Living Without Running Water: A Practical Guide


Wow!  So, I turned off our running water for 48 hours this week as one of my challenges for National Preparedness Month.  I honestly didn’t expect to learn too much.  I’ve had water stored forever and felt I knew quite a bit.  HA!  I’ve been humbled!  I actually learned a lot more than I thought I would!


Do you have emergency water storage?  Could you live without running water?  This lady tried it!  Come see what she learned!

* Some links in this post are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may get a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on the link. Thanks  for supporting me and my family in this way!


My Goal

My original goal was really just to see how much water we used (you can find that info at the very end of this post), but I learned a lot more than that.  I’m so, so glad I did this.  I highly encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already!

Warning:  When I say I learned a lot, I really did!  This post is a bit long b/c of it!  But I’ve tried to make it easy for you to scan through it and find the info that most applies to you, so don’t get too overwhelmed!


What I Learned:

 1.  Anxiety is a REAL Issue!

My kids really will experience anxiety in an emergency situation!  I did not tell my kids that this was a “test.”  I just told them our water wasn’t working.  One of my 6 year old twins started crying and asked what we were going to do.  He said something like this:

“Water is my favorite drink and I really like baths.  And I think my teeth will fall out if I can’t brush them.  What are we going to do Mom?”

Seriously?  I was actually rather surprised at his strong reaction (and my other kids followed suit).

What I will Do:

First,this re-affirmed my desire to have enough water stored that I can keep our lives relatively normal in the event of a water shortage / contamination.  My son quickly realized that he could still drink as much water as he wanted to.  We had a bath (although we used much less water than usual) and he was even able to brush his teeth!  He was just fine after seeing that our life didn’t really change that much.

Second, I am so grateful that he has now been through this “crisis.”  If we ever truly have to face a long term water shortage, he will be much more prepared and confident in our ability to do so.  There will be just a bit less anxiety in our home than there would have been without this practice.  I’m excited and even more determined to practice more things this month (as part of National Preparedness Month) and in coming months!


2.  Laundry will be a challenge

I am actually a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t ever really considered how I would do laundry in an emergency!   The night before we started this challenge, my son asked if I could clean a shirt for him to wear to school.  I told him I wouldn’t have it clean by the next morning, but that I was planning to do laundry the next day, so he could wear it the day after.  Then, I woke up to my water off and couldn’t do all that laundry!

What I will do:

First, I think that instead of having one laundry day where I do all our laundry, I will try to do a load a day or so.   That way, we always have some clean clothes and could get by for a few days to a week with doing no laundry.

Next,  I added a bit of water into my totals (listed at the end of this post) for the amount of water I would expect my family to use each week.

Also, I will keep my kid’s “too small” clothes just a bit longer.  In an emergency situation, I’d be totally fine with them wearing slightly high water pants!  I’d just be grateful for the additional clean clothes!  I will still donate them to family, friends and thrift stores eventually, I’ll just keep them a bit longer first in storage.

Last, I will be doing a bunch of research on how to do laundry in an emergency to come up with a solution that will work best for our family.  I will actually try out different methods and share what I learn here on the blog.  *Update: I have done this.  You can read the results here:  Which Powerless Laundry System is Best?


3.  My Kids go to the Bathroom a LOT!

Seriously!  WAY too often!  We didn’t flush every time they went, but anytime it was “stinky,” we did!  We filled up the back of the toilet with our stored water and we flushed it.  But about half a day into it, I realized that in a true emergency, it wouldn’t just be our water that was off, and we wouldn’t be able to flush!

So, again, a bit embarrassed here, but I’m just now realizing how important it is to have some way for us to dispose of / take care of that type of waste in an emergency.  Had we not be able to flush, it would have been a serious issue in just those two days.  Not only would it have been unpleasant, but it would have been unsafe and unsanitary.  I can’t even imagine what it would have been like for weeks or a month!

My husband said, well, why not just dig a hole in the backyard and go there?  Well…..that would quickly become a serious issue.  Untreated raw sewage can pollute fresh ground water supplies. It also attracts flies and promotes the spread of awful diseases.

