My One Week SHTF-Style Experiment to Cut Down Water Use

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Water (or should I say lack of water) has been in the news a lot recently, including on the OP. The Western United States is suffering a mega-drought while Brazil is experiencing the worst drought in almost a century. Droughts aren’t the only thing threatening our water supply. There was also a Florida water supply hack. 

So, I decided for one week I would do everything I could to reduce my personal water usage. Things like brushing my teeth, washing my hands, cooking, cleaning, etc. I used the following SHTF assumptions to enact a realistic event: 

  • It has NOT gone all MadMax-like. No, my senior citizen neighbors have not come over and shot the wife and me to take our things. No MZBs marauding the countryside, raping and pillaging. 
  • Likely no fuel. I will hang up the ATV keys and tend to the livestock manually. I have to hump water in two 5gal buckets out to them. Every. Day. That is about six buckets a day in total. ( FYI, a gallon of water weighs 8.33lbs. So a 5gal bucket weighs 41.65lbs. )
  • Walking the dog, hauling water to the livestock will simulate the amount of activity that will have to be done in a SHTF situation. It has got to get done, SHTF or not.

Before I give you the details of how my experiment went, here’s my personal experience with water shortages.

Courtesy of the USMC, I Have Been to Some Bloody Hot Places

In boot camp, water was the lifeblood of USMC Recruiting Depot, Paris Island (my beloved Island), South Carolina.  

When I vacationed (aka: deployed) to Afghanistan for a year, the country was experiencing a drought, more so than usual. An estimated quarter to half a million people left their homes searching for someplace with fresh water. We saw cholera outbreaks as too many people gathered around a single water source and some yahoo decided (or was ignorant) to defecate in that water source. A minor humanitarian crisis and IV hydration solutions prevented many people from dying. 

We had a few reports of villages going to war with neighboring towns over access to water. War as in AK-47s, PKM (medium machine guns), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). Those incidents were few and far between, but they did happen.  

Then We, On Base, Had a Minor Water Shortage

It seems some imbecile did a drone strike inside of Pakistan and did not have the courtesy of a heads up to the Pakistani government. In response, Pakistan shut down our use of their port to bring in supplies. Navy Sea Lift Command and Air Force Air Mobility Command had to scramble to re-route supplies in-country for two weeks.

Water rations were put in place. I got two 1.5L bottles of water for a sponge bath, and brush my teeth with, a day. The showers did not work. Some of the commodes and urinals did not work. The smell was, well, the smell.

How Important is Water to Humans?

We need water to maintain homeostasis. Our body needs it for almost every process, including:

  • regulating body temperature
  • aiding digestion
  • lubricating joints and spinal cord
  • removal of toxins
  • waste elimination
  • delivering oxygen throughout the body

Go three days without water, and our bodies begin to have adverse reactions. The onset of adverse reactions might be minimal, but things get interesting as days pass beyond three. No person is exempt. Some people are more susceptible than others, namely the very young or the very old. A general idea of how much water a person needs can be found here. Other factors that determine how much water one needs are: 

  • age
  • activity levels
  • overall health
  • bodily factors, such as height and weight
  • sex

On Average, How Much Water Do We Use?

We take water for granted. Turn on the faucet, and out it comes. Push the button, and the toilet flushes and refills. Pull the lever, and the shower starts. According to the EPA for the average American water consumption looks something like the chart below:In comparison to the current national average of how much I use while I can still turn the faucet on and out comes the water, my personal usage is about 23gal a day. (Assuming I shower daily, which I admit I don’t always do.)

Here are some tips for cleaning without running water.

You Turn the Faucet, and Nothing Comes Out, Then What?

Let’s say you have access to a running brook, about a half-mile away, over a hilly pasture (I have that too, watered the livestock from it before). You have to haul water, every day, from that source.

  • What amount of water could you carry?
  • How many trips would you have to take to meet your needs?
  • Would you be willing to make all those trips? On a hot day, temperatures in the 80, the 90s, or even triple digits, high humidity?  

What About Your Daily Personal Hygiene Routine?

When water suddenly becomes limited, those things we routinely do are seen in a different light. Take brushing your teeth, for example. Most people I know pre-rinse their brush, apply toothpaste, brush their teeth, and run the faucet while brushing. Some people pre-rinse, soap up, wash and then rinse again when washing their hands. 

If what water you do have is limited, would you still pre-rinse the toothbrush? What about after having a bowel movement? Would you still pre-rinse your hands, use soap, wash and then rinse again? Or forego the pre-rinsing of the hands? How about that shower (assuming you rigged up a gravity-like contraption)? Would you cut down shower time, or perhaps limit it to X amount of days per week?

Order of the Day: Sponge Bath

When I mentioned this experiment to the wife, she said, “That is a lot of you,” and opted out to participate. I cannot imagine why?

***See her “Smell-o-Factor” rating below. 

Here is my average daily water use: 

  • Drinking water: *6 glasses =2.4L
  • Toilet Sitting #1(1.1L): =4.4L
  • Toilet Sitting #2(1.6L): =3.2L
  • Teeth:=500mL
  • Hand washing:=**2L
  • Cooking:=3.75L
  • Dish washing:=3gal =11.35L
  • Sponge bath:1.5L
  • Total: 31.1L = 8.2gal + Laundry
  • Cloths/Laundry:1gal =3.7L per “load” x2 a week, 2gal =7.5L

As some of you may note, I could reduce another 4.4L of water by going outside to use the toilet. 

