It’s a hot summer day and your kids are playing hard in the back yard…but wait! Somebody stop that kid drinking from the garden hose!
In part 2 of this series I showed you the containers I prefer using for storing my own supply of water, so if you’ve bought one of those for yourself, you’re finally ready to take it out to the garden hose and fill it up with water, right?
Well, not so fast there, Bucky.
You want your stored water to be as pure as it possibly can be going in, and the first mistake many people make is filling their containers from the garden hose.
No, no, no! Too many contaminants, including lead in many cases. If you had taken a look at the the label on that hose when you first bought it, you might have seen a warning that the hose contains cancer causing chemicals and that humans should not drink from it.
Okay, so you’ve been letting your kids drink from the garden hose for years. Fine. You’re an awful parent.
But now you know better. A garden hose is the last thing you want to run your water through just before leaving it to sit in the basement month after month. If you fill your container from a garden hose, you’ll be storing tiny amounts of poisons and carcinogens along with your water.
What you need is a hose specifically intended to run drinking water through, the kind RV drivers use to fill their drinking water tanks. You can find them at any RV dealership. Make certain the hose you buy is labeled for use with drinking water. It will probably be whitish and thinner than the standard garden hose, but have regular connections on each end so it can attach easily to your outside faucet just like a garden hose. WalMart has one about ten feet in length for $6.44. That should be plenty long enough to do the job.
You’ll also want to get a water filter that attaches to that hose so your water will be as pure as possible. Yes, you’ll filter your water again when you’re ready to consume it, but it’s also important to filter the water as it’s going in because municipal water contains loads of contaminants.
Again, we can thank the RV industry for coming up with something that didn’t exist back when our parents were storing their water supply. You can find several brands of these handy water filters at RV stores. Again, Walmart carries one in their RV department for $17.97, but there are several models available elsewhere, so look around until you find one you like. You can spend a lot of money on a filter that’s as hefty as one of those under-sink units, but that isn’t really necessary.
You don’t really need to spend more than $25.00 on a filter for this stage of the process. This is preliminary filtering. When you’re ready to actually drink or cook with this water, I’m going to recommend you use a Pro Pur, or Berkey counter-top water filter (you’ll see why later).
You’ll want your hose filter to have a carbon core so it resists bacteria when you’re storing the filter itself, and you’ll want it to be rated for filtering metals and contaminants out of the municipal water, including the chlorine.
This RV water filter will attach directly to the RV hose, and it should come with another small length of hose that’s designed to attach to the faucet. Since you aren’t filling an RV, you can attach that short piece to the other end of the filter and aim it right into your container.
Okay, ready? Almost.
Run water through your hose for a minute or so to clear out any dust and whatnot. Then before you fill your container with water, it’s probably not a bad idea to rinse the container out first to remove any residue left over from the manufacturing process. You can give it a quick hosing out before you attach the filter to the hose—no sense getting all obsessive about it. Tip it upside down to drain out the tap water, and you’re good to go.
There will probably be rubber stoppers on each end of the filter. Take those off but don’t discard them. You’ll want to put them back on when storing the filter. Attach the hose to the bottom end and the short piece to the top (make certain you check the instructions so you know which way the flow is supposed to go). Then run the water through for about a minute just to flush the loose carbon powder out of the filter.
When you’re ready to fill your container, you don’t want the water on full force. This type of filter works best when the water is going through at a slow to moderate rate. About a gallon a minute is about right. If the flow is too hard and fast, these filters won’t clean the water as effectively.
When your container is about half full, turn off the hose because this is where you add your bleach.
Did He Say Bleach?!
I know it seems odd to be adding chlorine bleach to the water, especially right after you’ve been trying to filter most of the chlorine out of your water, but this step is imperative. Still water can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Even the smallest trace can grow and expand throughout, contaminating your entire supply. So to prevent the growth of bacteria and algae, you’re going to have to add a few drops of chlorine bleach. But just a few drops.
Don’t think you can just reach under the sink and grab that old bottle of Clorox that’s been under there all your life. Chlorine bleach has a shelf life of only a year; after six months it begins to degrade about 20% a month, so you’re going to have to schlep back to the store and pick up a brand spanking new bottle of the stuff. We’re talking regular Clorox or Purex bleach. DO NOT use one that has perfume or dyes or detergents or any of the new variations of the product. You want just simple basic liquid bleach. The cheap stuff.
The best way to mix it is to take an eyedropper and put 5-8 drops in your container for every gallon it holds. That comes out to just a little less than 1/8 teaspoon per gallon.
MORE IS NOT BETTER! Drinking chlorine is not all that good for you, so we’re only going to use enough to retard the growth of the algae and bacteria. You have to do this, but you don’t have to overdo it.
There is an alternative method to using bleach, and I’ll write about it in the future, but it’s expensive and takes more doing, so for now let’s just get your first batch of water stored as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The aim here is to get you to stop putting this project off any longer. We can discuss other methods once you’ve got your first batch of water stored and safely put away.
The reason I suggest adding the chlorine at the halfway point is because you want to shake it up and get that stuff mixed thoroughly into the water, and a seven gallon container can get awful heavy near the end. Water weighs around eight pounds per gallon, so if you’re using the seven gallon container, that thing is going to weigh about 56 pounds by the time you’re finished. You can stop filling every so often and put your drops of bleach in as you go if you want, but don’t lose track of how often you’ve been adding bleach. You don’t want too much or too little.
My wife thoughtfully reminded me that 56 pounds is almost exactly how many pounds overweight I am, and when I struggle to heft one of these full containers, that’s an alarming thing to contemplate. (lucky for me I wear my weight well.)
Anyway, measure your chlorine bleach carefully, don’t overdo it (better to under-do it slightly) and shake it up good. Then finish filling almost to the top, cap it, then shake it up more as best you can to get that chlorine well distributed. Rock the jug back and forth a bit or roll it around on the grass if that’s the best you can do once it is full. Don’t obsess about being too thorough; if you do a halfway decent job of mixing it, the chlorine will disburse nicely enough.
Now take the cap off and fill your container up the rest of the way, all the way to the top. You want the least bit of empty space because algae likes to form at the top of water. (Don’t worry, though. There’s not much chance of that happening, what with the Clorox and all. We’re just taking all necessary precautions.)
Now screw the cap on tight, and you’re done.
Now that you know what you’re doing, your next batch will be quick and easy. Just remember that if any time at all has gone by since your last fill up, you should run water through the filter and onto the grass for about ten to fifteen seconds just to make certain that any bacteria that may be hiding in there doesn’t make it into your drinking water.