Filling 5 Gallon Water Jugs – From the Tap or Filtered?

Hey all. I just bought a bunch of 5 gallon Scepter water jugs. I feel silly asking this question, but here goes… What is the best way to fill them? 

I’ve been searching around and found lots of info about cleaning them. I plan to use baking soda. I’ve seen people recommend bleach which freaks me out: bleach in drinking water?? What am I missing? 

Do most people fill these from the bath tub? That thought doesn’t bother me, but my wife is a bit crazy about tap water, is convinced is really bad to drink tap water unfiltered. I explained to her that if we ever need this emergency water, that’s likely to be the least of our concerns. But she was asking if maybe a couple of them could/should be filled with filtered water. How would you all think about that? 

Thanks in advance for any suggestions. 


  • Comments (23)

    • 4

      Is there something wrong with your local water that keeps folks from drinking water from the tap?  If not… use it.

      All city water is treated with a chlorine or similar chemical.  I add bleach to my water stores.  I add about a half cup of liquid bleach to my horse’s water trough each week I empty & refill it.  Ain’t no one died around here.

    • 6

      I’ll copy and paste my response from another post about how I do things.

      Here are my thoughts about your process:

      1. wash them out with Dawn – Good to do, even for a brand new container. You have to absolutely cover and clean every inch of the container. I do this by filling up with hot soapy water, getting a bottle brush or clean rag down in there and manually scrubbing all I can. Swish it around a lot, dump, rinse, and repeat. Take extra care of cleaning the lid and gasket, taking it apart and wiping down if possible. After I soap wash it twice I then fill up with water again and pour in a very concentrated amount of bleach. Let it sit for 15 minutes then flip the container over and wait another 15 minutes. Rinse this out until it is completely bleachless tasting. Be careful not to touch the inside and contaminating it.

      2. rinse and dry – Definitely rinse out, but do not dry. Putting in a clean towel to dry will only expose the inside to bacteria. Just rinse and then fill with tap water as you state in step #3. Rinse off the outside of your container with cold water too because any residue bleach on the outside can stain your clothes.

      3. refill with tap water – If you live in the city with clean tap water than this should be all you need to do, if you live off a well or get your water from another source then you will need to add bleach

      4. add unscented bleach – Not 100% necessary if you followed the above steps perfectly, but doesn’t hurt to add. Make sure your bleach is less than 6 months old because that is the shelf life of bleach before it starts to break down. Using old bleach will not have the same kick as a newer bottle.

      Final step is storage. I dry off my sealed container with a clean towel and then let it air dry for a few minutes. I then take a piece of low tack painters tape and put it on the lid of the container saying when it was last filled so I know when to rotate. Keep your container in a cool and dark location. Heat and sunlight are the enemy and will lead to junk growing in your water. Make sure the container lids are screwed down completely and no air can get in. I like to screw down as hard as I can and then push on the sides and see if it burps out some air. Avoid storing in the garage as the fumes of your car can leach into the plastic walls of the container and contaminate your water too.

      These are the steps I’ve followed after taking The Prepared’s water course and it’s been serving me well so far.

      –End of my copied comment–

      Now in response to your specific question jgrif – Good choice on the 5 gallon Scepters, I love mine! Your question isn’t silly at all and as you can see from the forum post I linked to and responded to above, if you don’t do your prep work properly you will end up with some ruined nasty water. It’s very important to get this right. You don’t have to get hospital surgical room sanitized and sterile, but you do need to get it pretty clean.

      The baking soda will give you some grit to scour the inside of your container and absorb some odors. It’s a good cleaning product and I should add that to my cleaning routine in the future. Thanks for the tip.

      Bleach is 100% safe to use in cleaning your containers. Like I mentioned in my previous comment up above, use a very concentrated amount to sanitize the container and then follow through with multiple rinses until you can no longer smell or taste bleach. Every city water has a small amount of bleach in it. So if you are using tap water from the city for filling your container you don’t need to add any in your final fill, but if you are on well water you should add a small amount to keep things from growing. Look on Clorox’s website for the ratio of how many drops/tea spoons you need to put in per 5 gallons if you are on well water.

      I cleaned and filled mine in the bath tub. Be careful though because that 5 gallon container is going to be heavy when it is full. I dropped it on the drain plug in mine and cracked it. $20 later I got it replaced. Take the drain plug off of your bathtub before cleaning and filling to prevent this accident from happening.

