Can water go bad?

Digital Vision/Getty Images                              Water can become contaminated when left in an open container.
Digital Vision/Getty ImagesWater can become contaminated when left in an open container.

Many people store water for emergencies like hurricanes and power failures. This is especially true in rural areas where drinking water comes from private wells. These wells are useless unless there is power to run the pump. If you are trying to store water safely, today's question is a great one!

It turns out that there are two ways for water to go bad. You can easily demonstrate the first way by filling a bucket with tap water and leaving it on the back porch for several days. After about a week, you will find that the water in the bucket contains mosquito larvae, algae and various other life forms, none of which you would want to be drinking. From this experiment, you can easily decide that storing water in an open container is a bad idea unless you have a plan to purify it when you need to drink it. Storing water in a closed container works no better if the water that you place in the container is contaminated in some way with bacteria or algae. You need to put pure water in a clean container and then process it in some way to eliminate bacterial contamination. You can process the water with heat just like you do when canning, or use a chemical like chlorine or iodine.

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The second way for water to become unfit for drinking is for something to leach out of the container into the water. As an extreme example, imagine what would happen if you were to store water in a lead container. Lead would leach into the water and make it poisonous. The container you use needs to be made from a food grade material in order to avoid leaching problems. Glass, stainless steel and some plastics are food grade.One easy way to store water is to buy purified drinking water in gallon plastic jugs at the grocery store. This water is inexpensive, free of bacterial contamination and is sealed in a food-grade container. You can store this water indefinitely.

Originally Published: Apr 1, 2000

Can Water Go Bad FAQ

How long can water be stored in plastic bottles?
In a typical plastic water bottle, look at the expiration date to know how long it can be safely stored. Over time, the water won't expire — but plastic compounds and chemicals can leach into the water and contaminate it over time.
Is it safe to drink bottled water left in a hot car?
If your bottle isn't made from food-grade plastic, toss it. A regular plastic water bottle will break down in heat, and that can cause dangerous chemicals to leach into the water inside.
How long is it safe to drink an opened bottle of water?
After opening a bottle of water, aim to finish that water within four to six days.
Is week-old water safe to drink?
As long as the water has been safely and properly stored — such as in a glass, plastic or steel container — it should be perfectly fine to drink within a week.
Does stored water go bad?
Stored water shouldn't go bad as long as it's sealed shut to prevent contamination. It also needs to be kept in a container that won't allow anything to leach into the water, like glass, steel or food-grade plastic.

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