Can You Get Sick From Drinking Old Water: Factors to Consider

It’s just water. It won’t hurt you! We’ve all heard that line growing up, but there’s more to water than H2O. Still, there’s surely no problem with drinking water out of a sealed container if it’s just been sitting there a while, right? I wanted to get to the heart of the matter, so you know what’s really safe to drink.

Can you get sick from drinking old water? Yes, you can absolutely get sick from drinking old water. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as perfect water storage. Contaminants and other issues can compromise your supply if you’re not careful. 


Looking For Trouble

You can’t always see, or smell when water is polluted. However, that doesn’t mean that you should stop looking at and smelling things before they go in your mouth. Your first line of defense is what you perceive easily.

Examine water containers for any signs of damage. Are there leaks? Does it seal properly? Is it stored somewhere off the ground and out of direct sunlight? If you can answer no to any of these questions, then think twice. Keep an eye out for any haziness in the water. Cloudy, any color at all or the presence of bugs and debris are all bad news.

Your nose is incredibly sensitive. A sense of smell is one of the things we developed as a species to help warn us of danger. Though it’s far from universal, things that smell nice tend to be okay. Meanwhile, when smells make you gag, your nose is trying to tell you something is wrong. Always listen to your instincts.

Too Late

What if you’ve already had the bad water? How soon will you know something is wrong, and can you even tell? Luckily there are some pretty common signs you can watch out for that indicate the water supply might be where your trouble is coming from.

  • Stomach cramps within forty-eight hours of drinking questionable water is a significant indicator. You can get stomach cramps from other sources like food poisoning or illness, but water could be the culprit.
  • Nausea can be a sign your water has gone off. Often when invisible microorganisms are present, one of the first signs is feeling queasy. Even if you don’t vomit, never ignore a warning.
  • Dizziness or getting ‘the spins’ isn’t normal at all. If you’ve eliminated other likely problems such as hunger, exhaustion, and dehydration, then bad water could be to blame.
  • Weakness like unexpected fatigue or the inability to tense muscles normally might be a water issue.
  • Confusion, lack of ability to focus, or even fuzzy thinking may also be a sign of bad water. When your system gets polluted, and you’re not getting what you need, cognitive function can falter.

Don’t wait until it’s already too late to check for problems. While you’re at it, grab some LifeStraws, like this three-pack from Amazon. Prevention is the best medicine because when it works, that’s all you need.

Water Can Kill You

A nasty taste in your mouth, and some symptoms aren’t the only issues with bad water. If you drink enough contaminated water to start throwing up regularly, you can become severely dehydrated. Drinking more bad water will only make it worse. Unfortunately, that’s not the only way to die from bad water, and each one is worse than the last.

Heavy Metal

If you or someone in your party is lethargic, or can’t move their limbs, it could be a sign of heavy metal poisoning. Under any normal circumstance, you’d need to get them to a hospital right away. Heavy metal poisoning can certainly kill people.

Children, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system will be most susceptible. Your first line of defense is to get away from the source immediately. Additionally, even when heavy metals don’t kill, the damages can be long-lasting. Things like brain damage and congenital disabilities in children are avoidable if you’re careful about contaminants.

Sadly there’s no treatment for Cadmium poisoning. However, there are some things you can do for mercury, arsenic, and lead poisoning. Chelation therapy can help, but the OTC remedies remain largely suspect. If you can get medical help, the chelators bind the metals in your body and help you dispose of them.

Additionally, even when things aren’t worst-case, having someone non-functional slows everyone in your party down. Ultimately that makes surviving much more difficult. When TEOTWAWKI happens, mobility and health are as important as skills and tools.


Heavy metals and visible insects or debris aren’t alone. You can get dysentery from polluted water, especially if you drink downstream from where others eat, use the bathroom and bathe their dirty bodies. Chemicals can each into bottles and deposits of soap, and other foreign contaminants can mess with your supplies. Never assume something is ‘clean enough.’ Take the time and put in the effort to make sure your water is safe.


How Often Should I Check My Water

You should check the water before you drink every time. However, for long term storage, there are some ways to reduce the risk. Obviously, if you have a well on your property, you’ll want to test it regularly. For those who have to store water above ground, things are a little different.

Stored Water

I’m going to assume you probably don’t have a water tower of your own. Emergency water storage can include a number of solutions. Depending on how prepared you are and your circumstances, any of these things might be your drinking water source:

  • Rain Barrels
  • Above ground large storage tanks
  • Gallons or Jugs stored in a pantry or basement
  • Hot water heaters and the back tanks on toilets
  • Bathtubs and sinks full of standing water
  • A clean aquarium

Sometimes you simply have to keep water in the containers you have. This can happen in fast emergencies, like a sudden hurricane. Finding or keeping water where it is may not be ideal, but if you’re stuck without another choice, do what you must.

Water Rotation

If you’re preparing a bug out or bug in location (or even a BOV) you should rotate and check your water supplies every six months to a year. Store it off the ground and away from any obvious sources of heat. Also, always check to be certain that the container is clean and food-safe when possible.

Sticking to these simple rules should keep your water drinkable. If you’re worried about it anyway, then grab a handy LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle with the two-stage integrated filter straw inside from Amazon to put your mind at ease. 

Taking the guesswork out of something as vital as water safety is always a good idea. When your life depends on the decisions you make because the world is falling down around you, it’s a terrible time to realize you skipped the basics. No one wants to die from an avoidable mistake. Skip the drama, and just keep up your rotation and supplies.


Final Thoughts

Contrary to the popular rumor, humans are not made of ninety percent water. However, we are still about 70% water. That’s a lot of fluid to maintain. When experts recommend a gallon of water per person per day for emergencies, that’s no joking matter. Keeping that water clean and potable is the difference between life and death, or at least life and severe ongoing health issues.

Our planet is also about seventy percent water, but you can’t drink most of what’s laying around without processing it first. While there are a ton of ways to purify water, many of them require expensive, bulky, or powered equipment to make sure it’s safe. That’s why I like Life Straws so much. Portable is good.

Always remember to double-check your water and the equipment you’re using it with. A clean bottle or jug is as important as the liquid you store inside.

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