*Glasses of water, Monday and Tuesday during the “Heat Dome” (the upper 80s, 80% humidity), my intake was eight glasses. The rest of the week, a cold front rolled in with rain, so I was back to about four glasses a day.

**Hand washing: to some, this may seem excessive. It is an ingrained training from my medical and foodservice industry past.

Using Nature to My Advantage

As luck would have it, I experienced a Heat Dome during the week I conducted this experiment. The first two days were hot, humid, no rain. However, Tuesday night, the forecast showed rain/thunderstorms.

That afternoon I washed my clothes in a bucket with one cap full of Sea to Summit Concentrated multi-use wash. You can use it on your body (as I did both in Afghanistan and for this endeavor), wash dishes (as I did), and your clothes (as I did). On Tuesday, it did indeed rain. So, instead of using more of my water to rinse them, I hung them out for the rain to rinse the clothes. It worked! 

Note: My Amish neighbors do the same. 

Our house has two roof lines that meet, forming a valley. Rainwater is directed to the valley, and, like a downspout, we have a significant water runoff. On Friday, I put a bucket where the runoff hit the deck and used that to agitate and rinse my clothes. My clothing for the week was 2 each of the following

  • synthetic underwear
  • lightweight wool socks
  • synthetic pants
  • T-shirts.  

***According to the wife, the “Smell-o-Factor,” only after hauling water to the livestock and moving them did I smell like a gym locker. After sponge bathing, I had a mild Citronella smell.

What About Things Other Than Personal Use? 

But what of those other non-personal things? How much water do we use for that pound of hamburger? That chicken breast? A dozen eggs? Cucumbers, peppers, onions, potatoes? If there is no rain, I still have to water the plants and animals. Or risk starving.

Here is the breakdown of water I used on the livestock and gardens:

  • Livestock: 7.8gal
  • Gardens: 5gal

Note: We had three days of rain in which the livestock did not need as much water. The gardens required none, so the averages are lower. During the “Heat Dome,” the livestock required a total of 30gal and the gardens 12.5gal.

A bit of advice about the ubiquitous plastic 5gal bucket: The plastic hole where the wire handle goes in eventually will break, rendering the wire handle useless. It happened to me on Tuesday with one of the buckets. Get at a minimum 5mm accessory cord, or quarter-inch rope, about 4 feet long, and learn how to tie a Bottle Sling Knot. It is a lifesaver.

In case you missed it, here is my article: How to Tie the Gaff Topsail Halyard Bend/Hitch. I have a strange fascination with knots and ropework right up there with rutabagas and searching for the perfect meatball and air guns. 

Accept the Challenge!

In a SHTF situation, water will be even more critical. There are many ways to reduce your water usage and ways you could supplement water if needed. Learn more about water preparedness in Daisy’s book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.

Are there bodies of water near you? Could you use something to haul the water to your home? What about filtration? Can you imagine only taking a daily sponge bath for an extended period?

Also, life will be a whole lot more physical (you will lose weight, get stronger, and may not have to be on particular Rx), sweaty, and smelly.

Are you truly prepared for a water emergency? Could you, here and now, give it a go yourself? Please do not take my word for it. Try it yourself for one week. Let’s talk about this in the comment section.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.



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  • One of the first things I did when we moved into our homestead is added 2 large cisterns (around 15k gal total) that collect water from my large metal roofed shop. I will never live somewhere without a cistern. I currently have our city water turned off just because I love the cistern water that much more. I do demolition for a living and it’s amazing how many old houses even in the city had old brick cisterns way back in the day that were abandoned when they got city water. If you don’t have your own personal water supply you’ll be a slave to who ever does provide the water…

    • I live in a old farm house.
      It has a cistern in the basement. Not sure if it is still usable or not.

      Good point about water supply.

      Thank you.

    • Be careful about old cisterns. Leakage costs you valued water. “Interesting” things stored in them decades might make your water a hazard to drink. Got a serious water testing kit?? Some were sealed with lead paint…. Some are not structurally sound and might collapse under water uses and thus endanger your homes foundation. I saw that happen one.

      3 days with water… Day two you wish you were dead, day 3 your wish is granted.

      With bad water almost the same was but a few more days as typhus and dysentery knocks you down and eventually kills you.

      *Might* be better once you give the old cistern a good looking over for structural issues to emplace a series of IBC totes in there with plumbing to act as your safe water reservoir.

      • I have an old, leaky cistern. Loved the look so I dropped a new 500 gallon plastic water tank inside the old one and it works great.

  • Great article!

    The 1 gallon per person a day recommendation has always bothered me. For just water consumption it may hold out but that’s a minimum.

    I’ve always preferred 5 gallons per person a day, but again I consider that surviving, or at the very least roughing it, not living.

    For living and thriving a lot more than 1 or even 5 gallons of water per person a day is required, and the article points out. There is a reason why humans seek to live near water.

    Along with the bottle knot suggested, a small garden cart would be very useful. Being able to fit two or more buckets or a 20 gallon barrel means more water per trip, and pulling is less work than carrying.

    • Thank you Thaylore!

      Good idea about the garden cart, but not so sure it be easier with my terrain, and the hills.

      Also, part of the idea behind doing all that hauling is even if you did not have a set up like mine with livestock, you would still be doing a lot more physical things (e.g. cutting, splitting, stacking firewood for heat or cooking) and see an increase in water intake.

    • Most refugee camps specify their water needs to be between 10 to 15 gallons, per person, per day.
      It varies by location ,climate, culture, food type (pasta, rice and beans require a lot of water to cook), etc.
      They also suggest that the water supply should not be more that 100 meters from the community,( that should including gardens and any livestock pens).

