How to Survive Temporarily With No Running Water (Without Going Crazy!)
Are you prepared in an event of an emergency or situation where you are without water? Here are some tips on how to live with no running water.
How to Live Without Running Water
We’ve had many rough winters in the past decade. When we were living in a camper in a South Dakota winter it was not ideal but we didn’t have much of a choice. Thankfully we are finally in a better situation and we can look back now at what we learned from our experiences.
One of the worst things about our winter in the camper was not having running water for most of it. I never had really thought about it before but now I’ll gladly take no electricity over no running water any day.
Not only was it difficult to keep up with even the most basic household tasks, after a few days without a warm shower being stuck in the house together with the freezing cold wind blowing outside…things start to get a little crazy.
And I don’t know about you but my house gets into total chaos when things don’t get done, laundry starts piling up, dishes start piling up, and people start smelling a bit ripe…
In case you ever had to go through a situation where you have no running water (which I think we should all be prepared to do because you just simply never know, no matter where you live!) here are some tips on how how to live without running water, to make it through until you have water again.
Stock up on bottled water.
This is my number one priority on planning for no water now. Why couldn’t you just melt snow, or get water from somewhere else?
Unless you have a good source of water nearby (that cannot freeze and you are able to drink), it just makes more sense to have a case of water on hand. And personally…I’m not sure I’d want to wait for snow water to melt and heat if I had a fussy toddler waiting for a bath. 🙂
Even though we have a Berkey Water Filter that can clean up any water, we had no way of getting any water to filter! Make sure you have enough water storage for several days for each family member (1 gallon of water per day). I have more on Stockpiling Water here and the different methods it can be done.
We prefer to have a mix of water bottles and 7-gallon water jugs. Remember that you will also want to have water on hand to flush the toilet.
You may also have water access nearby or even in your own yard if you have a cistern. Think about the possibilities!
Have Paper Plates on Hand
Having paper goods on hand is a great idea when you cannot do any dishes unless you want to continuously use your available fresh water.
Many times this winter I was incredibly thankful to have a small stack of disposable plates, paper napkins, plastic cups, and disposable eating utensils on hand that we could toss when we were done with them. Sanity saver!
Paper bowls are great too, in-case you are having soup or if you need to mix something up.
Perfect the art of the sponge bath.
Out of everything that required running water, how to shower without running water was the hardest. I know I missed taking hot showers the most.
When taking a sponge bath is your only option, here are a few things to keep in mind…
- Make sure you always have a stack of fresh, clean washcloths somewhere in your home.
- When they are used, make sure each family member hangs up their washcloth in a different place so they can be reused for the next “bath”.
- Use a soap bar which tends to be easier to wash off than shower gel or other liquid shower cleaning products.
- For little ones…keep some kind of small tub or tote for bathing.
We used a large storage tote and just set it in the tub for our toddler, I don’t even think he knew the difference. For hair washing, we would plug the sink, pour warm water in and use a cup to wash hair.
You can use baby wipes or body cleaning wipes to go without a shower if your power outage is only very temporary. While not an option for everyone, we have one of these Mr. Heater Battery Powered Water Heater Showers. I love it for camping and situations like not running water!
Use Paper Instead of Cloth
If you are a cloth using family (meaning cloth rags, cloth napkins, maybe even cloth toilet paper), temporarily stop using it in favor of using disposable paper products.
Even though we always use rags and cloth napkins in our home, I always keep a supply of paper towels and paper napkins for an occasion like this. You are going to create more garbage, but you aren’t going to create more laundry.
If you didn’t go outside during the day and your clothes are not dirty, fold them up at the end of the day to wear again.
With no way to wash laundry, it’s important to try and not let it pile up too high. If all else fails and you are able to leave home…use the laundry mat.
Have a Large Stockpot on Hand at All Times!
The sentence above deserves an exclamation point because I failed to do it for the first month without water (my stockpot was buried in a moving box!), and I finally just went out and purchased a cheap large stockpot to help.