      There are a few in my life who will not drink tap water and have to run everything through a filter before drinking. You have the right mindset that it is emergency drinking water and it’s either have a small amount of chemicals in your water during the apocalypse that will probably not do anything to you, or die from dehydration. If you want to reassure her, say that you will be filling it with tap water but she is welcome to run it through a filter during the emergency if that makes her feel better about drinking it. Tap water is safe to drink. 

      Let me know if you have any follow up questions or if anything I said was confusing. 

      • 2

        This is super helpful. Thanks so much. One question. When you say a, “very concentrated amount of bleach”, can you elaborate? About how much bleach are you talking about using to clean a 5-gallon container? Also, roughly how much bleach do you then add to 5-gallons that you’re storing? 

        I really like your idea of having a filter my wife could use at the time if we ever got into a situation where we needed it. That means I can use tap water (which already has the bleach in it) and still satisfy her request for filtered come the zombie apocalypse 🙂 

        Thanks again. 

    • 5

      Good Evening jgrif,

      Wanted to chime in on keeping drinkable water in the Scepter water jugs. The information already posted by Redneck and Olly Wright tracks exactly with what I’ve found to work with the Scepter jugs. Light and air are indeed the enemy when it comes to storage. I rotate both 10 liter and 20 liter Scepter jugs, and use Dawn as noted in the other posts here. As an added thought, your wife’s desire for some form of filtration might be something that can work to both her advantage and yours. 

      Because of really hard water where I live, we put in a fancy, (seven stage) reverse osmosis water unit at our home. The Scepter jugs stay in our garage, and get filled (via a Naglene pitcher) with water from the R.O. unit. Said R.O. units are expensive, but against what you may be paying for filters, (or filtered / bottled water), the R.O. unit may pay itself off over time, particularly if you do the yearly maintenance on the R.O. unit yourself. And R.O. water brings the risk of bad stuff growing in your stored water WAY down. I store R.O. water for 5 months in sealed Scepter jugs and have had no contamination issues in the five years I’ve been rotating. And the last 5 month old sample I had a lab check came back WAY cleaner than the stuff that comes out of our taps. And for you, the only time you have to lift that 20 liter (5 gallon) jug is to dump the old water and clean the jug. I dump that water on our yard trees because of our high desert environment. But it’s very drinkable at that point. I suspect also that your wife will be happier if you can do this as R.O. water tastes really good (at least to us). Let me encourage you also to consider buying at least one 10 liter (2-1/2 gallon) Scepter jug to use in “emergency” times when you are actually living off your stored water. A full five gallon jug is in the neighborhood of 40 to 45 pounds. That can be difficult to control and pour accurately, particularly if you are in the post 50th birthday crowd. Pouring half the contents of Scepter’s 20 liter jog into a 10 liter jug and then using that 10 liter jug to fill water bottles / glasses / pet water bowls, etc. without spilling any water is BUNCHES easier, at least for me. And keep in mind please that some states limit how many gallons of liquid you can move in your vehicle before you need a special class of drivers license to carry said liquid in your vehicle. A county sheriff friend of mine recently said he had issued a verbal warning to guy he pulled over because the guy had 150 gallons of (unsecured) water in containers in the back of his SUV. In a freeway speed crash, it would only take one of these full jugs to the back of your head to kill. The good news is there are racks manufactured specifically to secure the Scepter jugs available from two or three sources. Thanks for reading my two cents worth!

      • 3

        Our city tap water is safe to drink, but is absolutely disgusting tasting to drink. It tastes like strong chemicals and bleach. And this is a new house build in a new neighborhood so it isn’t some outdated system. 

        We installed a reverse osmosis system under our kitchen sink and the taste is perfect! It tastes like water now. I highly recommend getting one of these systems just for the good tasting water.

      • 2

        Thanks for the recommendations guys. Appreciate it. I’ll have to look into RO units. 

    • 6

      Is your local grid water potable? IE suitable for human consumption. if yes use that.

      Some points

      Treat each bottle with a couple of drops of unscented bleach ( I think its called Chlorox in the Americas)

      Store only in a cool dark room

      Dont store on bare concrete floors

      Dont store in same room as fuels like Petrol or Diesel

      • 5

        Been drinking tap water for all of my life – no problems. Seems a waste of time to filter tap water, unless there are unusual circumstances.

