How long can water be stored before it goes bad?

Water is one of the most essential resources for human life. We use water daily for drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning, agriculture and more. Having access to clean, safe water is crucial for health and survival. However, water can go bad or become contaminated if stored improperly or for too long. Knowing how to properly store water and how long it stays usable is very important, especially in emergency preparedness situations.

How long does bottled water last?

Bottled water can typically last between 6 months to 2 years beyond the printed expiration date, as long as the bottles remain properly sealed and stored. The plastic bottles themselves will eventually start leaching chemicals into the water if stored for very long periods. Typical guidelines for bottled water storage are:

– Unopened commercially bottled water – Good for up to 2 years when stored properly in a cool, dry place.

– Opened commercially bottled water – Consume within 6 months and discard if smell or taste changes.

– Store-bought bottled water in plastic bottles – Good for 6 months to 1 year beyond expiration date.

– Home-bottled or filtered water in plastic bottles – Good for about 6 months when stored in cool place.

The key is keeping the bottles away from direct sunlight and heat, which can cause the water to go bad faster. Bottled waters with lower mineral content tend to have a longer shelf life as well. Overall, commercially packaged bottled waters last 1-2 years beyond the printed date, but home-bottled waters should be replaced more frequently.

How long does tap water last in storage?

The shelf life of tap water stored in clean, airtight containers can also last 6 months to 1 year, similar to home-bottled water. Tap water has typically been treated with chlorine or other disinfectants so it has a good starting point in terms of safety. Here are some general guidelines for stored tap water:

– Tap water stored in factory-sealed plastic bottles – 6 months to 1 year.

– Tap water transferred into clean, airtight containers – 6 months.

– Tap water stored in food-grade plastic containers – 6-9 months.

– Tap water stored in glass containers – Up to 1 year.

Again, cool and dark storage is ideal. Certain plastic containers can affect taste and shelf life over many months. Glass or lined steel containers are best for longer term storage. Tap water also has more mineral content than filtered or distilled water, so taste may change sooner. Overall, rotate stored tap water every 6-12 months for best quality.

How long does distilled water last in storage?

Distilled water has been purified via distillation to remove minerals, contaminants and microbes. This makes it essentially sterile with a neutral pH. When properly stored, distilled water can potentially stay fresh and usable for up to 5 years in airtight containers kept in cool, dark places. The shelf life depends somewhat on the container.

Here are some general guidelines for distilled water storage times:

– Factory-sealed distilled water bottles – 2-4 years from production date.

– Distilled water stored in glass – 3-5 years if sealed.

– Distilled water stored in plastic – 1-2 years before plastic leaching occurs.

– Distilled water stored in lined steel – 5+ years if kept cool and airtight.

The purity of distilled water means it does not go bad or spoil from microbial growth. However, over very long periods, exposure to light and air can allow some reabsorption of minerals and gases that may eventually affect taste and quality. Properly stored in airtight containers, distilled water can last up to 5 years while maintaining its purity and lack of contaminants.

How to maximize water shelf life

To get the longest shelf life and usage out of stored water, follow these tips:

– Use proper containers – food-grade plastic, glass or lined steel. Avoid crystal clear plastic.

– Ensure lids/caps provide airtight seal.

– Store in cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat sources. Basement or interior closet ideal.

– Avoid temperature extremes – don’t freeze but don’t store above room temperature.

– Avoid storing near gasoline, kerosene, pesticides as vapors can penetrate plastic.

– Use distilled water for absolute longest shelf life.

– For tap water, use municipal water instead of well water if possible.

– Replace stored water at least once a year.

– Label containers with storage date and rotate stock.

– For plastic bottles, replace after 1-2 years to avoid chemical leaching.

– Watch for changes in taste, smell or appearance.

How can you tell if stored water is bad?

The main ways stored water can go bad are:

1. Microbial growth – Bacteria, fungi, mold, etc.

2. Chemical leaching from container – Plastics breaking down.

3. Absorption of gases and minerals – Changes in taste/smell.

4. Presence of chemicals – Contaminants penetrating container.

Signs that water has spoiled include:

– Cloudiness – Once clear water becomes hazy.

– Particulates – Floating specs or sediment.

– Odor – Smells like chemicals, rotten eggs, mold, etc.

– Off tastes – Bitter, metallic, soapy, etc.

– Discoloration – No longer clear. May turn yellowish or brownish.

– Algae growth – Greenish tint and slick texture.

– Bottle leaking – Container compromised and no longer airtight.

Generally, if stored water develops a smell, taste or appearance different from fresh tap water, it should be discarded. Always use good judgment. When in doubt, throw it out.