What I will do:

First, in a short term emergency where the plumbing is still working, we will use “grey” (dirty dish / bath water) to flush.  I will keep the grey water for this purpose instead of dumping it.

Second, I will be investing in a bunch of these toilet waste bags.  These bags are 100% biodegradeable and are solid sturdy bags that can be placed in a bucket or even in your real toilet (all for keeping things as normal as possible, right?).   Each bag comes with a bio-gel application that turns fecal matter into an Enviro-Friendly material meaning you can dispose of it with your normal trash.  I will likely purchase some of the deodorant product too.

Next, I will be investing in this bucket seat cover.  We go through a lot of 5 & 6 gallon buckets at my house.  I usually just give them away, but I will be keeping one and putting this cover on it (and the waste bags in it) in case we need to leave home and don’t want to pollute other areas!

Last, I will also be investing in a few more sanitizing wipes (like Clorox wipes) to make keeping our hands, toilets, floors, counters safe and clean a bit easier without depleting our water supply.


4.  I think dish water is gross!

I know that all you true “survivalists”  will laugh a bit at this and I admit it is a 1st world problem.  I’m spoiled!

But when I wash dishes (with running water), I get the dishes just a bit damp and then put a drop of soap on each.  I use a wet rag to wash them and put them clean (but soapy) in the sink.  Then, I spray / rinse each dish individually and dry them.  I feel like this gets them truly clean and I like things to be clean.

But that processes uses more water than I was willing to use in our mock emergency situation.  So, I put about a gallon of water in the sink with soap in one side of the sink and a clear gallon (no soap) in the other side.  I washed and rinsed all dishes in the same water.  And by the time I was done, both sides of the sink looked GROSS!  It just felt so unsanitary to me!  Yuck.  I was washing / rinsing dishes in dirty water!

What I will do:

There are lots of solutions to this issue (just read the comments below for some suggestions), but this is what I will do:

First, I will store more paper products.  We can burn them in our fire pit when done using them, so I feel fine about it environmentally.  It will save time / stress in a true emergency and I won’t have to wash my dishes in dirty water!

Second, I will accept the fact that I like to clean / wash my dishes individually and store more water accordingly.  Even with paper products, I will still have pots, pans, serving spoons etc that will need to be cleaned.

I know not everyone will agree with me, but I think this solution will work well for our family!


5.  Bathing takes less water than I thought

The #1 reason I’ve pushed for storing WAY more than the recommended 1 gallon / person / day is because I felt like bathing would take a LOT of water!  But really, it didn’t.  I bathed with about 2 gallons of water.  And I bathed my kids in about 4 gallons total (the boys shared and the girls shared).  So, if we bathed every other day, that is only about 110 gallons for our family for an entire month.  I was happy to find that out.

Plus, it didn’t take that much hot water to make the baths comfortably warm!

Heating Water for our Baths….that was enough hot water for mine and the kids!

I did learn however, that I really don’t like sponge baths for the same reason I don’t like washing dishes in dirty water.  I prefer showers.  So does my husband.  I know that many families would be able to use less water by sharing their bath water, and again, true “survivalists” will laugh.  But for me, I’d rather store more water and have my own 2 gallons!  (-:

What I will do:

First, I will decrease the amount of water I’ve planned to store for bathing / showering.

Second, I will be purchasing a solar shower that we can hang outside to get warm (if it is sunny) and then move and use in our regular shower.  As a bonus, this could also be used if we had to pack up and go for any reason.


6.  Different sized water containers are a good thing!

Pumping Water….LOVE that siphon!

I’ve always taught that you should have lots of different sized water containers.  But now that I’ve actually lived it (kind of), I’m even more convinced that it is important.  It was nice to be able to quickly grab a water bottle to drink while working out or going to soccer practice etc.

The 5 gallon jugs with spigot were perfect for a makeshift faucet.

The 55 gallon drums were a convenient way to store lots of water.

Moving the water from them to the 5 gallon jugs was simple with our siphon pump.  We only had to pump it 3-4 times and then the water just flowed right out.  My problem was getting it to STOP!  I ended up spilling a bit each time!