With a large stockpot, you can boil enough water for several sinkfuls of dirty pots and pans or it can be enough water for a few people to wash their hair. If you don’t have a stockpot, we picked ours up at Walmart for only about $6, buy one!
Collect What Water You Can
Typically, being without running water means you are having some kind of weather emergency. In many cases, you might be able to collect water from outdoors when it’s safe to do so. Run any collected water through a Berkey or a similar filter before using it for drinking or cooking.
- Melt snow in your stockpot.
- Collect rainwater in a barrel or some other plastic containers.
- Gather water from a nearby pond or stream.
You don’t have to use these sources of water for drinking unless you filter and feel comfortable doing so. But you can use them for bathing or another situation where you are going to boil the water first.
Have some easy freezer or canned meals on hand
I never knew when we would have water and when we wouldn’t, so keeping a well-stocked freezer was hard. When cleaning dishes is difficult, you don’t want to dirty up ten bowls to make supper.
Since I didn’t know when we wouldn’t have water, when we did have it, I was a crazy girl in the kitchen making easy meals that I could stick in the freezer, and we could pull out and warm up when we didn’t have water and needed them.
This made life so much easier!
I wrote an entire blog post about Meals To Make Without Electricity.
Additional tip: Here are some great Make Ahead Meals.
Most of all…try and keep your sanity. Having paper plates and water bottles for a while may seem wasteful, but if it’s going to mess with your mind to have piled up dishes and a big mess for a while, go for the sanity saver, trust me!
You never know when the occasion might arise that you may have to go without water for a little while, but like I believe, with every aspect of life, it’s better to be prepared than to be stuck without! It’s better to be able to meet the basic needs of your family than to be ignorant about a situation.
I prefer to look on the bright side of things…dealing without running water for a time makes me more appreciative of the water that I do have. I’ve learned to live with less water and be better prepared to be in an off-grid situation.
More Preparedness Ideas
- Creating a Winter Emergency Survival Kit
- Prepare for a Tornado and Create a Mini DIY Emergency Kit
- How to Prepare for a Blizzard
- Winter Weather Preparedness Tips and Free Printable Checklist
- Disaster Preparedness for Children
- 8 Ways Anyone Can Prepare for a Power Outage
Tip: Get more Preparedness Tips here.
Have you ever had to deal with living without running water? How did you make life more bearable during that time?
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Merissa has been blogging about and living the simple life since 2009 and has internationally published 2 books on the topic. You can read about Merissa’s journey from penniless to the 100-acre farm and ministry on the About Page. You can send her a message any time from the Contact Page.
This post on How to Live with No Running Water was originally published on Little House Living in May 2014. It has been updated as of February 2023.
In the summer of 1983,we moved onto our property. We were hooked to a spring and that dried up. For almost 3 months,hubby hauled water in a 75 gallon tank(from his dad)in the back of our pickup. He was able to fill it at work,thankfully. We had a 9mo. old,a 3 and 5 yr.old. I heated all the bath,dish water in a canner. The baby was wearing cloth diapers and I only had about a dozen! I filled the washer with a bucket(who knew a full load used 20 gallons!!). It wasn’t easy,nowhere near fun,,but we did it. Thankfully,an elderly family friend “loaned” us the money for our well. It has always amazed me how much we can do when we have to!
One thing I always noticed about all the old family photos from the 1800’s to early 1900’s was that most clothes were either very dark (wouldn’t show dirt or stains) or were prints (for the same reason) or were solid white that could be boiled and bleached when the opportunity came along.
They were no dry cleaners available to clean all the unwashable wool fabric, which was what people wore throughout the winters and much of the year. Wool clothes were aired out, but not really cleaned. Can you imagine the smell?!?!
Actually, that’s how it is in most of the world. Folks in most countries don’t wash an item just because it’s only been worn a couple of times.
Those ‘unwashable’ wool items actually wash very well. They don’t run through a modern dryer very well, but I’ve never met wool that I couldn’t wash unless it was attached to a wiggly sheep. Lukewarm to cold water and a gentle soap. Lay flat to dry.
