
- canning jars or other glass jars
- 55-gallon drums made for water storage
- other smaller jugs specifically made for long-term water storage
To prepare the bottles for safe storage, it’s recommended that you sterilize them…with bleach. Blech. If you must, here are the instructions, but I’d rather just use glass and boil the jars.
Glass, of course, is not recommended, and it kind of makes sense. If one of your possible disasters is an earthquake or tornado, for example, your glass jars of water could all break, rendering them useless. Since I don’t live in areas where this is a problem, I’m using glass. ???
Here’s an idea from a reader:
For water storage…. we buy the 5 gallon jugs that are designed for water coolers. I store them (8 total for my family of 4 +dog) in my basement. Every month or so, I bring one upstairs, pour it into the berkley and then bring it back to the store to receive the deposit back for the container, recycle the empty one and swap it our for a new one full of fresh water. I feel good about this system because the containers get re-used (not thrown into a landfill!) and we have fresh water at all times, with no wasted water.
This is what has worked the best for us!
And another helpful anecdote:
We live in a drought plagued area in New Mexico and have horses, donkeys, dogs and cats and of course ourselves. We were recently faced with a water shortage in our well (now fixed, thank goodness) and because of that we purchased a 1200 gallon water storage tank that we always keep filled.
We also have 3 – 7 gallon water containers. Our additional purchase was the Crown Berkey water filter system with 8 filters. We felt that we should be prepared if we need to purify water for ourselves as well as the animals. These purchases have been expensive, but well worth the peace of mind they bring to us. We are working on a bug out kit to aid in our evacuation plan in case of brush fires. it seems as though there is always more to do to be prepared. The most important thing is getting started.
How Long Until Water “Goes Bad?”
This is a key question for storage, right?
So far, all my information is word of mouth – everything from “a very short time” to “one year.” I know somebody knows this answer! Personally, it seems 1-6 months seems to make sense, but what do I know?
How much water do you have stored? What’s your plan for keeping it safe? (If “zero” is the answer, go fill a jar…)
Come on back next week for the close of the preparedness series, including how to store real food dairy and grains, the 72-hour survival kit idea, and my comprehensive list of prep resources.
Check out the GNOWFGLINS eCourse before the end of the month to snag May’s thank you video, “Nourishing Herbal Infusions.” Real medicine and know-how is another form of preparedness, for sure!
Check out Local Nourishment for a Preparedness Blog Carnival.