      This article just basically further proves what is already well known info, if you do your research.
      The big difference is that the Refugee Organizations figures reflect years of trial and error in all kinds of climates and for a much longer term of use.
      They do not use flush toilets and still specify 10 gallons as a minimum requirement to keep the community safe and reasonably disease free.

      Trying to skimp on personal hygiene will work in a short term scenario, but will end up with possibility debilitating skin rashes and infections. Also you don’t want to skimp on cleaning dishes and fruit or vegetables, as Intestinal diseases will increase your water needs considerably and can also be debilitating.

      So be very careful in how you plan to cut your water use in a SHTF scenario.

      • When the S has in fact HTF, what Refugee Organizations are going to be around?
        Unless you plan on being a FEMA camp resident. Then by all means, please do.

        Having been to Afghanistan, seeing where an entire populace “skimps” on personal hygiene, i.e. they do not bath every day, we did not see debilitating skin rashes or infections. Here in the USA, my Amish neighbors dont either. They do perfectly fine.

        You might want to actually take the challenge and try cutting your water usage and get some real world experience.

        • P.S. Mic, I anticipated your comment concerning refugee camps.
          Thank you for being so predictable.

        • I was talking about the research into water needs by refugee organization for their refugee camps.
          You know, the ones the run today, (I never mentioned post SHTF).

          They don’t just guess this stuff , they have done their own due diligence to get to the minimal amount for long term water use that will keep a healthy population in the camp.
          Theirs has decades of real world experience, your has a week!

          I can go a week without food, does that mean I never need to eat again? No , it does not.
          So your experience though interesting, is not qualified when projected over a longer time.
          Try your Challenge again, for at least 6 months or a year to get a proper set of data.
          But you don’t need to do a challenge, if you do proper research, it has already been done for you and that is my point.

          The life expectance in Afghanistan is far less than that in the US, the reasons cited for the difference are Hygiene and malnutrition. But you knew that right? before you went there with you rebuttal.

          Besides I am sure you go around looking under everyone’s clothing and examine their Private parts, to see if they have rashes or not, or question all of them ,about that issue. (We all know better than that.) Stop using Straw Man Fallacy arguments.

          Not everyone is the same. Different people and those in different climates will have a different reaction to a change in hygiene. It is not a “one size fits all” scenario. A change in hygiene is what I was talking about as well as long term effects.

          Though a person’s bodies and immune systems can adapt over time,( as it probably has with the Amish and Afghanistan i’s) the immediate reaction of most Americans to that change of hygiene, could be a very bad rash.
          If it got badly infected it could be a real problem post SHTF.
          Doctors and antibiotics will be in short supply. So why risk it?

          You have not thought this through properly , nor are you taking into account all the variables involved.
          You are right we can reduce the average water use of 80-100 gallons, per person, per day in the US to a much smaller amount, but don’t risk your health in doing so.

  • I forgot to add:
    One round trip out to the live stock is about 1.1miles.
    1 trip for the cows, 1 for the goats, 2 for the pigs.
    Elevation change is about 200ft for each trip, over uneven terrain.

  • I have recycled my water for years! I keep a stainless steel bowl under my bathroom sinks to collect water from brushing teeth, washing hands, etc. Then I use it to flush my commode!! I also have a plastic dishpan in my kitchen sink to wash my cat dishes and when I wash my hands there. I use that water for my garden and flowers!! I don’t use my dishwasher until it is completely full, and I don’t wash dishes before sticking them in the dishwasher!! Once you get used to it, it’s really not that bad!!

  • I lived on a boat during one of my contracts. Coffee, sink wash, a cup of water for cleaning teeth. A gallon a day.
    That’s because I took my clothes home for washing and ate out.

  • Excellent article, the pictures of the buckets reminded me of my time while in Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club. While in boot camp we were required to wash our clothes every week in a one gallon bucket and hang them out to dry using small pieces of cord tied with square knots. The Navy has a knot for everything. Definitely a good skill to have.

    • WWII dad was in Uncle Sams Canoe Club. On Enowetok attol the Kansas country boy built a windmill that washed laundry with an up and down motion. He charges $.25 a load and did hair cuts for $.25. He had pictures of funnels on a pipe sticking up out of the dirt. There were 55 gallon drums burried to make out in the open urinals. Make do works if you’re not too finicky.

  • We brought a composting toilet for upstairs to reduce our water needs. Eventually I will replace the toilet downstairs with a composting toilet. No dish washer here except for me. Our bath water & laundry water drains into our garden. We have some rain water entrapment we use to water the garden also, but we need more. Rain out here is sparse.

    • -Mette,
      Have you ever done a sand water filter for the garden?
      Prior to this experiment, I was researching how to make one to filter our kitchen water. Then run it out to the pond or use it for the gardens.

      • I don’t use chemicals in my laundry or dishes or baths. A pond is not practical out here. We have a lot of high heat. Not to mention our ducks that would jump at a chance to leave their swimming pools for a real pond. I also do not use that much water. I don’t wash cloths daily, but put the water directly on the grape vines. I don’t actually have to physically water, just move the hose after each load to the next vine. I only have six grape vines. The bath water goes directly onto our fig trees. Again, out here a daily bath is not the norm. Last year my husband put in a split unit for AC. The condensation is collected twice a day and used also on our plants. We use the rain water off the barn for the trees outside the figs. We just need more rain water entrapment for when we do have rain.

