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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Does Tap Water Go Bad?

By June 7, 2013

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Bottled water has a long shelf life. It lasts basically forever, as long as the seal hasn't been broken, though it might not taste that great a year or two or more post-bottling.

So, you may be wondering... what about tap water? Homeland Security recommends households keep at least one gallon of water per person per day for three days in case of an emergency. You can use commercially bottled water, but you can simply store your own tap water. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) recommends storing tap water in clean and rinsed plastic, glass, enameled metal, or fiberglass containers. Once you have filled the container, it should be tightly sealed and stored in a dark, cool location. The water should be rotated out about every six months. It won't necessarily go 'bad', but you may get some algae on the container (gross) and there is a slight risk of bacterial growth after several months of storage.

The recommendation is to discard bottled water within 2 weeks after you open it, but FEMA's recommendation for how long you can keep tap water is really quite a lot longer. Personally, when I store tap water (e.g., for the hurricane season), I only keep it for a couple of weeks to a month. If the water starts to turn green, use it to water your plants or something, clean the container, and refill it with fresh tap water. Similarly, discard the tap water if it develops any other discoloration or has an 'off' odor.


February 2, 2010 at 4:00 am
(1) Chemist says:

Since all plastic container (PE, PP, Pet, Nalgene etc.) contain mor or less of some plasticicers, which do leek slowly into the water I would prefer glass containers to store water for longer time. And store it in the dark, but not necessarily in the fridge

August 4, 2011 at 10:35 am
(2) Idaho Spud says:

This reminds me. What do you think of disinfecting fruits & vegetables and other things by spraying with vinegar, then Hydrogen Peroxide, then rinsing?

August 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm
(3) birdie says:

I have plastic bottles filled with my well water that look and taste fine. Have had them for 2-3 years. They are stored in my dog kennel building that has A/C and some heat. The water is for my dogs…what do you think???? OK?

June 21, 2012 at 3:45 am
(4) bob says:

Well water containes diseases

June 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm
(5) eileen says:

I buy the gallon or two gallon ziplock storage bags, fill them with water and freeze. If I need water just thaw. I also use them as cold packs in the cooler, if I need drinking water it’s right there. It’s a twofer! I change out the bags every spring.

July 30, 2012 at 12:25 pm
(6) Ginger says:

To Bob…and where exactly do you think the water you drink comes from? Or bottled water that says “Spring” water. People don’t make water, it all comes from the ground.

October 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm
(7) stephen says:

Have been drinking well water for thirty eight years on my property …..fourty three years before me has my grandpa ..he lived to be 98…Im 48 and still bench press 405lbs and still drinking well water …annual physical said Im very healthy.I love sweet well water.!

October 29, 2012 at 9:33 am
(8) Elssa says:

Does stored well water need to be refrigerated?

November 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm
(9) YankeeDoodle says:

I store water in water barrels from Emergency Essentials) (15Gal) and add 2 teaspoons of Clorox to each barrel.Last indefinitely if not opened. The Clorox kills and prevents fungus and disease from forming.

November 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm
(10) Jay says:

I think yankee doodle has the wisest advice. I am not sure of the ratio of bleach to H2O, but it is deriveable. Only problem w/ 15 gallon barrels are they are not so moveable.

My plan – Yes I am currently watching Doomsday Preppers — is to start by filling 2L Soda bottles. I have a water softener and filter to the tap water in my house. Also, I believe in MA – flouride is added to water.

In any case, this is reasonable start. I will also write a “born-on-date- on the bottled water, and cycle it out for cooking, watering, etc every 3-6 months. A milk crate will fit ~ 10 – 2L bottles, so the crate not only offers great storage, transport, and sturdy qualities, but also facilitates both stowing and cycling out – restowing efforts. Thats my 411 at present, still learning

December 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm
(11) Yo its mah says:

Im gonna bug out one day should i bring water with me?

March 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm
(12) Dante says:

I’ve read for bleach, it is 1/8th a TSP per gallon of water.

