Store water for after an earthquake

Ten days after the [1994] Northridge quake there were 12,000 homes without a fresh water supply.

The safest and most reliable way to store water is to buy commercially bottled water, keep it in it’s original container and don’t open it until you use it. But read on for alternatives.


The concrete will leech chemicals into the water, contaminating it. Concrete will also degrade the plastic bottle causing failure.”


Also note: don’t store water in the vicinity of containers of chemicals as they can leach out and be absorbed into the water containers.


The Red Cross recommends, in the book Living With Earthquakes,

“Store water in plastic containers such as soft drink bottles. Avoid using containers that will decompose or break, such as milk cartons or glass bottles. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments and intense physical activity can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers, and ill people will need more.

Store one gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking, two quarts for food preparation and sanitation).
This is a minimum, three times that would be more comfortable.

Keep at least a three-day supply of water for each person in your household.”

(See below for the reason you should not use milk jugs to store water.)

You’ll also want water for pets.

Never use a container that has stored toxic substances. Don’t store water near chemicals – the vapors can penetrate even capped plastic bottles nearby.

If there is any chance of the stored water freezing, leave at least 2 inches of air space at the top.

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The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) offers:

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FEMA says: “for plastic soft drink bottles” (used to store water) “sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart (1/4 gallon) of water. Swish the sanitizing solution in the bottle so that it touches all surfaces. After sanitizing the bottle, thoroughly rinse out the sanitizing solution with clean water.”

If you had nothing stored, you could drink water from melting ice in the freezer during a power outage, but you want to keep the doors shut to protect the food in case the outage is short enough.

The Red Cross also recommends “Change your stored water supply every six months so it stays fresh.”

At our house we have dozens of liter bottles of water tucked away in nooks and crannies. We know that we probably won’t remember to replace the water at least twice a year. So we count on our water filter / purifier that we use for hiking and backpacking.

A good quality water filter will remove 99.9% of giardia, crytosporidia and bacteria. Some will absorb a few chemicals and unpleasant tastes. A water purifier will do all that and deactivate or remove viruses. They can be purchased from camping and backpacking supply stores for $70 to $400. You should try using it when you get it.

water purifying pump and zip lock bag

You can purify water to kill most microbes, but you can’t remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Because water purifying hand pumps can’t remove chemicals, they can’t clean up flood water floating in/around people’s homes after a hurricane for drinking, and boiling also will not make floodwater safe for human consumption.

You can purify water from the toilet tank, (the tank is suggested, not the bowl) but not the ‘blue’ water you treated with toilet cleaner tablets.

Do not use water from water beds; chemicals may have leached from the vinyl. Pool and spa water has too many chemicals, too. Don’t drink water from radiators or flood water.

The Centers For Disease Control warns: “Never use water from radiators or boilers that are part of your home heating system.”
“Water from swimming pools and spas that hasn’t been contaminated with floodwater or storm water can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses. Do not drink water from swimming pools or spas.”

(FEMA and Red Cross materials) Bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. At altitudes above 5,000 feet (1,000 meters), boil water for three minutes. Keep in mind that some of the water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking.

Boiled or stored water will taste better if you replace the oxygen by pouring it back and forth between two clean containers.


You can use the water in your hot water heater if is was strapped to the wall and didn’t fall and break during a quake!

According to FEMA, “to use the water in your hot water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve and turning on a hot water faucet. Do not turn on the gas or electricity when the tank is empty.” There may be sediment in the bottom of the tank.

LA Fire put it this way:

“Use extreme caution. Let the water cool.
Turn off the cold water supply to the tank
Turn off the gas or electric heater for the tank
Open the drain valve at the bottom
REMEMBER: Some sediment at the bottom of the tank may at first make water flowing out look murky. Continue to drain water until it becomes clear.”


The CDC warns:
“After an emergency or disaster, your tap water may not be available or safe to use.
Germs, chemicals, and other harmful materials may be in the water.
If you think your water might not be safe, do not drink or use it.”

drawings of ways you should not use unsafe water includes cooking, drinking, making ice, washing dishes, bathing, brushing teeth


Don’t store water in a bathtub

From the Preparedness Department, National Headquarters
American Red Cross

“Recently, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) did some studies which were shared and verified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)…

For years, it was common to find a recommendation that for disasters with long-lead time, such as hurricanes, people should store water in advance just in case the community water supply was disrupted by the event. One of the suggested places to store water was in a bathtub.