        • I was thinking more along the lines of what we do for food prep, vs what chemicals we use.
          I wash, rinse veggies and meats. Watching that water go down the drain is what got me to thinking about some kind of non-commercial filtration system. That is when I recalled the sand filter I read about in the Permaculture Handbook.
          I think that may be my next experiment.
          Thank you for the feed back.

          • I am off grid, there is no commercial anything. Our water is all grey water except in the toilet. My nearest town is 5 miles with a population of 4 (soon to be 6) people living in it. Out here you fend for yourself.

          • I have a 5 gallon clear container with a faucet low on a side. I filter rain water for drinking water. Layers of gravel, activated charcoal, and clean play sand.

            My home is now off grid. Aiming to get all of the property and residences off grid. No commercial water out here. I’m slowly rebuilding my solar array.
            After that I am planning ways to collect rain water. For the time being I have containers for water and containers of edible plants sitting in the drip lines. I planted peas, beans, squash, and cucumbers next to the back door along the drip line. Along the sheds are planter boxes making use of the rain we do get.
            Average percipitation here is 12 inches of moisture between summer rains and winter snows. I leave some unplanted empty planters without holes for the barn cats to drink.

  • That’s a fascinating experiment! We really don’t think much about water in this country; as you say, we have plenty and it’s convenient. Living in the city, I’ve often thought about what I would do for my garden if the municipal water source dried up. I have a couple of rain barrels but the city won’t allow them if they’re visible from the street. I live on a corner lot and my downspouts are in front. Sucks.

    It seems to me the newer toilets use a lot less to flush than the older ones, if memory serves. Installing one of those might help. Also turn off that water while you’re brushing teeth or washing hands rather than letting it run. I gave up a dishwasher in order to buy my house, relying instead on over 40 years of training in the manual method. I’ve been washing dishes since I was 8 since my mother counted as a part of her dowry 3 dishwashers: my brother, my sister, and myself. Of course, giving the dishes a quick wash after every meal means they don’t stack up in the sink. If water is really a problem, I’ve read on this site to use paper plates and plastic utensils. That way washing isn’t required and the paper can be burned, in case heat is an issue as well, or used to start the grill. Presumably in a total grid down situation we won’t have working gas or electric stoves either.

    Lots to consider! Thanks for a great article. BTW four of my mother’s husbands were Marines. I know from personal experience that jarheads are not dumb 😀 My father was in the Canoe Club. I should look at knot tying. That’s something I could learn over TV at night.

    • -Hey ya Jayne!
      Bummer about the downspouts.

      According the the EPA that I reference in the article (sorry, I should of included the linky, here it is: ), there is a standard now.
      As I note in the article, my toilet has two “settings” not “sittings.” One is for urine of 1.1L, and the second is for feces of 1.6L.

      Knots and rope work are one of those looked over skills. I sit on the deck and practice various knots and rope work on the patio furniture with different diameters of cord or rope while talking with the wife. One of those skills to practice while doing other things.

      Thank you for the kind thoughts about us JarHeads! When it absolutely, positively, has to be destroyed over night, call the Marines!

      • 1stMarineJarHead, Thanks for sharing your experiment results. I am pleased to report that I have at least 4 ex-Marines living near me, and a new one moving in next door. Nice to have friends like them, especially if things get “Dicey”. After all, every Marine is a Rifleman, and I’m a decent (non-target) shooter myself, so my neighborhood is in reasonably good hands. And I almost forgot, another close neighbor is a retired Police Lt.

        • NAZGuy,
          Glad you liked the article.
          A few weeks ago, we had water related issue: The hot water tank quit working. The lower element corroded so bad, we had a thankfully small electrical fire. Took 4 days to get the new one delivered and installed.
          So, every morning had to hump it out to the dug well over flow to fill two 5gal buckets to flush.
          Navy showers were the order of they day (turn on cold water, rinse, turn cold water off. Wash. Turn cold water back on, rinse).

          Good to hear you have good neighbors!

    • Just thinking laterally… what if you had twin downspouts? Would that be noticed?
      One could be used as a reservoir…

  • August 24, 1992. Hurricane Andrew hit us at 4:15 a.m.
    By late morning, the water pressure was down to dribble level, then it quit entirely.
    Hadn’t had a decent ‘cane in years, so no prep. I brushed my teeth with Budweiser, of which I had plenty.
    Finding no bottled water in any nearby stores, I drove ~30 miles and scored two gallons and a couple of cans of Beef-A-Roni. The outage lasted through Friday (5 days) and pressure returned the next day. Won’t ever be that cavalier in the future. You have no idea how thirsty you can get once the water is….gone.
    BTW, as regards ‘sitting’ toilet, may I recommend adding a garbage bag to the toilet and pouring some kitty litter into it, and after doing your business. Wet wipes for all the rest; even before the scamdemic, I was an inveterate hand-washer.

  • Every year, for 40 years, my better half and I go to the mountains (only 40 miles away). When we were younger, it was backpacking trips, even with toddlers. These trips averaged 1 week to sometime 3 weeks. We brought in all our food. For water, we depended upon a nearby creek. Though we kept a 5 gallon filtered water cube we brought it, the goal was not to use it, so all water we used, had to be drawn from the creek. Water for drinking/cooking was ran through a filter. Water for cleaning up or sponge baths wasn’t filtered (though we would warm both up, because bathing in cold water sucks).
    Katadyn filters are nice, but pumping 5 gallons of water through a backpack filter is a chore. Now there’s gravitational filters, but back in the 80’s, good luck finding one, let alone afford one.