      • 2

        Me too but in parts of the US the water systems have become toxic through various issues including failing to removed lead pipes, pollution in the traditional water sources etc , .  Even in the UK we had a few scandals over the year including a truck dumping 44 tonnes of aluminium something into the wrong tank at a treatment works that caused seriously medical issues for thousands.  We have had cattle manure getting into water supplied to homes from a spring.  Fracking in some place US has seen toxic chemicals and gases get into water supplies etc etc

        My approach in thus I keep TWO x 4 candle gravity filters at home, any time issues are reported with our water utility co all our water from the tap goes through the filters by default.

      • 2

        Bill – what exactly is a TWO x 4 candle gravity filter? I’ve tried googling but it’s hard to tell. Is it basically just a pitcher that you pour tap water into and then it filters it coming out of the bottom? 

    • 5

      Just a little more on bleach.

      First, chlorine is probably already in your tap water if it comes from some municipality. It disinfects nasty peed-in pool water so it works

      Second, it isn’t strictly necessary that you add. I’ve stored water jugs for years and only use bleach if I’m using well water.

      Third, Just because it says “bleach” doesn’t mean it has chlorine. Don’t just use whatever is in a jug marked Clorox! Like every maker of everything now, they have a bewildering array of products (seemingly designed to instil buyers remorse even before buying) Be especially wary of those marked “Splash-Free”as they have little or no chlorine.

      Always be sure it says it kills germs right up front of the label. They used to have instructions for disinfecting water right on the label, but maybe no more.

      Active ingredient will be Sodium Hypochlorite 7% or so.

      Per the Clorox site (this is to disinfect collected water and has some extra filtering steps not needed for tap water, hopefully):

      1. Remove suspended particles by filtering or letting particles settle to the bottom.
      2. Pour off clear water into a clean container.
      3. Add 12 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of Clorox® Regular-Bleach (not scented or Clorox® Plus® bleaches) to two gallons of water (2 drops to 1 quart). For cloudy water, use 24 drops per two gallons of water (3 drops to 1 quart).
      4. Allow the treated water to stand for 30 minutes. Water should have a slight bleach odor. If not, repeat and wait another 15 minutes. The treated water can then be made palatable by pouring it between clean containers several times.


      There are other brands, look at the ingredients for 7%+ Sodium Hypochlorite and be sure it is unscented.

      • 3

        Yep, there are all sorts of Clorox products… and I found out the hard way a while back.  I add liquid Clorox to my horses’ water trough, to keep the water clean & kill any microscopic critters that might get in the water.  I do this once a week and more often in the heat of summer.  Well once I did this and all of a sudden I had a mountain of soap foam billowing from the tank.  Come to find out, they add soap to make it no spill.

        Another thing to know about liquid bleach is that it has a rather short shelf life… especially once opened.  Within a few weeks, it loses a lot of strength.  I therefore keep a lot of pool shock in storage.  It has a very long shelf life and is super concentrated.  Mine is 68% calcium hypochlorite.

      • 2

        In parts of the UK / US as well as Chlorination many places have naturally occuring Flouride and other the water companies add flouride.  And many add Aluminium ( English spelling) sulphate I believe to reduce turbidity in the water.

        From WHO

        Chloramine and Ozone are other chemicals used to treat water supplies as well as Chlorine .

        Chemicals used as coagulants in drinking-water treatment include aluminium and iron salts, such as aluminium sulfate, polyaluminium chloride or ferric sulfate.

        Sometimes organic polymers, known as coagulant aids, are used to assist with coagulation.
        These polymers may contain residual acrylamide or epichlorohydrin monomers.

        A number of other chemicals may be added in treatment. These include substances such as sodium hydroxide for adjusting pH

        Ion-exchange resins and more advanced treatment processes based on membranes are increasingly used in drinking-water treatment.

        ( Scary isnt it ?)


        I also have a couple of UV strip lights in the room I stored my water to help prevent the growth of algae ( just like in aquariums).

      • 1

        That does look scary at first glance, but I try and think about it from the city’s perspective. How do I provide clean drinkable water in the tens of thousands of gallons at an affordable rate to thousands of people 24/7, 365? Chemicals really are the only way I can think of doing so.

