Living Without Running Water: An Emergency Water Storage Guide

So, I turned off our running water for 48 hours and lived on our emergency water storage this week.  I did this as a test and learning experience.

I honestly didn’t expect to learn too much.  I mean, I’ve had emergency water storage for years and felt like I already knew quite a bit. Well, I’ve been humbled!

I actually learned a lot more than I thought I would, and I am going to share it all with you.

Why I tried to survive without water

My goal was really just to see how much of our emergency water storage we would need for a period of time. I wanted to make sure we had enough reserve to last for a decent amount of time.

But I learned so much more than I expected.  I’m so glad I did this experiment.

I highly encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already! When I say I learned a lot, I really did!

This post is a bit long because of it!  But I’ve tried to make it easy for you to scan through it and find the info that most applies to you, so don’t get too overwhelmed!

What I learned from living without water

Below are some of my main experiences during my experiment of going without water for a few days. These are my thoughts, feelings, and experiences – they may vary for each person, but I definitely learned a lot about myself here.

Anxiety is a real issue when faced with an emergency

One of my biggest takeaways from this is that my kids will experience severe anxiety in an emergency situation! Of course I knew they would be afraid and concerned, but the level of anxiety they experienced was nothing I was prepared for.

I did not tell my kids that this was a “test.”  I just told them our water wasn’t working. 

One of my 6 year old twins started crying and asked what we were going to do.  He said something like this:

“Water is my favorite drink, and I really like baths.  And I think my teeth will fall out if I can’t brush them.  What are we going to do Mom?”

Seriously?  I was actually rather surprised at his strong reaction (and my other kids followed suit).

So, what did I learn here?

I realized I need to take a better approach to preparing my kids for an emergency so they do not have this kind of reaction.

  1. I need to make sure I have enough water stored that I can keep our lives relatively normal in the event of a water shortage/contamination. Once my kids realized they could still brush their teeth and have a bath (with less water of course) their fears subsided.
  2. I am grateful that he has now been through this “crisis.”  If we ever truly have to face a long-term water shortage, he will be much more prepared and confident in our ability to do so. There will be just a bit less anxiety in our home than there would have been without this practice.
  3. I need to review all kinds of emergencies with my kids so they have an idea of what to expect in a variety of situations. One of my goals is to create a printable or coloring sheet that will help them understand some of what we may go through!

Laundry will be a huge challenge

I am actually a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t ever really considered how I would do laundry in an emergency!

The night before we started this challenge, my son asked if I could clean a shirt for him to wear to school. I told him I wouldn’t have it clean by the next morning, but that I was planning to do laundry the next day, so he could wear it the day after.  Then, I woke up to my water off and couldn’t do all that laundry!

So, what did I learn here?

  1. I think that instead of having one laundry day where I do all our laundry, I will try to do a load a day or so. That way we will always have some clean clothes and could get by for a few days to a week with doing no laundry.
  2. I will add a bit of water into my totals (listed at the end of this post) for the amount of water I would expect my family to use each week.
  3. I will keep my kid’s “too small” clothes just a bit longer.  In an emergency situation, I’d be totally fine with them wearing slightly high-water pants! I’d just be grateful for the additional clean clothes! 
  4. I will be doing a bunch of research on how to do laundry in an emergency to come up with a solution that will work best for our family. I will actually try out different methods and share what I learn here on the blog.

*Update: I have done this!  Click on the related post below for more info.


My kids go to the bathroom a lot more than I thought

Seriously, WAY too often!

We didn’t flush every time they went, but anytime it was “stinky,” we did! 

We filled up the back of the toilet with our stored water, and we flushed it. But about half a day into it, I realized that in a true emergency, it wouldn’t just be our water that was off, and we wouldn’t be able to flush!

So, again, a bit embarrassed here, but I’m just now realizing how important it is to have some way for us to dispose of/take care of that type of waste in an emergency.

Had we not be able to flush, it would have been a serious issue in just those two days. Not only would it have been unpleasant, but it would have been unsafe and unsanitary. 

I can’t even imagine what it would have been like for weeks or a month!

My husband had the idea to dig a hole in the backyard and go there. Not a horrible idea, but that would quickly become a serious health issue. Untreated raw sewage can pollute fresh ground water supplies. It can also attract flies and promotes the spread of awful diseases.

So, what did I learn here?

  1. First, in a short-term emergency where the plumbing is still working, we will use “grey” (dirty dish/bath water) to flush.  I will keep the grey water for this purpose instead of dumping it.
  2. Second, I will be investing in a bunch of these toilet waste bags.  These bags are 100% biodegradeable and are solid sturdy bags that can be placed in a bucket or even in your real toilet (all for keeping things as normal as possible, right?).
  3. Each bag comes with a bio-gel application that turns fecal matter into an Enviro-Friendly material meaning you can dispose of it with your normal trash.  I will likely purchase some of the deodorant product too.
  4. Next, I will be investing in this bucket seat cover.  We go through a lot of 5 & 6 gallon buckets at my house.  I usually just give them away, but I will be keeping one and putting this cover on it (and the waste bags in it) in case we need to leave home and don’t want to pollute other areas!
  5. Last, I will also be investing in a few more sanitizing wipes (like Clorox wipes) to make keeping our hands, toilets, floors, and  counters safe and clean a bit easier without depleting our water supply.

I think dish water is gross!

I know that all you true “survivalists” will laugh a bit at this, and I admit it is a first world problem. 

I can admit that I’m spoiled!

When I wash dishes with running water, I get the dishes just a bit damp and then put a drop of soap on each. I use a wet rag to wash them and put them clean, but still a bit soapy, back in the sink. Then I spray and rinse each dish individually and dry them. 