July 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm
(13) robert says:

yankeedoodle got it right, cant store indefinitely if you have big storage containers ratio of bleach to water is, 15gal- 2 teaspoons 55gal-6 teaspoons. rotate or re disinfect every 6 months

August 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm
(14) American-MC says:

We need more water sampling stations here in the U.S. I believe if we have proper testing stations we would know whether or not our water is safe to drink..

September 7, 2013 at 9:58 am
(15) Chad says:

1. Use bleach that does not have an added scent (like lemon).
2. Add 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops or about 0.75 milliliters) of household
liquid bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water.
3. Mix well and wait 30 minutes or more before drinking.
If tap water is cloudy:
1. Use bleach that does not have an added scent (like lemon).
2. Add 1/4 teaspoon (16 drops or 1.5 milliliters) of household liquid
bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water.
3. Mix well and wait 30 minutes or more before drinking.
Remember that containers may need to be sanitized before using them to store safe water:
1. Use bleach that does not have an added scent (like lemon). 2. Add 1 teaspoon (64 drops or 5 milliliters) of household liquid
bleach to 1 quart (32oz, 4 cups, or about 1 liter) of water.
3. Pour this into a clean storage container and shake well, making sure that the solution coats the entire inside of the container.
4. Let sit at least 30 seconds, and then pour out solution.
5. Let air dry OR rinse with clean water that has already been made
safe, if available. This is CDC recommendation, so I would go by this. Oh and the Source for ALL drinking water is not the GROUND, I would research before I say something I wasn’t sure about so that it doesn’t make me look foolish. :)

September 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm
(16) tonya says:

what about city water that’s in my hot water tank

September 25, 2013 at 2:25 pm
(17) andrew says:

For all who think well water is unsafe! Drank well water all my life until I bought a house and they forced me to go to city water. Well water can be some of the cleanest water on the planet it is a natural cleaned water. Also store the water in any clean containers glass is nice but not all that easy to come by. I keep 200 gals. of clean water in my basement you can aquire a test kit at any hunting or camping store cheap. I have spent yrs. in the woods drank from streams and rivers and never had snakes or anything else grow inside me. If that concerned then get a test kit and next time you toss a cigarette but out the window of your car remember you are contaminating that same water you need to live.

October 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm
(18) Sherry says:

The problem is that I drank most of the water a while ago. I don’t know how long; and I drank a little from it at lunch today. It tasted bitter; and my mouth still has a bitter taste. I am concerned that it may have had bacteria in it that will make me sick.

November 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm
(19) Ed says:

Sherry, did it make you ill or were you ok?

November 26, 2013 at 1:56 pm
(20) Garry says:

I have heard that adding ” One Drop ” of bleach per gallon of water will kill off any bad bacteria in the water. I am not a chemist, so please do not take my words as gospel. Ingesting bleach can poison you and kill you. I urge you to do you’re own investigation on disinfecting drinking water using any form of chemicals. Please check with an expert ! There may be safer ways to disinfect stored water. Be you’re own detective and share you’re findings.

December 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm
(21) Jeff says:

I did what the original poster said, keep it till it goes green and water the plants.
So it turned green I went to water the plants and then the water main broke outside so I had no water for 3 days.
I ended up having to eat the soil, it didn’t taste good but at least it was wet

February 25, 2014 at 2:47 pm
(22) Rishabh says:

Thanks annie
Your advice is useful to me…about storage of tap water..
I m from india.where i live have water level problem.
I use to store tap water in bottles for 6 days,i was scared about my health,and about the effect of stored tap water for such a long time on my health..

May 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm
(23) Simon says:

I’m from the uk. I once left freshwater in a 5gallon plastic container in the back of my campervan, after going away for a weekend in it. The area where the water is stored is permanently dark and reasonably cool. The container has a cap screwed tight on it.. Although its not totally airtight, as there is a hole in the middle of the cap for a small plastic pipe that runs through into the water, which is then pumped into the van. I was very surprised a few months later when I went to empty the water, to find that although the water was seemingly clear and clean, there was a thick gloopy, slimey sort of layer, on the pipe that had been resting inside the water tank. I still dont know what caused this, and I would really like to find out.

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