Quoting from the VHCB report, “Historically, lead has been added to porcelain glaze powders as a pigmenting compound and also as fluxing agent that allowed for lower firing temperatures of ceramic products. Because of this practice, it is likely that many older bath tubs (tubs manufactured before 1978) and household ceramic fixtures contain lead. The data (from the VHCB study) has shown that approximately 75% of the tubs tested by XRF were positive and contained lead in the glaze above levels that would be considered lead based paint. The data collected clearly demonstrated that lead glaze was prevalent in a majority of pre-1978 tubs and that a significant percentage would return levels of lead dust that would be considered hazardous on a floor.

We do not know how many bathtubs are “out there” that were manufactured before 1978. But we estimate that the number is rather high, especially as bathtubs tend to have a very long life.

We also know that exposure to lead is cumulative, and it affects children in quite harmful, prolonged, ways, including causing permanent brain damage.

So, based on this information, FEMA’s Community & Family Preparedness Program has changed its stand on storage of water, and (in concurrence with the American Red Cross), we both now are saying that water should NOT be stored in a bathtub before disaster strikes (such as in a hurricane). We will continue to suggest using food-grade containers, such as soft drink bottles, and other containers designed to store liquids for human consumption.

Also note, we have reaffirmed that milk jugs are designed for one-time use and water should NOT be stored in them. The Food & Drug Administration and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service have jointly shared information that reveals that proteins and lipids (fats) are retained in the biodegradable plastic of milk jugs, and are not washed out easily. The residual milk proteins and lipids easily contaminate water stored in the jugs and provide “food” for bacteria, algae, and other harmful organisms to grow.”


And from a 2004 CERT bulletin:

“Q “Has the Red Cross posted, sent by email, or otherwise released information that freezing water in plastic bottles can cause the release of carcinogens?

A The American Red Cross has not posted or published any information whatsoever about the issue of freezing plastic water bottles releasing carcinogens.

This is what is called an “urban legend.” For complete details about this one, see this web site:

There is no truth to any rumor or legend that the Red Cross has a position with regard to freezing or otherwise storing water in plastic bottles causing the release of carcinogens. While the Red Cross is not a public health agency and does not do research on these issues, we work closely with agencies that do. The Food and Drug Administration has reviewed this topic extensively, and has assured us that there is no truth to this urban legend.”


Q. Is it true that people should not re-use plastic bottles to store water for disasters?

A. This question is related to the one above. In a Master’s Thesis by a student at the University of Idaho, which was not peer reviewed and had questionable scientific validation, the student asserted that certain types of plastic could release certain chemicals which he considered to be potentially carcinogenic. This assertion got widespread media attention last summer. In typical fashion, some media outlets passed on the information without obtaining verification from an independent source. This assertion started flying via email and in web postings from several organizations (but not Red Cross). Some of the public believed the news reports and became frightened, confused, or upset.

A variety of professional organizations and government agencies reviewed the claim, and found it to be untrue. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS), carefully examined the claim and concluded, through research, that the claim was false. The FDA and USDA FSIS are members of our National Disaster Education Coalition and informed all of us the results of their independent research.

While the water bottling companies would like people to purchase bottled water, what the FDA and USDA FSIS have said is that if people select bottles like plastic soda bottles, and thoroughly clean and sanitize the bottles after use, the bottles can be refilled with tap water and stored for emergency use. Home-stored water should be replaced every six months. They further said that water should NOT be stored in plastic milk jugs. That’s because milk has fats in it which get into the plastic, and those fats can not be sufficiently removed or cleaned out, even with bleach or other ordinary cleaning products such as disk soap or dishwashing detergent. Refilling these jugs poses a risk for the residual fats to foster bacterial and algae growth inside the jug. So using these containers to store water is NOT recommended.”

FEMA also said: “If you decide to re-use plastic storage containers, choose two-liter plastic soft drink bottles – not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or juice in them. The reason is that milk protein or fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them.”


The LA Fire website said:

“Bottled water from the store – one and two gallon sealed containers. NOTE: The one and two gallon containers that you purchase in your local store are not designed for long term storage and will begin to leak after about six months.

One and five gallon sealable containers – From camping or survival stores. Be sure to sanitize container and treat the water that you are storing. Old bleach bottles clearly marked make good containers for water storage.