What I will do:

Even though we have quite a few different sized containers,  I will still be making a few adjustments:

First, I will be purchasing more 5 gallon jugs with spigots Right now we only have four, and I’d like to be able to have one jug at each sink.

Second, I will be purchasing an additional siphon pump in case ours breaks.  It made transferring water from one barrel to the next SO easy, I do NOT want to be without it!


7.  I am Blessed!

Last, and most importantly, this experience taught me to be more grateful for my running water!   What a blessing it is to have this convenience in my home every day!  Having running water saves me time (meaning I can do other things with that time…like play with my kids), makes it easier for me to protect my kids from disease, makes cooking simpler / easier etc.  Here are a few interesting facts from

  • 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water: that is more than 2 1/2 times the entire population of the United States and over 10% of the entire world’s population!
  • 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.
  • Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water related illness.  In fact, lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day

Those of us with running water are very privileged indeed!  Living without running water complicated my life.  It made keeping my house clean and sanitary more difficult, it made cooking more time consuming.  It increased the stress in our home (and my grumpiness toward my kids and husband).   And I still had access to plenty of clean water and so did all my neighbors etc.  I wasn’t at any true risk like those who live without clean water are every day.  This small experience was eye opening to my ingratitude and lack of appreciation for this incredible privilege.

So, I’ve decided to do something small.  I have donated to  I would encourage you to find something you can do as well!  Even if you aren’t able to get involved financially, there are plenty of way you can help solve the water crisis in the world.

You should also know that a portion of each Thrive food that you make goes to helping those in 3rd world countries, including helping them with clean water through the Thriving Nations charity!


How Much Water We Used:

The original purpose of this entire experiment was to determine how much water we used so that I could feel more secure in the amount of water we are storing.

Well, over the entire 48 hour period, we used 34 gallons, but I need to make a few adjustments:

  • 10 of those gallons were used flushing toilets.  I will no longer be storing water to flush toilets as we will use grey water and or the bio-treatments.
  • I’m adding 1 gallon “extra” b/c in an emergency we will likely get dirtier, and possibly have wounds etc to clean.   This just makes me feel a little extra safe.
  • I’m adding 2 gallons extra for dish cleaning water, b/c I’m spoiled and like my dishes really clean.  (-:
  • I’m adding 2 gallons for drinking water.  I realized on day 2 that we were drinking lots of milk and OJ…stuff from the fridge.  I want to be able to have enough water if we have nothing else to drink.
  • I’m adding 3 gallons (10 gallons / week) for laundry based on my powerless laundry experiment.  This would allow me to do about 1/2 of the laundry I currently do.  We’d just wear our clothes twice as long.

So that is 32 gallons total for 2 days or 16 gallons per day.

How Much Water I Will Store:

In order to maintain a somewhat normal routine in the event that our running water was shut off, our family would need 2.67 gallons per person per day.

So, we’d need:

  • 48 gallons for a 3 day supply
  • 112 gallons for a 1 week supply
  • 224 gallons for a 2 week supply
  • 480 gallons for a one month (30 day) supply

Personally, my goal is a one month supply.  I plan to do that in the following way:

As of today, Feb 22nd, 2015 (the day I updated this post), I have all but the last 55 gallon bucket!  YAY!!!

In addition, I would like to have the ability to filter / sanitize water for our family of six for six months.  That is about 3000 gallons for our family.  If you are interested in a similar goal, you can find lots of ways (some free) to filter / clean water here: Making Water Safe to Drink: Water Purification vs Water Filtration.


How About You?

I’d love to hear from all of you!  Did you take my challenge as part of National Preparedness Month?  Or have you ever lived without running water for a period of time?  What did you learn?  How much water do you have stored for your family?


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Do you have emergency water storage? Could you live without running water? This lady tried it! Come see what she learned!



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134 Responses to Living Without Running Water: A Practical Guide

  1. Clarice September 24, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    I too have no running water/sewer, due to deliquent accounts. I spend $75.00 a month filling water in jugs for daily bathes, toliet flushing and cooking, about 3 gallons per person in our house. You dont relaize how much you really need things til they are gone. A huge dose of reality. We can do it, have been for 3 months .This was a great experiment in case of a water shortage or contamination. Thank you for the tips!