    It was a good experience as far as depending solely upon the land and our hands for the water we needed. Living in Southern Colorado, we’ve experienced droughts that have lasted years. So this one is a concern, but all we can do is work around the drought, finding ways to handle it, as we can’t change it.

    I tried a Rain Dance, but No Luck, though my neighbors were mildly amused.

    • -Bemused Berserker,
      Great story of your trips!
      I used to be a great fan of LifeStraws. Then we had a drought. A lot of the water sources that I would of used dried up. Then I understood the need for having clean, filtered water on hand. I then moved to a gravity filter myself.

      If I could, I would do a Rain Dance myself for you and those in the West/South West. But I inherited my Polish dancing skills and just might make the drought that much worse!

  • Great article. My fave website for knots is my daughter used that for her 4H knot tying project; even I was able to learn from it,which is saying a lot.

  • Leaving the water running while you’re brushing teeth is such a waste of water.
    I’m in Australia so I’m quite horrified that your equivalent of gallons to litres is that you use around 90 litres of water per day!

    I camp long term off grid so have 2 23 litre water containers and one 20L bottle and even with doing my dishes and bathing with that water and drinking and cooking I would only go through maybe half of one of those bottles.
    Sorry sir but you have a lot to learn about water saving.
    90 litres per day is absolutely excessive in a SHTF scenario.

    • -Rachel Silver,
      I agree. Using 90L or 19 gallons a day of water is extreme.
      As I pointed out, I can do with only 31L or 8gal of water a day, with no ill-health effects.
      Thank you for proving my point.

    • I’m sorry that I can’t contribute detailed numbers, but in the early 2000’s with a family of 2 adults and 5 children aboard we got down to just 20 litres per day for all onboard water needs. However to put that in context, we swam each day and needed only a wet rag to wipe of salt, had a saltwater flush toilet, and had the unspoken threat that if water was wasted then a dinghy trip ashore to the water source was required to refill. Now we have the luxury of running a desalinator/Watermaker for an hour in the middle of the day to make 20 litres.

  • As much as I respect living in rural homestead circumstances (having grown up that way), most of today’s population is either urban or suburban … where city bureaucrats and their ever-changing rules long ago replaced neighborhood chickens and critters. However this very recent YouTube video does address how to make your water storage last longer … and especially IF you have a little advance notice of a possible power interruption that might shut down municipal water to you.

    How to Make Your Water Storage Last Longer (Prepper Basics)

    per this 11:13 minute video, from DIY Prepper TV on 5 July 2021:

    It doesn’t mention some emergency water storage methods like using water BOBs to store up water in your bathtub(s), for example. See the website for details, even if they are currently out of stock. If you run a search on Amazon for waterBOB, they carry only competitors. However eBay can be your friend on this.

    If you wash dishes by hand, you’ll use a lot less water than the dishwasher uses. Besides … in a power outage that dishwasher will be useless anyway.

    If you look up some YouTube videos on how 3rd world people take bucket baths, and practice that concept with sponge baths, you’ll learn how to get by with a lot less water than showering used to take. In a power outage (once you have a little experience on how little hot water you really need), you can heat up that minimum of needed bath water by using some of your stored fuels … such as propane on a portable camp stove.

    So if your bath tub(s) is/are occupied with water-filled waterBOBs (or something similar), where can you take that sponge bath? A rectangular storage tub from Walmart works just fine although you may find other such gadgetry to keep your house floors dry.

    In a power outage your clothes washing machine can’t help, so it’s worth knowing that most clothes can be hand-washed in cold water IF you use a cold water compatible detergent. “ALL” is one such brand that Walmart carries … even if you have to dig through the fine print on the back of the jug to read that it is compatible with cold water usage. Such washing is easier if you use a muscle-powered plunger in a two-bucket system — one bucket for the detergent-containing water and one bucket with clean rinse water. A manual wringer also helps a lot.

    OR make your own cold water compatible laundry detergent:

    Homemade Laundry Detergent, July 6, 2013, 37 Comments

    These DIY laundry detergents work well even in cold water.


  • I have a question, my duck pool keeps getting algae in it. How can I prevent this. Ducks don’t like swimming in algae ,and neither duck nor chickens will drink it. Changing the pool is very tiresome

    • Sorry, Sylvia, I dont have an answer for you.
      My ducks just jump in the pond and do duck things. We get duckweed which seems to prevent the formation of algae.

    • You can use hydrogen peroxide to oxygenate the pool to stop their… using and aerator like in fish tanks works a small pump even off a simple solar panel will pump enough to aerate the water killing algae.

      Some plants help like duck weed and cat tails

      • I have two formed plastic small ponds. I have a little solar foundation that pumps a water then sprays it so it helps ariate the first pond that has duck weed and cattails and a pretty wild water lily. The second pond will have cattails in a corner and water rice from India growing in it. I’m setting up the ponds to catch the cleaning water from the small duck pond.
        The little solar fountain was less than $10 online. I have an air stone that could be run off a solar panel charging a battery and run through a cheap car inverter. I’ll see how I like the fountain alone this summer.

