How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

How To Sanitize Water Storage Containers

If you are using containers that have been previously used or have been lying around for a while, you’ll want to sanitize them.  And the neat little secret is that you can use the same method to sanitize food buckets as well, so keep that in mind!

Sanitizing your water containers is an important step that you should absolutely not miss.  Without proper sanitation you are risking serious contamination of your water storage, leading to sickness, dehydration, and it could even kill you.  Bad water is no joke!

There’s two different ways of sanitization that I recommend, but the first step for both is to make sure your container is clean.  So wash it out with hot water and soap or detergent and get it as clean as possible.

The Soaking Method

This method leaves your container full of a sanitizer for a while, letting it do its job slowly but surely.  I use this method to sanitize larger containers that are hard to move around effectively.

I also like to do this if I want to try to leach out any remaining flavors from whatever was in the container before.  For example, I use this on my barrels that held liquid sweetener to make sure that all the remnants of that sweetener are gone.

It’s pretty easy.

  1. Fill your container about half full
  2. Using the table below, figure out how much bleach you need for the entire capacity of the container.  In other words, if you have a 55 gallon barrel you’re sanitizing, you need to look up 55 gallons on the table below.
  3. Pour the bleach carefully into the container
  4. Fill the container completely
  5. Seal the container
  6. Leave it alone for at least an hour.  If you’re trying to dissolve or leach prior flavors or materials out of the container, you can leave it a bit longer.  I like to leave my barrels to soak overnight.
  7. Empty the container
  8. Rinse the container thoroughly!

The Swishing Method

This method is faster, and is good for smaller containers.  I like to use this for anything under 5 or 10 gallons.

  1. Fill your container about a quarter full
  2. Using the table below, figure out how much bleach you need for that quarter fill.
  3. Pour the bleach carefully into the container.
  4. Swish the sanitizing solution around the entire jug.  Continue this for about two minutes.
  5. Empty the container
  6. Rinse the container thoroughly!

Final Tips

Be sure to sanitize the lids to your containers as well.  There’s not much use sanitizing your container if the latest Avian Equine Flu virus is hanging out on the lid!

Bleach Solution Proportions

Here are the minimum proportions to use for sanitizing your containers.  Be sure to use unscented chlorine bleach!  You can use more than this, but these numbers are the bare minimum recommended amounts.

1 Quart of Water – 1 Teaspoon of Bleach

1 Gallons of Water – 4 Teaspoons of Bleach

5 Gallons of Water – 1/2 Cup of Bleach

55 Gallons of Water – 4 1/2 Cups of Bleach

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20 Responses to How To Sanitize Water Storage Containers

  1. Bleach needs to be rinsed well because it leaves a film.

    I am a home brewer. The Best way to do this is a $10 chemical known to all restaurants as SANITIZER. Its common and cheap. Look for either Iodophor (iodine based) or Star San. Neither of which require rinsing, and you actually SHOULD NOT rinse because they are safe whereas your tap water isn’t sanitary!

    So, for me, my emergency water supply is worth a few extra dollars to ensure sanitation.

    • Did you try the vinegar and baking soda together? If so, that may be the issue, because one will cancel out the effectiveness of the other. If so, skip the vinegar and just soak them for days in baking soda in water.
      Another side note: Never mix bleach and vinegar or any other type of acid as it produces toxic chlorine gas.

    • but, is it safe to drink this??? if you don’t rinse the container, then the leftover chemical is in it…???

      • Don’t use toxic chemicals to clean with, and don’t use barrels that had anything non edible in them at any time.

  2. I bought two 55 gal. blue barrels that has Coke sweetener in them. I have tried bleach, vinegar & baking soda and I can’t seem to get the smell out. Right now they are sitting outside and every once in awhile I will go out and roll the barrels around in hopes that in time the odor will go away. Am I wasting my time?

  3. Rudy:

    I’ve been doing some research on storing water and I’ve come across a few sites that say not to store your water containers directly on concrete, because chemicals from the concrete can leach into the containers and into the water. However, I’ve also seen websites advertising concrete water storage tanks. Why is it okay to store water in a tank made of concrete, but not set plastic water barrels directly on concrete? Have you heard of this before?

    • As far as I know, indefinite. I have a bunch stored.

      Keep in mind though it doesn’t take a ton to purify water.

      • Rudy; correct me if Im wrong to keep water drinkable it is 18 drops of bleach to one gallon of water and 9 drops of bleach to one 2liter of water.Does that sound about right?Thanks

        • I hope it is ok if I reply although I am not the expert. Drinking chlorine over time is bad for you. Check out ION water stablizer that is good for you and I believe Peggy Hampton’s website is the one I used. It is reasonably priced. In her book if you have to use bleach she recommends 5-8 drops per gallon.


    • Bleach degrades over a 6 mo period and should be replaced with fresh bleach. It also degrades more quickly if in the sun.

      • As I recall (offhand) storing powdered bleach (aka Pool Shock) gets around this problem.

  4. The following was taken from Tactical, and I have provided the link that described how to make bleach.

    This blog has a lot of very practical info.

    One of the main components that you’ll want to have around the house (or apartment) during a SHTF situation is chlorine bleach. Not only can it be used for cleaning water (although boiling is hands down more effective and healthier) it is excellent for keeping things sanitary.

    Unfortunately, the average shelf life of liquid bleach (being stored between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit) is around 6 months. After that, bleach will lose 20% of it’s strength at around the year mark and then 20% each year after that. So if you’re not vigilant about keeping it rotated, chances are when you need it for disinfecting water or to keep things clean you’ll be fresh out of bleach and luck.

    There is a better option. What if you could make your own fresh chlorine bleach that could be used for both keeping things sanitary and will disinfect water? Here’s how:

  5. We live in a rural area and collect all of the water we use in the house from the house and shed roofs.

    All up we can store about 100,000 litres of rain water at any given time. About every five years I drain each tank and give it a clean and then let it refill.

    We have never had any problems with water quality and have never heard of any other person having problems other than those who do not keep their intakes or gutters clean.

    Urban reticulated water is treated with a combination of chemicals depending on where the water is sourced from and for those of us who have nothing but rainwater in our homes town water tastes putrid and makes an appalling cup of tea.

    Storing water in plastic containers does concern us as many plastics will leech into the water to such a degree that after some period of time it can be tasted. In saying that our tanks are made of an agricultural food grade plastic of a far superior grade than the buckets. If your bucket falls to pieces after being left out in the sun for ten years or less I would be inclined not to use it for storage of food or water.

    If confronted with a survival situation I personally cannot see the sense in storing water in buckets when there are sizeable tanks designed and made for the task.

    We have two 37,000 litre tanks, a 22,500 litre tank and several others of varying sizes to suit the sheds they collect the water from and for us it is comforting to know that as long as the rain falls we will always have water, albeit more some years than others, but so far we have never run out.

  6. Granular pool shock (calcium hypochlorite) is a better water treatment than bleach. You need a very small amount of shock to make water safe/potable. A 1-pound pag of calcium hypochlorite in granular form will treat up to 10,000 gallons of drinking water

    Shock itself has a long shelf life. Just be sure to check the ratio formula to the size container you will be treating, that is VERY important. And remeber that it is CALCIUM hypochlorite -not sodium.

  7. I recently obtained two 275 gallon totes that had floor sealer in them. Can they be cleaned to collect rain water for the garden?

    • I can’t say that I’d use them for rain water, but I don’t know what the floor sealer was made out of. I’m guessing nothing great though…