  2. Tomara September 19, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    A piece in our well broke this summer and we ended up with 4 days of no running water at all and then another 4 days of gross chocolate milk looking water until everything in the well settled and we could use it for things, other then the toilet, again.
    Because it was summer it didn’t really throw us off too much. Instead of baths we just went swimming daily since we have access to many clean and beautiful lakes.
    I did end up using less water for dishes, but that was more to do with I didn’t want to haul and heat enough to fill the sink a time or two so I just half filled the sink and when the water got too dirty drained and half filled again.
    Since it was only the water that was out using our toilet was still an option. Since our septic tank has an electric pump we couldn’t use it long if the power is out as well. ** Most cities however have gravity fed lines so as long as there is water you should be able to flush without any other services ** We have a outhouse in the back 40 though so we could use that in an emergency. Also since we are out in the middle of no where my boys can just pee on tress so no bathroom facilities needed for number one for them.
    Laundry was done in the sink only when needed, a couple items at a time. Will have to come up with a faster method for a real emergency though since I don’t want to have to wash every article but hand in the sink. I have done it before but it was time consuming and not enjoyable.
    It was a fun experience. There were definalty some challenging parts to it but overall my kids and I enjoyed the experience.

    • Misty September 22, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

      Wonderful tips Tomara! Thanks for taking the time to share!

  3. Robin September 4, 2015 at 6:51 am #


    Actually, you do NOT need water for toileting facilities.

    They have porta potties in camping stores or you can use a potty for invalids. They also sell products that you can sprinkle over the results of your bathroom visit that will gelatinize any liquids. According to the label, this makes it safe to dispose of in regular garbage. This is what they do for refugees after hurricanes.

    OR you CAN dig a hole in the ground outside–just don’t put it next to a well. People who don’t have municipal sewer systems use septic tanks–the effluent just goes out to a drainage field on the other side of the house from the well–the natural microbes in the soil break it down. It DOES NOT contaminate their well water.

    You can also use earth to cover wastes every time you go. Earth potties were very popular before flush toilets. Even Queen Victoria used one, and they DID know about germs in those days. The microbes from the soil are supposed to cover up any smell and are much stronger than the microbes in your waste. If you can’t throw it out, dump it in a hole & bury it. I just wouldn’t use the results in my compost or anywhere near food gardens or wells for potable water. You know the old expression–Don’t sh-t where you eat? That’s where I think it comes from.

  4. Paula September 1, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

    Having gone six weeks without potable water after a typhoon I learned that rainwater is prrfect for bathing, flushing, and laundry. We placed a large plastic bag in our trashcan and directed our downspot into it…improvised rain barrel. We hung a shower curtain on a hula hoop and suspended it from swing set…shower. Eggs were boiled, bathed with with same water, and then used it to flush. Not one drop was wasted. We had saved enough potable wayer for cooking and drinking to last us the entire 6 weeks. Laundry was done by stomping it out on a galvanized tub and rinsing in rain water. It was hung on a line with clothespins used for weights on hem….no wrinkles and no ironing. Wash water was used to flush toilet. My experience taught me how to triple use every drop of wayer and that the only wealthy petson in my neighborhood were the people with TP and bleach.

  5. Jenn August 30, 2015 at 7:42 am #

    My experience with storing water in jugs (that come from the store) is that they begin to leak. Like any other “stored” item, they must be used and rotated.

    • Misty August 31, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

      They do leak Jenn!

  6. Linda August 28, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    This was a fun read. Two thoughts about living without running tap water:

    1. Room temp sponge baths use less precious water than sitting in shallow water in a bath tub. As long as you wash face, neck, hands underarms, crotch and feet daily this is good enough. It worked for our ancestors and can work again. Baby wipes also work for a quick clean-up of messy areas (like toddler;s faces after mealtime)

    2. A simple way to do laundry is to use a five-gallon bucket fitted with a gamma lid. Put Oxy Clean, Dawn dishwashing detergent, dirty clothes and room temp water in bucket. Tighten down lid. Lay bucket on side and roll it back and forth for a few minutes then just let the clothes soak for a few hours, then roll the bucket again for a few more minutes. Drain, rinse, wring, let drip dry. Not pretty, but the clothes will be clean.