  • I have pondered this scenario often. I live on a large property with an older but very strong husband. When our well was installed last year, I had hoped it would be closer to the house, but setbacks on the property stopped that location. Instead it was dug below our house at the foot of an incline. The well turned out to be an artesian well filling a 5 gallon bucket in 20 seconds. We were stunned and currently allow the water to run and fill an irrigation ditch 24/7. The livestock graze below in pastures with open ditches so their water source is constant. Our challenge would be bringing water uphill to the house and gardens.
    With a sturdy wagon initially we could tow the wagon loaded with full buckets with the quad, but once no fuel is available, it would take a lot of braun to haul by hand.
    Our solar energy stored in batteries might be used only for pumping up to the house, but that will eventually wear out. I guess we will get creative then too.
    I have done shorter tests using many water saving ideas from previous camping trips. One of those is filling a glass half full of water to brush my teeth. Another is washing my face with a wet cloth instead of a liter of water letting it run. A friend’s cabin I go to has a motto, ” if it’s yellow, let it mello- if it’s brown flush it down. They must pay to have water hauled to their place and store it on a trailer in a big tank.
    When I visited missionary friends in the Dominican republic, the electricity would be off more than it was on, so when it came on sporadically, all of us filled every bucket for storage. I Learned to take a shower the with a bucket of water and a tin cup. I watered down. Soaped standing in the tub including shampooing my long hair, then rinsed off with the remaining water. It can be done. And it will be when we have to haul water from afar.
    We have two irrigation ditches to draw from right below the house and we flood irrigate the yard from a third one above the house, so that source should be useful until a beaver builds his house in front of the headgate. But that’s an annual event. My concern there is more for my DH safety making repairs because of its location upstream.
    To put it bluntly, every thing will be a challenge after a crisis, so any pre planning is smart.
    Thank you for getting my gears grinding on this.

    • DesertDove,
      That is a heck of a set up you have!

      Great story about the Dominican Republic. Always interesting to see how people live in different countries.

  • When I first started prepping I bought 10 (aqua?) bricks. They store, I believe, 5 gals each and stack very nicely. Water does have to be rotated out every six months or so; I have a solid carbon block water filter on my sink and the brick water will still film over in time. I also have the LifeStraw water bottle that Daisy recommended in one of her articles. Given what passes for water in the city, filtration systems are a must even before shtf. I laugh every time the water utility sends me a report telling me how good city water is. Right.

  • Great article! Being aware of our water use and ways to cut back is important. We live out in a rural area, but still have city water. Turning on the faucet and getting water is something we take for granted. But, water can be turned off quickly if something happens – repair on water lines, water main breaks somewhere nearby, flooding, etc. This has happened frequently here.

    We keep stored water downstairs in cleaned 2 liter soda bottles and Clorax containers. The 2 liter bottles of water for drinking then added to the AquaRain (similar a Berkey) water filter. The 2 liter bottles are not heavy (even for kids), so we also keep one in each bathroom and in the kitchen for hand washing. We use the Clorax container water for toilet flushing.

    Fortunately, we usually get lots of rain here in eastern Kentucky. My husband adjusted the down spouts around the house and added rain barrels. The rain barrels are made of a thick plastic. We found out winter weather can result in cracks in the containers. So, draining and cleaning them in the fall is a good idea.

    A kiddie pool can collect water quickly in rain storm. They sell them at many places, even the Dollar Stores. The blow-up type kiddie pools are inexpensive and take up little room to store.

  • Great article @1StMarineJarHead. Really good, congrats and thanks for all the tips and info.

    That’s an important exercise and I do it often, but in the city (my environment). Every couple of months I turn everything off (power, water, etc.) and live a few days as I would during a bunker-in scenario.

    I also learned a lot with the long-time homeless I come across all the time, and by staying in public shelters too. It’s a world apart from what we’re used to in normal times and full-grid up.

    When I’m backpacking, camping or doing other exercises, I also have a water routine. This is where I practice the full water cycle (acquisition, treatment, transport, ration, etc.).

  • The chart is wrong; the average American uses far more than 1.2 gallons of water per day for bathing. The actual number is closer to 17 gallons, which is 20% of indoor water usage, not 1.7%.

    • Oops, just saw that you separated out showers and baths, and your numbers add up to 13 gallons, which is in the range of average use. I’d delete my original comment but the page won’t let me.

  • I use paper towels to dry myself off after a shower instead of bath towels. That saves washing a load of bath towels and hand towels every week. Fold over about six to eight sheets of a sturdy but economical house brand of paper towels, one for each hand. Can reuse for household cleaning.

  • People alway tell me they are going to survive, they got weapons, food, ammo, etc. The first thing I tell them is to worry about WATER FIRST, then food, then clothing, then tools, then weapons and ammo.

    I have 3 types of water filters. The dirty quick and easy one, the travel one, and then the large home one.

    No strikeouts here, but a home one (most important filter. 😉

  • In a total breakdown there is a clean creek within walking distance(under 1/2 mile) of our house. While I know the distance is not optimum, especially during winter, it is better than nothing. For short term I have water stored in the house. Not enough for supreme comfort but enough to get by on. Gallons of water take up a lot of space. I have gone for a week without power twice and once for a broken well. Washing dishes was the biggest water hog and the hardest to cope with as we have 8 people living here.

  • Great article! Thanks for doing the research on this and publishing your account.

    Two things I have done to save water us to use a small spit cup of water for premoistening your tooth brush and rinsing it and your mouth after.
    The second is to use a basin or stoppered sink and do a spit bath using only that water. The used water, unless your bum was poopy, can be used for a pre wash for your hair to get it wet enough to lather your shampoo, which should be pre lathered in a separate cup with a small amount of water. Rinse with clean.
    Kirk’s Castile or Dr. Brommer’s is a good choice because a little bit goes a long way and it rinses well. Grandpa’s pine tar soap is good too, and it’s good if your skin is prone to acne.

  • Also, save your grey water for washing clothes and flushing the toilet. You can reuse one basin’s worth of water three times, plus any fresh water used for rinsing clothes can be used again for flushing or watering plants.

