Water Storage: How Long Can You Store Water? Does Water Ever Go Bad?

We all need water to survive. No one can live without water for more than 3-4 days so having access to drinking water is quite simply a matter of life and death.

In an emergency situation you’ll want to make sure that you and your family have always got access to clean drinking water. But how do you know if, and when, water goes bad? You don’t want to be in a situation where you have taken the time and effort to store water but find that you can’t use it because it has gone bad. 

We’ll guide you through some of the best ways to store water, discuss how long water can last  when stored properly and provide you with the knowledge to spot when water has been contaminated or gone bad. 

Does stored water go bad?

The answer to this question depends on 2 key factors:

  • The initial purity level of the water when it entered the water storage container
  • The method and type of water storage that has been used 

If purified water is put into a sterile, sealed container it should not go bad and can be safely stored for decades. 

Storing water safely isn’t difficult but there are some important things to be aware of to ensure that the water doesn’t get contaminated or go bad. 

It’s useful to understand that water doesn’t ‘go off’ like food does. When food goes bad, microbes break down the proteins and sugars within it. Yet water doesn’t contain any proteins or sugars so it doesn’t go bad in this way. 

Can water be stored indefinitely?

Yes – if purified water is handled carefully, sealed securely and stored properly it can be stored indefinitely and will be safe to drink at any point. 

Generally it’s recommended that if you’re able to rotate water in jerry cans or water storage containers every 6 months to 1 year then it’s good to do so. However this is not essential if you are worried about resupplying the water or concerned about waste. 

If sealed supplies of purified water are not exposed to any contaminants and are stored out of direct sunlight within a suitable temperature range, they can last indefinitely. 

How can you tell if your water has gone bad?

It’s usually fairly obvious if water has gone bad. Try and assess it by using as many of your senses as possible – especially sight and smell. If you do have to taste it, only taste a tiny bit and wait for 12-24 hours before drinking any more to check whether you develop any illness symptoms. 

Firstly, have a look at the water. If it’s cloudy or foamy then you shouldn’t drink it immediately. Sometimes the color of water can vary between areas and if you’re using an outdoor water source it may be reddish in color. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not safe to drink but you should be cautious and consider using emergency water purification tablets for a peace of mind. 

If there’s dirt or sediment in the water you might want to consider filtering the water through a cloth material. If you don’t have access to this you may have an Emergency Straw in your bug out or get home bag. 

Smelling water that has been stored is a useful way to check if it has gone bad. Occasionally water can have a chlorine smell (this is similar to a swimming pool or household bleach) or it can smell like sulfur (this smells more like rotten food or eggs). If at all possible, do not drink water that smells like this. If it’s an emergency you should try to purify the water or boil it for a long period of time. 

Products Mentioned:

P&G Purifier of Water Portable Water Purifier Packets

5 Emergency Survival Water Straws

How long can water be stored?

The length of time that water can be stored for depends on the storage conditions. When we refer to water here, it must be purified water in a sealed container. 

Impure water that is not sealed will not last for as long and may not be safe to drink when you most need it. 

  • At room temperature, water can be stored for 6 months. It should be kept out of direct sunlight and the temperature should remain as consistent as possible. 
  • If water is stored in the fridge, it can be stored indefinitely. For ultimate peace of mind you might want to replace emergency supplies every 6 months but there’s no scientific need to do so.
  • Water barrels can store water indefinitely as long as they are food grade containers that have been sterilized before use. Some preppers like to refresh their water supplies every 6 months to 1 year. 
  • In a clean water tank, water can be stored for at least a year. It’s helpful to carry out visual inspections of your water tank and check for cracks or leaks every few months. 

Products Mentioned:

55 Gallon Blue Water Barrel

Blue 55 Gallon Water Storage Tank

How often should you rotate your emergency water supply?

An emergency water supply can save your life. This is why you want to make sure that it’s always safe to drink whenever you might need it. Keeping it fresh and potable is best done by rotating your emergency water supply every six months. 

The reason you should rotate your emergency water supply is to prevent bacteria or algae from growing inside the water storage container. Although this is unlikely to happen with purified water, it’s still important to take maximum precautions. 

Set reminders on your phone or home calendar for every 6 months to 1 year to ensure that you don’t let things slip and you keep your emergency water supply in the best possible condition. 

Long-Term Water Storage Tips 

If you’ve got space in your home basement or backyard shelter, you could make the ultimate investment with these tanks. They offer 320 gallons of emergency water storage in HDPE containers that are BPA-free. Once filled and properly sealed and stored, you won’t have to replace the water in here for up to 20 years. 

For those looking to store large volumes of water in glass containers, these 2 gallon dispensers are an excellent option. Storing water in glass is always a preferred option – but unfortunately it’s not a practical route if you’re looking to transport the water or keep the dispensers in your car or vehicle. 

A traditional water jerry can design is a useful option for those looking to store water when hiking, camping or on the move long term. Go with a design that has a spigot and faucet to make it as easy as possible to dispense the water economically. This will minimize water wastage which is really important if resources are scarce.

Products Mentioned:

WaterPrepared 160-320 Gallon Capacity

Anchor Hocking 2-Gallon Heritage Hill Glass Beverage Dispenser

REDCAMP Gallon Portable Water Container with Spigot


How to Store Safe Drinking Water

If you’re a prepper looking to store water that you can immediately access in a bug out bag or get home bag, you might consider a hydration bladder. This isn’t usually a long term water storage solution so make sure you maintain it by cleaning the bladder and switching the water on a regular basis – even when not in use. 

For daily use, the best containers to use for safe drinking water are glass bottles.  

If you need to use your safe drinking water container on the move or when exercising or in the outdoors, you’ll probably want to consider another material. 

Stainless steel water bottles are popular with survivalists and preppers. Many of these have the benefit of being double vacuum insulated so you can use them to keep drinks hot or cold. If you do decide to go for this style of water bottle, choosing a design with a straw makes drinking easier than unscrewing a lid each time.

Products Mentioned:

Brieftons Glass Water Bottles With Caps

KUREIDA Hydration Bladder 2 Liter Leak Proof Water Reservoir

Hydrapeak Flow 32oz Insulated Water Bottle with Straw Lid



It’s clear that if you store purified water correctly, it can last for a long time. With a little time and effort you can ensure that you and your family will always have access to clean, safe drinking water in the event of an emergency. 

Preparing and storing an emergency water supply correctly could save your life – so fill up the water storage containers today and ensure they’re always well maintained.

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