    • Misty August 31, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

      Thanks for the tips Linda!

  7. lk August 22, 2015 at 5:33 am #

    I would like to see how this works when on your period and living without water as it is another challange, especially when you use enviromentally friendly products that need to be cleaned in order to re-use.

    • Misty August 22, 2015 at 11:37 am #

      Give it a try and get back to us!

  8. Dan August 6, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    As for doing dishes…when I was in the Army and we went out in the field; after mess, we would string our cup and utensils on the handle of our plate and dip the whole thing in 30 gallon trash cans filled with boiling water. The first can had detergent. The second was the initial rinse. The third was the final rinse. I realize this would not be practical at home, but the point is to use that third rinse to make sure the dishes are clean and sanitized. There was a long-handled brush at the first can to get rid of excess food. We never had anyone get sick using three sets of water. Hope this helps.

    • Misty August 7, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

      Smart! Thanks Dan. I’ll give this a try (minus the 30 gallon can) camping!

  9. Sue July 14, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    I have had several experiences with a house with no running water. I used a 5 gallon jug with spigot for the kitchen. I used a lot of paper plates and bowls. I tried to keep the pans down to one or two for a meal. I got the cleaning water pretty hot and added detergent to the sink and a couple drops of bleach. To rinse I put HOT water on one side of the sink with a couple of drops of bleach and let the dishes stay in the water for a couple of seconds.. Then I pull them out with tongs.

    Toilet-wise, we used white plastic bags in the toilet after all the water was gone out of it. Kept the bathroom door shut. Then took the bag out to the trash. We had trash pickup thankfully. We also used the orange 5 gallon bucket with toilet seat lid. In my go bag equipment I keep one with RV toilet chemicals, toilet paper, sanitizer, body wipes and white trash bags. Instant bathroom.

    I have found that hospital type body wash works really well. It comes in either foam or liquid. You just put some on a damp washcloth and wipe yourself off. It is Ph balanced. You can also run it through your hair. I buy it at Wal-mart. Very little water required.

    We wore our clothes several days before cleaning them in a big galvanized tub, similar method as the dishes only cold water and no bleach.

    Great article. Thank you so much

  10. Teresa July 4, 2015 at 7:00 am #

    I store water in 4 55 gal., blue barrels and then I have right now 10 gal., stored in the house, but I have been looking into Jerry cans to make sure that the water is filtered, they are expensive.
    Now if something did happen, I think my whole family would end up at my place, because they know I prepare for the unexpected!
    Thank you for a good article.

    • Misty July 6, 2015 at 11:28 am #

      I just heard of Jerry cans and they ARE expensive!

  11. Lee June 23, 2015 at 7:22 am #

    This was an informative and funny post. I love the part about one of your children thinking his teeth would fall out…LOL Really Cute!

    I need to do a water test. There are two of us and no kids so it may be waaay easier for us.

    Great post!

    • Misty June 23, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks Lee! I’m glad it was helpful! If you do your own test, come back and let us know how it goes!

  12. jimLE June 6, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    there’s one thing i already do to save water,(at least some what) while washing dishes..i have a 10 inches wide and 5 inches deep plastic bowl,in which I’ve had i don’t know how many years.i make sure the kitchen sinks are clean,at least some what at 1st.then i set the bowl in the sink,and fill it just under 3/4 full of dish water n dish soap.then i use that to clean the sinks better.then i start washing the dishes,and put them into the nearest sink.then i turn the water on.and rinse.then put into dish drainer.