I feel like this gets them truly clean, and I like things to be clean.

But that processes uses more water than I was willing to use in our mock emergency situation.

For this test I put about a gallon of water in the sink with soap in one side of the sink and a clear gallon of water in the other side. I washed them in the soap side, and rinsed them in the clean water side.

But by the time I was done, both sides of the sink looked gross. It just felt so unsanitary to me that I was reusing all the same water.

So, what did I learn here?

There are lots of solutions to this issue (just read the comments below for additional suggestions), but this is what I will do:

  • I will store more paper products like plates and cups. We can burn them in our fire pit when done using them, so I feel fine about it environmentally. It will save time/stress in a true emergency, and I won’t have to wash my dishes in dirty water!
  • I will accept the fact that I like to clean/wash my dishes individually and increase my emergency water storage accordingly. Even with paper products, I will still have pots, pans, serving spoons etc., that will need to be cleaned.

Bathing takes less water than I thought

The #1 reason I’ve pushed for storing way more than the recommended one gallon per person per day is because I felt like bathing would take a LOT of water!

But really, it didn’t.

I bathed with about two gallons of water. I bathed my kids in about 4 gallons total (the boys shared and the girls shared).  So, if we bathed every other day, that is only about 110 gallons out of our emergency water storage for our family for an entire month

Plus, it didn’t take more than a few gallons of hot water to make the baths comfortably warm!

I did learn, however, that I really don’t like sponge baths for the same reason I don’t like washing dishes in dirty water. I prefer showers, and so does my husband.

I know that many families would be able to use less water by sharing their bath water, and again, true “survivalists” might laugh at me.  But for me, I’d rather store more water and have my own two gallons! Of course circumstances may dictate what I use!

So, what did I learn here?

  1. I will decrease the amount of emergency water storage I’ve planned to store for bathing/showering.
  2. I will be purchasing a solar shower that we can hang outside to get warm (if it is sunny) and then move and use in our regular shower. As a bonus, this could also be used if we had to pack up and go for any reason.

Different sized water containers are a good thing

emergency water storage containers
Image Credit: Canva.

I’ve always taught people that you should have lots of different sized water containers.

But now that I’ve actually lived it (kind of), I’m even more convinced that it is important. It was nice to be able to quickly grab a drink or some water for cooking.

The 5 gallon jugs with spigot were perfect for a makeshift faucet. The 55 gallon water drums are what I recommend to store large amounts of water.

Moving the water from those big barrels to the 5 gallon jugs was simple with our siphon pump.  We only had to pump it three-four times, and then the water just flowed right out. 

My problem was getting it to stop, I ended up spilling a bit each time I used it.

So, what did I learn here?

Even though we have quite a few different sized containers,  I will still be making a few adjustments:

  1. I will be purchasing more 5 gallon jugs with spigotsRight now we only have four, and I’d like to be able to have one jug at each sink.
  2. I will be purchasing an additional siphon pump in case ours breaks. It made transferring water from one barrel to the next so easy and I do NOT want to be without it!

How much emergency water we used

The original purpose of this entire experiment was to determine how much of our emergency water storage we used so that I could feel more secure in the amount of water we are storing.

Over the entire 48 hour period, we used 34 gallons.

  • 10 of those gallons were used flushing toilets. I will no longer be storing water to flush toilets as we will use grey water and or the bio-treatments.
  • I’m adding 1 gallon “extra” because in an emergency we will likely get dirtier, and possibly have wounds etc. to clean.  This just makes me feel a little extra safe.
  • I’m adding 2 gallons extra for dish cleaning water, because I’m spoiled and like my dishes really clean. 
  • I’m adding 2 gallons for drinking water. I realized on day 2 that we were drinking lots of milk and OJ, stuff from the fridge. I want to be able to have enough water if we have nothing else to drink.
  • I’m adding 3 gallons (10 gallons/week) for laundry based on my powerless laundry experiment.  This would allow me to do about 1/2 of the laundry I currently do. We’d just wear our clothes twice as long.

So that is 32 gallons total for 2 days or 16 gallons per day for our family’s emergency water storage.

How much water I will store

In order to maintain a somewhat normal routine in the event that our running water was shut off, our family would need about 2.67 gallons per person per day.

For a family of six this breaks down to:

  • 48 gallons for a 3 day supply
  • 112 gallons for a 1 week supply
  • 224 gallons for a 2 week supply
  • 480 gallons for a one month (30 day) supply

Personally, my emergency water storage goal is a one month supply. 

I plan to do that in the following way:

  • 12 Five gallon jugs (60 gallons)
  • 12 water bottle 24 packs  (38 gallons)
  • 7 fifty-five gallon barrels (385 gallons)

In addition, I would like to have the ability to filter/sanitize water for our family of six for six months. That is about 3000 gallons for our family.

If you are interested in a similar goal, you can find lots of ways (some free) to filter/clean water here: Making Water Safe to Drink: Water Purification vs Water Filtration.

I’d love to hear from you!

Have you ever lived without running water for a period of time whether as practice or for a real emergency? I would love to hear what you learned from the experience. Save


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Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.

168 thoughts on “Living Without Running Water: An Emergency Water Storage Guide”

  1. Having just gone through a 4-day water emergency, I did pretty well. If you’re going to store 55 gallon drums of water, how are you going to keep them from freezing? It was -5 degrees a couple of nights, and the highs only got into the 20s. All my water storage was inside the house, but I hadn’t thought that far ahead.

  2. I really loved the idea of simply being prepared. It is up to us to teach us. Being prepared is what people need to be. Back in the day, our grandparents got by just fine. It took hard work and nothing should be taken for granted. I’m in the process of trying to live of the grid and I came across this article and WOW! Excellent idea.


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