  • After Hurricane Michael Eva stated my hometown )a category 5 hurricane), we were without water and power for a month. I toted a lot of water from my daughter’s home to our home and it became a daily chore. I realized very quickly the importance of a shallow well and that the average water bottle is pretty useless except for a drink. It was still very hot in Florida in October and combined with the humidity, lack of air conditioning, a damaged house and infrastructure collapse that underestimating water requirements is too easy to do and has extreme consequences. Adequate water supplies are now a priority on my SHTF list and preparation. San

  • Many years ago I lived in the jungles of south America, I learned to appreciate clean water. The only source we had was a nasty pond and a Berkey water filter. I now live on a homestead with a well, 2 15,000 gallon cisterns with a solar power pump and 2 backup generators. I also have a deep well solar backup. To be honest I feel unprepared and a bit nervous and concerned it will all fail when I need it. So yes water is that important. Neglect at your own peril

  • When my family lived out in the woods for a couple years (no running water) we pretty much only took sponge baths, with water hauled in from the local creek or melted from snow in the winter time. The stink factor went down considerably after a few weeks of this, because the microorganisms on our skin adapted. It wasn’t just our noses adapting to the smell either. Sure we needed to keep clean but didn’t need to have a full shower every day or anything like that.

    Later on I lived homeless for a couple months, camping in Nevada, again drawing water out of a river and filtering it. We found that groin and pit sponge baths kept the stink down quite a bit and didn’t notice any skin infections. Having short hair helped a lot since I couldn’t shampoo. Once in a while we’d sneak a small wash in a public bathroom. Sure that was just for a couple months but it was still a good experience. I could get pretty clean with a minimum of water and we used around three gallons a day between the two of us, maybe five total including bean and rice boiling. I was pretty good at low water tooth brushing too.

    I think folks who have full, hot showers with body wash and shampoo and everything once or more a day and who wash their hands constantly would have a greater reaction to suddenly having only sponge baths, since there would be more to adapt to.

    • -RedBranch,
      I agree with your about the not needing a shower every day. I have been in situations where I did not shower on a daily basis. Once you got used to it, it was no big deal. And there was no real health concerns. Heck, I do not wash my hair but only a few times a year as it is.

  • One of the best and most important articles. Water is key. Growing up in Australia we always seem to be in drought . We are a dry country and water is one thing I was raised never to take for granted. One of the things I’ve noticed through a few moves around the country is when moving to a new area watch how the elderly treat water, even in the good times . Usually they have had generational knowledge of the local weather patterns. I currently have access to town water super expensive as it gets pumped in from a distance. I have a large water tank for the house before town water was connected and I put in three more tanks connected to my shed and chook mansion. Which is enough to supply the veggie garden and water for the animals.

  • As a retired, living on SS and tiny pension, we save money where and when we can. A big expense here in SW FL is the water/sewer bill. The cost has increased 7% a year for the past 3 years making our bill for just 1 unit of water $89 where it had been $70. Most of our neighbors pay upwards of $120.

    How we do it: even though we have the 2-setting toilets we only flush about 4 times a day, except for solids, and deposit the toilet paper in the garbage and no, it doesn’t smell.
    I wash dishes once a day in a dishpan, rinse by dipping in a pan of plain water. Dishes are scraped first to dislodge most food particles. I use 2 gallons for washing, 1/2 gallon for rinsing. Dishwasher uses 7.
    Haven’t brushed our teeth using running water in decades.
    Washing hands: apply liquid soap first, then a dribble of water, then scrub, quick rinse.
    Shower every other day including hair washing and use the Navy shower way – wet down, turn water off, soap up, turn water on to rinse. During Hurricane Charlie we could ‘shower’ using 2 1-liter bottles of water. We do have a pool where we can, in a real emergency, bathe (privacy issue & tough to wash with any clothing on) and use to flush toilets.
    We have 2 rain barrels that we use for watering our potted veggies and we use cooking water, sprout rinse water also.
    We keep 24 2-liter bottles of water, reusing plastic bottles I would never buy drinking water, on hand at all times, and rotate them out 2 per day. If a hurricane is predicted we have 5 5-gallon containers we fill.
    Any food that requires large amounts of water to cook, like beans, are done in large batches – seems to use less that way but might just be a mind-game thing.
    Laundry – I have done clothing by hand, not easy, but can be done. Use of a bucket and new toilet plunger helps. I have also put sheets & towels out in the rain for a thorough soaking, can be sprayed with a diluted detergent if desired. I then leave them to dry in the sun. I only do full loads of laundry: my clothes twice a month, hubby’s the same, sheets 2 sets every 3 weeks (we have 3 sets), towels twice a month. And, the dryer is only used for 30 min after by clothes – everything else is rack dried.
    Just some simple ” how can I use less ” thinking should enable anyone to come up with some solutions.

  • We spent 5 years hauling water in 5 gallon buckets. We started out with 2 kids and added another along the way. What we hauled in had to be hauled out and dumped in the woods. We took dip baths most of the time. Heated water up, placed it in a 5 gallon bucket next to the tub. Sat in a large tub then wet down with the water using a scoop, soaped up then rinsed with the water. Used about 4 gallons. Did this about twice a week. Daily in between we just did sponge baths. I washed dishes by heating water and putting in in a larger pitcher. I put silverware in the bottom of a dish pan. Then wet down a sponge and washed glasses, then plates, bowls, kettles rinsing them with the pitcher of water over the dish pan. At last I washed the silverware that had been soaking in the accumulated water. I could usually wash all our dishes for a day with 2 gallons or less of water. I used a rubber spatula to scrape the dishes first to keep the water cleaner. When you haul water you tend to get very conservative in how you use it ☺ we didn’t use paper plates, etc. as this was our home and we weren’t camping. I usually washed our clothes at the laundry mat but did wash 1 weeks worth them, for the 5 of us using our wringer washing machine and used around 4 to 5 , 5 gallon buckets to do it. It is a Lot of work!