      • 2

        I see and accept your point, but a comment I once read still makes me balk at the thought 🙂  ” The tap water in London can pass through seven sets of Kidneys before it reaches the sea”    I dont know how accurate if at all, but I always think about that when I’m in ANY city and only drink bottled water.

      • 3

        aluminium sulfate, also known as alum is used by municipal water systems to remove turbidity (IE., dirt) in the water supply before filtering it.  Water for human consumption on a ‘home’ basis is a maximum of 150 milligrams per liter, or about one ounce by weight per fifty gallons of water.  Best to use an 80 gallon barrel with the 50 gallon depth marked on the outside.  Install two spigots, one at the very bottom, and the other about four or five inches up and offset by 4 inches.  Put the strained as best you can water into the barrel and dissolve the alum into it.  Stir for half an hour, then cover and wait 24 hours (at home this is NOT an immediate process).  Uncover and you should see most of the turbidity at the bottom.  Open the bottom spigot slowly so the turbid water flows out until the higher spigot opening has at least one inch of clear water below it.  Now open the upper spigot for a few seconds so the turbid water can drain out of it.  Once it is running clear, transfer the rest of the water into your ‘untreated’ water jugs and either treat or filter it into your ‘treated’ supply.  Ideally your group would have several of the 80 gallon barrels operating at different stages as the yield will be about 40 gallons a day per barrel.

        Turbidity can range from slight – it’s got a tinge of some color, but I can clearly see a coin through a foot of water, to heavy – where the coin is invisible at the same depth.  Use only the minimum amount of alum to get the job done.  Experiment now while you still have clear water to drink!  Coffee filters or fine cloth can be used to reduce turbidity to more acceptable levels.  It’s all a balancing act.

      • 2

        Wouldn’t the dirt and water separate normally in that 24 hours if left alone? You just skim off the water on the top until you hit the layer of dirt that has settled and then pour that out separately.

      • 2

        It SHOULD eventually SETTLE, but using the alum speeds up the process by binding with the non-water particles and dropping to the bottom.  Brownian motion will leave some particles suspended for weeks or longer.  The alum binds with those particles and makes them larger/heavier so the drop out faster.  Ask folks that work at a water treatment plant about it.  Many of them use ferrous sulphate instead of aluminum sulphate because it works faster.

      • 2

        I once worked on a field project whee we drank water flowing in the canyon.  This was on the Navajo Rservation (Canyon de Chelly) there were flocks of sheep and people with no pluming living upstream.  The water we collected was quite muddy..

        We et the water settle for 24 hours and poured off the top clear layer.  We then boiled the water briefly for final disinfection.  We did this for a month with no problems at all.

        Local situations may vary, and you should be aware, but I have stored tap water, untreated, for long periods with no problems

    • 6

      I have about a dozen of the 2.5 gallon Scepters (which is as heavy as I can comfortably carry) and I fill all of them with tap water. I’ve been negligent about adding bleach but my plan is if I *do* need them in an emergency I can add the bleach then, boil it, or run it through my Berkey (and maybe this is bad advice; I haven’t taken the water course!). And as others have outlined below I did sanitize the containers before filling. 

      I do rotate the water fairly frequently (labeling it so I know how old it is) and though I’ve needed emergency water on occasion, so far I’ve been able to get by with the bottled distilled water I keep on hand for CPAP use so I haven’t had to use the Scepters. But I’m glad they’re there!

      • 4

        I didn’t even know that Scepter made the 2.5 gallon containers. They do actually look like someone just cut a 5 gallon one in half. 


        Over on the preppers subreddit r/preppers I saw people talking about a video that the YouTuber Project Farm put out testing the best water filters on the market. It was a good video but was only testing the amount of particulate matter left behind after filtration. 

        The berkey is tested in there and actually does pretty poorly compared to some of the other filters. This does not mean that berkey is a bad option and it actually filters out all the nasties that we are concerned with in a preparedness situation. But if you are shooting for water that has no particulates in it, like distilled water, the $30 ZeroWater filter was actually pretty impressive.

        Long story short… If you want a water filter that gives you distilled water quality, check out the ZeroWater filter. This could be a good prepping solution for those with cpap machines and need a consistent supply of distilled quality water and who can’t keep going to the store and buying distilled water by the gallon during an emergency.