Can bad water make you sick?

Yes, drinking spoiled water can make you ill. The most common health risks of bad water include:

– Gastrointestinal illness – Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea from microbes.

– Liver problems – From chemical contamination.

– Kidney problems – Exposure to heavy metals.

– Cancer – Long term exposure to chemicals like arsenic.

– Weakness and fatigue – From chemical leaching depleting minerals.

– Respiratory illness – Legionnaire’s disease from bacteria.

Symptoms like digestive upset may occur quickly after drinking bad water. Other problems like organ damage develop over time with repeated exposure. Always avoid drinking stored water that has any signs of contamination or just doesn’t seem right.

Can you treat or filter bad stored water?

Water that smells, tastes or looks off should be discarded rather than consumed. However, stored water that is nearing its shelf life or just tastes stale can potentially be treated or filtered to make it potable again.

Options for treating stale stored water include:

– Boiling – Bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute to kill bacteria.

– Distillation – Purify through evaporation and condensation.

– Water filters – Activated carbon filters remove odors and chemicals.

– Chlorine drops – Kill microbes. Use 2 drops per liter and let sit 30 minutes.

– Iodine tablets – Disinfect stored water. Follow dosage on packaging.

– Solar disinfection – Expose to sunlight for 6+ hours in clear bottles.

– Oxygen absorbers – Prevent growth of microbes, algae and molds.

Treatment can eliminate microbes and offensive odors/tastes. But heavily contaminated water is still best discarded rather than consumed after attempts to purify it. Prevention is key – replace water before it expires.

Does expired bottled water still hydrate you?

Bottled water that is past its expiration date but still sealed and stored properly can still be used for hydration even if not ideal for drinking. The plastic may leach chemicals into the water over time, but will still provide hydration in emergency situations or cases where no other water is available.

However, even expired bottled water has limits for emergency use:

– Consume quickly – Don’t allow for microbial growth over time.

– Don’t rely on bad tasting water – Strong odors or flavors could be highly contaminated.

– Avoid water over 5 years old – Higher risk of chemical leaching from plastic.

– Use bad water just for hydration not drinking – Higher chance of stomach issues if consumed directly.

– Never give bad water to children or vulnerable people – Higher sensitivity to contaminants.

– Discard water causing illness symptoms right away – Don’t take chances.

Having access to any water source is better than none in critical situations. But replace clearly spoiled stored water as soon as possible, and avoid directly consuming it if possible.

Does freezing extend the shelf life of water?

Freezing can help extend the shelf life of stored water, but has some limitations:

– Kills microbes – Freezing stops microbial growth.

– Pauses chemical reactions – Slows plastic leaching and mineral absorption.

– Maintains quality – Preserves taste with no “stale” water.

However, freezing has downsides too:

– Doesn’t stop all microbial growth – Some bacteria can survive freezing.

– Causes cracks in containers – Freezing expands water and can break containers.

– Changes taste – Can make water taste flat or metallic.

– Uses lots of energy – Maintaining freezing uses substantial electricity.

– Risk of contamination – Requires frequent opening of freezer.

For short term storage of 6-12 months, freezing gives little advantage compared to cool dark storage. But freezing may help extend water to 2+ years for emergency preparedness purposes. Just be aware of downsides like potential container breakage and increased energy costs.

Should you rotate or cycle water storage?

Rotating your water storage by using the oldest water first is highly recommended:

– Ensures you actually use the stored water – Don’t just let it sit indefinitely.

– Avoids wasting anything that expires – Keep water as fresh as possible.

– Allows regular cleaning of containers – Important for preventing contamination.

– Helps identify any compromised containers – Detect leaks or other flaws.

– Provides practice accessing emergency water if needed.

– Keeps “working stock” of water for regular use separate from long-term reserves.

A water rotation system uses the FIFO (First In First Out) method:

1. Label all containers with date filled.

2. Always use oldest containers first.

3. Replace any opened containers.

4. Once a year, replace unopened backups.

5. Refill any containers as needed.

6. Repeat process continuously.

Having a water rotation system ensures you never end up trying to drink years old stale water in an emergency.


Having an adequate emergency supply of drinking water is vital for every household. With proper storage methods, most drinking water can safely be stored 6 months to several years before needing to be replaced. Tap water and commercially bottled water last about 1-2 years with cool, dark storage. Distilled water, if kept in airtight glass or lined steel containers, can potentially stay fresh for 3-5 years before degrading. Always store water in food-grade containers away from heat and sunlight. And be sure to periodically rotate your supply to keep it as fresh and safe as possible. With the right storage practices, you can ensure access to usable water long after local supplies are compromised in an emergency.

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