    • Misty June 8, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

      Smart Jim! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Richard May 19, 2015 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Misty,
    Please remember, water can be stretched and kept clean with vineager and bleach. The vineager helps curb thurst in light quanity, and any sanitary issues bleach can control, especially dish rinse.
    Have a shower stall where water can drain through, perhaps a wooden grate where the gray water can be gathered. The use of olive oil and aloe soap, soap that can safely be placed on a growing garden or distilled for reuse. Systems to distill the water can be made simply and give you back safe and clean water.
    Soups always can be saved, not just thrown away as waste. Finding somewhere food and water can be kept cool without electricity.
    Also note, bee’s wax candles burn without smoke, as long as the wick is large enough, and burns without dripping wax.
    I wish you and yours’ rest and good health.

    • Misty May 25, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

      Great ideas Richard! I especially like the idea that bleach can help with the dish rinse. Now just to figure out how to extend it’s shelf life! (-: thanks for taking the time to add your great ideas here!

  14. Paul April 10, 2015 at 12:46 am #

    Siphon: “My problem was getting it to STOP!” If your siphon has straight tubing at the end, as opposed to crinkly flex tube, you could add a simple valve to shut off the flow between containers. A Google search for “Tubing Valve” will give you a bunch of options.

    Love the site.

    • Misty April 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

      Thank you Paul! What a simple solution. So smart!

    • Ruth July 10, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      Once filled, raise the smaller container so that the end of the siphon will be above the water lever in the larger container. This will break the siphon when you pull the hose out. Takes some timing (and arm muscles for those five gallon sizes) A well placed table helps. Paul’s valve would work better and allow you to keep the siphon for the next jug.

      • Misty July 10, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

        Thank you Ruth! I’m not sure what a Paul’s valve is? I’d love a link! But I did find a solution. Made a video about it HERE.

  15. Shannon April 5, 2015 at 4:49 am #

    In 2006, my husband received a fellowship to go to India. We lived in India for a year with our son who turned one while we were there. Initially, I sent out our laundry to be washed, but it came back dirtier than before. Unfortunately, laundry is washed in the local rivers which is polluted with waste. There was no other option, I needed to wash our family’s clothes by hand, so I developed a system that I want to share. Although I had running water, I do think what I learned might be useful for someone in a low or no water situation.
    Every night, we would all prepare for bed and put on our pajamas. I would gather the days clothes and place them in a five gallon bucket or two. I would fill the bucket with water and add bit of detergent. A small enough amount is much better than too much. I have used laundry detergent or dish detergent, both work well. And I added a small amount (like a Tablespoon) of Dettol, a liquid antiseptic solution, available in India (also on Amazon). Then, I agitated the clothes bit to make sure the Dettol and detergent were mixed into the water, and I left it to soak overnight. In the morning, I would wake early and agitate the clothes in the buckets for a minute or two, really that was all that was necessary. I used a broom handle. Then I would hand wring the clothes and rinse the clothes in clean water. I hung the clothes on the roof in the sun to dry. The clothes were clean – stains eliminated – and fresh smelling. Soaking overnight allows the natural action of water and soap to pull dirt out of the clothes, and the Dettol eliminates bacteria that might grow overnight. Washing of laundry becomes a daily chore, rather than a weekly nightmare.
    When traveling in Central America, I observed the ubiquitous wash stands where women (usually) would gather to talk and do laundry under a shaded pavillion. Outside the wash stand in the full sun stood tall rounded pyramids made from stacked clean river rocks. After soaking up the sun, these rocks radiated heat. Wet clothes were placed on the rock pyramids to dry them faster. Brilliant.

    • Misty April 7, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

      LOVE THIS SHannon! THank you so much for sharing. Seems so simple! Of course soaking would help, but I didn’t even consider it. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  16. Norma March 1, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    Very useful article Misty. Thanks!

    One thing we have done to save water when camping is to take a spray bottle (or you can use just the sprayer inserted into another container to save space if not at home) with water in it and use that to wash hands, rinse dishes, etc. It is amazing how little water is used, but still does the job. Also can use the same method for showering only do it with a clean never used pump sprayer (like the ones for the garden). The sprayer helps direct the water to rinse areas where it’s needed. This is also useful to have on hand for fire prevention.

    • Misty March 2, 2015 at 7:35 am #

      Awesome ideas Norma! Smart.