Five gallon sealed containers from private water companies – Water companies claim their containers are good forever if still factory sealed. Store all plastic water containers on a wooden pallet or shelf. Keep water containers in a location where container failure will not destroy your other supplies. Keep all water and supplies in a cool dark place.


From the CDC: “When storing safe water (water that has been treated to make it safe to use), it is best to use food-grade water storage containers, which do not transfer toxic substances into the water they are holding. FDA-approved food-grade storage containers can be found at surplus or camping supply stores. Contact the manufacturer if you are not sure if a storage container is food grade.If you are not able to use a food-grade water storage container, be sure the container you choose:

• Has a top that can be closed tightly

• Is made of durable, unbreakable materials (i.e., not glass)

If possible, use a container with a narrow neck or opening so water can be poured out.

DO NOT USE containers that previously have been used to hold liquid or solid toxic chemicals (bleach, pesticides, etc.)


from a CERT/FEMA note:

“· Chemical sterilization. In some situations, boiling may not be an option. The alternative is to treat the water chemically. Plain household chlorine bleach may be used. Be sure the label states that hypochlorite is the only active ingredient. Bleach containing soap or fragrances is not acceptable. With an eye dropper, add 8 drops of bleach per gallon of water (16 if the water is cloudy), stir and let stand. After 30 minutes the water should taste and smell of chlorine. At this time it can be used. If the taste and smell (and appearance in the case of cloudy water) has not changed, add another dose and let stand. If after one half hour the water does not have a chlorine smell, do not use it.”

from the Red Cross:

Water Treatment

In addition to having a bad odor, and taste, water from questionable sources may be contaminated by a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and parasites that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis. All water of uncertain purity should be treated before use.

To treat water, follow these steps:

Filter the water using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solid particles.

Bring it to a rolling boil for about one full minute.

Let it cool at least 30 minutes. Water must be cool or the chlorine treatment described below will be useless.

Add 16 drop of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water. Stir to mix. Sodium hypochlorite of the concentration of 5.25% to 6% should be the only active ingredient in the bleach. There should not be any added soap or fragrances. A major bleach manufacturer has also added Sodium Hydroxide as an active ingredient, which they state does not pose a health risk for water treatment.

Let stand 30 minutes.

If it smells of chlorine. You can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, add 16 more drop of chlorine bleach per gallon of water (or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water), let stand 30 minutes, and smell it again. If it smells of chlorine, you can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.”


Wouldn’t stored water and a hiker’s water filtering pump as needed be easier?



Food and cleaning safety facts from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“After a Flood

Use bottled drinking water that has not come into contact with flood water.

Do not eat any food that may have come in contact with flood water.

Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it may have come in contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.

Discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood waters. They cannot be cleaned and sanitized effectively.

Inspect canned foods; discard any food in damaged cans. Check cans for swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that may have come in contact with flood waters. There is no way to clean them safely.

Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, utensils (including can openers) with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.

Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and then sanitize them by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water. Allow it to air-dry.

Note: If your entire refrigerator or freezer was in flood waters — even partially — it is unsafe to use and must be discarded.”


“After a Weather Emergency

Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.

Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.

Never taste food to decide if it is safe.

When in doubt, throw it out “

In advance of a power outage is could be wise to fill empty space in the freezer with containers of water (only one a day so you won’t melt the existing food).

(“Frozen Food and Power Outages: When to Save It and When to Throw It Out. A full freezer will hold a safe temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed). Food may be safely refrozen if . . . “)


A family (and babysitters, caregivers, overnight guests) disaster plan is at:

Disaster planning


As a part of preparing for the next earthquake, do a what if? survey of your home, crawl space, attic . .

earthquake home hazards survey


You can find detailed maps (with zoom in capability) of potential road closures, risk of liquefaction and flooding, such as this map of potential Bay Area road closures after a San Andreas fault 7.2 quake,

road closures san andreas fault 7.2 quake: map showing potential road closures in Santa Clara county after a san andreas fault 7.2 quake

at the ABAG link at: Earthquake information sources

Helping Children Cope With Disaster

Disaster Supplies

Babysitter Consent and Contact Form

Fast, easy, cheap earthquake preparedness

hazardous household chemical mixtures

Home Fire Safety Checklist

Earthquake and pets advice (Consider having the vet ‘microchip’ your pets, and more…)

How to call 911.
The author of this webpage, (written as a homework reading assignment for my students), does not give any warranty, expressed or implied, nor assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product, or process included in this website or at websites linked to or from it. Users of information from this website assume all liability arising from such use.