  • Sounds like Dry Camping in an RV. We currently live in a house with a 2400 gallon cistern that I restock 275 gallons at a time from our community 15,000 gallon cistern which itself is restocked via a well, using a food grade tank I Ioad onto my pickup. Two trips same day once each week. We harvest the water from waiting for the hot water in both shower and kitchen sink to use for dogs water, etc around the house. We don’t, never have, let the water run while brushing. We shutoff the water between soaping and rinsing in the shower-a must when Dry Camping- among other smart water uses. Of course without power we are screwed. The point is we try not to waste water even in the ‘good’ times.

  • 2002 I was widowed. No income from any source so no car, phone, heat or water. No electricity.
    Every evening I walked a 4 mile loop to gather sticks or burnables. Ie cardboard. I timed it to get home just as it was took dark to see any longer.
    I live in Southwest high mountain desert. Summer highs near 100° and winters lows below 0° I’ve seen 106° and -20° here so not an easy place. We do get winter snows and most years, summer rains. I had stored food left over from summer campmeetings and church give aways. I ate what was here. No meat unless it was in something canned.
    I ate dry cereal or Ieftover rice with a little reconstituted dry milk. Then in the afternoon before my daily walk I would heat up or cook something. I quickly figured out how to cook pasta with just enough water to cook it. Nothing to drain off. Then add canned tomatoes and dry onions or pasta sauce (as long as it lasted). I’d cook 2 cups of rice and warm vegetables to eat over it. I drank the liquid from canned vegetables knowing it contained the water soluable vitamins and often tasted good. Left over pasta or rice and stir fried wild foraged greens with some canned tomato add was often dinner.
    Leftover rice, pasta, or canned beans were kept cool by sitting tightly covered containers in a bucket of cool water in the well house. The water had to be changed several times a day. That water became hand washing, bathing, laundry or toilet flushing water. I flushed just once a day…remember it was just me at home. It took most of 2 gallons for a clean flush from a bucket.
    Bathing- I filled 2, 2 gallon buckets of water. I’d heat one. Then using a plastic pitcher I’d mix the water to a comfortable temperature. Wet from head to foot. Soap up and scrub with a wet washcloth. Rinse from head to foot. It averaged using 1 1/2 gallons. I washed dishes with the left over hot water and rinsed with cold water in two dish pans. I used a glass, spoon or fork, bowl or plate and one cook pot or rarely 2 pots for a meal.
    Laundry was done once a week in 2, 5 gallon buckets using a new toilet plunger. I only changed every two days unless I really got dirty. Wash with a little washing soda and a very little laundry soap and 2 gallons of water. Rinse with 2 gallons of cold water. Then a second rinse with 2 gallons of water and 1/4 cup white vinegar. Vinegar cuts soap and softens clothes. Then hang up clothes to dry outside. I drank 5 or 6 pasta cans of water about 3/4 full every day.
    Yes drawing water was time consuming and work but I lost 2 clothing sizes and gained strength. I read a lot and buiIt benches and tables for the yard with scrap wood and all hand tools. I grew a small garden both summers.
    I hung on here because I still had juniors and seniors in my church school. I changed to home schooling with students coming over for help or to take tests. Once they graduated I was trying to figure out how to get a job. I live 15 miles from a small rural town.
    2 years after I was widowed friends from Oregon were passing through. They brought me a little old Toyota that a lady in their church was no longer driving. They also had a refrigerator on the trailer.
    It took me 4 months to sell enough stuff from my front yard to buy 4 used and mounted tires. I bought a used battery from a wrecking yard and walk the 17 miles to go get it and 17 miles home again. Then came registering it , insurance, and finally licensing it. That took 4 months. In 3 more weeks I had a job.
    I guess I lived through my SHTF experience.
    I’ll let someone guess at the water use average.

    Today I have a some rabbits, ducks, and chickens. 4 rabbits go through 1 gallon a day. 4 Ducks uses 1 gallon to drink and I figure about 1 gallon to wash out the container every day. That goes on the garden. 5 adult chickens and 7 young chicks use close to one gallon per day. I carry it all in milk jugs. When the pen is finished the ducks will have an old turtle kids sandbox for a pond. Water use will increase. If I have to hand draw water again and carry it, use will be cut back to a kids 1 gallon plastic bucket.
    I have a hand winch for the well so that also makes getting water easier. I’m hoping to buy a regular well bucket that holds more soon.
    I have 6 large caged water totes where I store water for critters, fruit trees, and garden. 5×330 gallons and 1×275 gallons =1925 gallons. In the kitchen I store at least 22 gallons of water at all times. I have a hand pump that fits on top of a round 5 gallon water container.

  • I’m a newbie here… thanks for the info. And thanks for making my decision to purchase a book, I had been wanting to buy it, but was hesitant on the price. You had mentioned what a great book it was. So I bought it. Haven’t got it yet, but you influenced it. The book is “ earth Medicine, earth food”

  • I store water in cleaned 2 & 3 liter soda bottles, as well as in my cleaned canning jars after they’re emptied.

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