Water. We can’t live without it. Not for long – only about 3 days without any source of it (including any water or moisture that is in your foods). In fact, water is the one thing that we need the most, to survive.Far too often, survival minded preppers think of and concentrate on storing extra food, with lesser regard for storing water. For some reason, there is an underlying assumption that obtaining water during an emergency or disaster will not be a problem. For some, this may be true, especially if they live right next to a plentiful source of water. But for those that rely on a steady supply of water from their faucet, think again…
Without electricity, most homes will quickly lose their water pressure as municipal pumps will be unable to supply. Don’t count on municipal generators to keep on supplying the pumps to pump your water.
The general rule for storing water for an emergency or disaster is 1 gallon per person per day.
There are variations to this generality, ranging from a half gallon to as much as 3 gallons per person per day because there are other uses for water besides just drinking.
A problem that you will encounter during an emergency or disaster is not only obtaining water to drink, but treating it to make the water safe to drink.
A best way to treat water for drinking is to boil it first. Well, almost boiling… you don’t actually have to heat water all the way to boiling to rid it of microorganisms.
According to the Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160° F (70° C) kill all pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185° F (85° C) within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point (212° F or 100° C) from 160° F (70° C), all pathogens will be killed, even at high altitude. To be extra safe, let the water boil rapidly for one minute, especially at higher altitudes since water boils at a lower temperature.
If boiling is not possible, or to add a layer of protection after boiling (after cool down), another very effective way to make water safe to drink is to add a specific amount of regular household bleach. Bleach contains about 5 to 6 percent chlorine, which will disinfect the water if added in the right amount.
First things first. If the water is cloudy and contains sediment, it should be strained through a filter by using a cloth or other straining method (use your common sense here with whatever is available). Of course if you have a drinking water filter with you, you’re in good shape.
According to the American Red Cross,
- Use regular liquid bleach (any brand). The only active ingredient should be sodium hypochlorite (concentration 5.25 – 6 percent). If you also see sodium hydroxide on the ingredient list, it is apparently OK and safe. Do not use bleach that contain soaps, perfumes, or dyes. Be sure to read the label. The “Regular” household bleach is usually fine for this.
- Add about 8 drops (one-eighth US teaspoon) of regular liquid bleach per one gallon of water. Use 4 drops if using a 2-liter bottle.
- Mix thoroughly and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Then, smell the water. If the water has a faint smell of chlorine, then it is OK to use. If you cannot detect any chlorine odor, add another 8 drops of regular liquid bleach (4 drops for 2-liter bottle). Let stand, and smell it again. If you still cannot smell chlorine, discard it and find another water source.
It may be useful to have a swimming pool test kit to verify the chlorine level in the water. 1 ppm to a maximum of 4 ppm is safe to drink.
Note that bleach has a shelf life, although you will probably not see a date on the bottle. Bleach loses about half its effectiveness within a year, so be sure to date your bottle upon purchase. Double the dosage if one year old. I would replace bleach that has been stored much beyond a year, just to be sure of full strength effectiveness.
Facts about chlorine level for safe drinking water
The EPA recommends a maximum (no more than) 4 ppm (parts per million) of chlorine for safe drinking water.
Ideal chlorine levels for safe water in swimming pools is between 1 – 1.5 ppm, to keep bacteria and other nastiness from growing.
Municipal tap water measured at the MSB homestead is 0.6 ppm chlorine (good enough).
It takes 45 minutes to destroy Giardia Protozoan (common cause of diarrhea) with 1 ppm chlorine level (so, let your water sit for awhile, even if using more than 1 ppm).
Chlorine (which is effectively the active ingredient in general household bleach) is in all tap water systems across America and the developed countries of the world. It has no doubt saved countless lives from contamination and subsequent disease.
From the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, “If you don’t have clean, safe, bottled water and if boiling is not possible, you often can make water safer to drink by using a disinfectant, such as unscented household chlorine bleach”
Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5–6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of clear water).
Add 1/4 teaspoon (or 16 drops; about 1.50 milliliters) of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water (or 4 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of cloudy water).
Stir the mixture well.
Let it stand for 30 minutes or longer before you use it.
Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
From the WHO, World Health Organization, “Chlorine is commonly available to households as liquid bleach (sodium hypo chlorite), usually with a chlorine concentration of 1%”
Disinfection with chlorine is the most appropriate way of ensuring microbiological safety in most low-cost settings. Bleaching powder, liquid bleach, chlorine tablets and other sources of chlorine may be used, depending on local availability. At least 30 minutes contact time should be allowed after the chlorine is added to the water before the water is drunk, to ensure adequate disinfection. The free chlorine residual (i.e. the free form of chlorine remaining in the water after the contact time) should be between 0.5 and 1.0 mg/l (0.5 ppm and 1.0 ppm).
Disinfectant Bleach-Water Ratio
Bleach is one of the most widely available and affordable disinfectants on earth. Clorox® brand liquid bleach was introduced in 1913 and has played a critical role in helping to protect public health by killing germs that cause illness.
Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces is essential for prevention. Germs and viruses can thrive in the kitchen, bathroom, baby’s room and laundry room, especially around toilets, sinks, faucets and bathtubs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – recommend the use of bleach for controlling the spread of pathogens that can cause infections and other health threats.
Here is the recommended bleach to water ratio for disinfection:
Clorox Bleach TO Water Ratio For Disinfectant
For cleaning hard, nonporous food contact surfaces and sanitizing items such as refrigerators, freezers, plastic cutting boards, stainless cutlery, dishes, glassware, counter-tops, pots and pans, and stainless utensils:
Use ½ cup of Clorox® Regular-Bleach per GALLON of water
Use 1 ½ Teaspoons of Clorox® Regular-Bleach per CUP of water
Pre-wash surface with detergent and water, then apply the sanitizing solution of bleach and water. Allow solution to contact surface for at least 5 minutes for optimum effectiveness. Afterward, rinse and-or air dry.
Either mix the solution in a bucket for large jobs or it may be convenient to keep a mixture of disinfectant bleach and water in a spray bottle for easy maintenance around your kitchen and household for hard (non-porous) surfaces. Be sure to label the spray bottle!
NOTE: This is NOT the formula for drinking water purification, but instead it is much stronger for disinfecting surfaces. For drinking water purification, read the following article:
Make Drinking Water Safe With Bleach
NOTE: Do not mix Clorox® Regular-Bleach with other household chemicals, since toxic fumes could result.
NOTE: Bleach solutions may discolor fabrics (your clothes, carpets, etc..).
UPDATE: Clorox has been phasing out their old Regular Bleach formula and have introduced “Concentrated Clorox® Regular Bleach”, which is the same Clorox bleach product, just more concentrated. The concentration of sodium hypochlorite has increased from 6% to 8.25%. The formulas in this article relate to the current production Concentrated Regular Bleach containing 8.25% sodium hypochlorite (look for the concentration on the label).
What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?
Cleaning removes dust and debris from a surface. Disinfecting kills a variety of germs including bacteria such as Staph, Salmonella and E. coli, the viruses such as influenza (the “flu” virus) and rhinovirus (one of the causes of the common cold) and the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. Disinfecting hard, nonporous surfaces is one of the most reliable ways to help lower the risk of spreading these germs from surfaces by touch.
Are disinfectants harmful to the environment?
No. During normal household use and disposal, bleach breaks down primarily into salt and water. Bleach does not contaminate ground water because it does not survive sewage treatment – neither in municipal sewage treatment plants nor in septic systems.
Why is bleach disinfectant so extremely important during a survival situation?
Without access to healthcare, an infection, if bad enough, can quickly kill you. During a disaster or survival scenario, you are more vulnerable to cuts and injuries, any of which could become easily infected from the environment. If the environment around you is clean, an infection becomes less likely. Prior to the days of antibiotics and disinfection, many people commonly died from infection. Be sure to have an adequate supply of bleach in your supply of preparedness items, and remember that it has a shelf life of about 1 year.
Following is a list of organisms that the proper Clorox Bleach to water ratios can kill
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph.)
Streptococcus pyogenes (Strep.)
Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli)
Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Trichophyton mentagrophytes (can cause Athlete’s Foot)
Candida albicans (a yeast)
Rhinovirus Type 37 (a type of virus that can cause colds)
Influenza A (Flu virus)
Hepatitis A virus
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
HIV-1 (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)*
Herpes simplex Type 2
Adenovirus Type 2