I grew up in mountain camps. Spent much of my life with walking water instead of running water. Buckets, jugs, anything that will hold water gets saved and stored. Even coffee cans help (easier to get thawed on the stove)
When we lived overseas, we had our pipes freeze and ended up losing all of our water for almost two weeks straight! I love you line about things “starting to get a bit crazy!” That’s exactly how we felt! Like you, we had one electric burner that did work and we used that every morning to heat up water for a quick sponge bath. When I finally just lost it and declared that I had to have a shower, we grabbed all our stuff, hauled it across the city to our friends flat, and finally got clean. The best part was getting home that night to hear the sound of water finally melting and running through the pipes again! Great job to you for keeping a family going in what can sometimes be pretty stressful!
That is the best sound to hear after weeks of stress!
It was the summer of horrible heat and the electric grid going down over most of the eastern part of our country. We had a well — no electricity means no water…..except for what was in the cistern which we could bucket from. However, we also had seven house guests for a week………..We praised the Lord for the pool although it didn’t take long for that water to go green with no filter working and the intense heat………..it was short-lived and we learned some valuable lessons. We had it a lot easier than many others……..and living a “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle can be a a challenge……..
Have you considered a hand well pump? We also have an electric well pump but I’m trying to convince hubby that we should get a hand pump in case of emergencies.
We have had to go with out water and I agree it is much more difficult than no electricity! Bottled water the sizes you mentioned is essential. I had not thought of the stockpot idea. Thanks for the tip!
My husband and I currently live in Puerto Rico and the infrastructure here is really poor. We lose power and water on a regular basis with no warning sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for days.
The most recent time we lost water I had just finished a day of cooking ahead and I had the entire sink and counter top full of dirty dishes. My washing machine had just gotten fixed that day and so I still had piles of dirty clothes… We never have warning so we keep jugs of water on hand for drinking and cooking and take buckets to the neighborhood pool to get water to flush the toilet.
Ashley, my brother lives there too. One thing they had installed was a cistern on the roof. All city water from San Juan goes through the cistern. He learned the hard way after moving into the house and then a hurricane hit and his new house had no power or water for a month. He installed (with the renovations they did) a whole-house generator run on diesel, which tested itself every week, and the cistern. He actually had enough power the last hurricane when they lost power for more than a week, to run a line to the neighbor to run the neighbor’s refrigerator, and then in exchange, the neighbor agreed to buy the diesel and wait in the long lines at the filling stations that did have power, which was probably as costly as the cost of the fuel!
Our previous house was a place where we had quite unexpected problems with electricity or water. Fortunately, all of them were always solved fast so it was not necessary to create such survival plans… I think we didn’t make any plans or systems at all and always just tried to survive, but now I think it would have been better to follow some of the steps you are writing about, for example the one about having a large stockpot… We were always so unprepared and we really missed to have a handyman in our household. Well, living in a very old heritage house in the outskirt of Toronto where we moved has some other specifics like solving all kind of paperwork problems with the chairmanship of the city, but fortunately nothing really serious…
My in-laws pump froze this winter in early January, they thought that the pump had just broke and was to old to fix (they couldn’t get parts), so they had a new well dug. Because the winter was so brutal (they live in the upper peninsula of Michigan) the company couldn’t put new pipes in. So they finally had a hand pump for water, but no running water in the house. Last week when my mother-in-law was visiting my father-in-law said he turned on the water just because and lo and behold there was water running. They’re still getting a new pump and pipes but at least they now have running water.
That is what happened with one of our hydrants too. The ground was too cold too deep down for the water to keep flowing, there’s just nothing you can do for something like that!
When I was first married, we moved into a house which had no running water for awhile. That first year was hard as I had grown up with a spring my whole life which came out of the mountain near our home. We had to pack water from my in-laws in buckets then pour it into a big crock that was placed on a wooden table about 2 1/2 feet tall. This was used for cooking & whatever we needed water for. Going through a winter without running water taught me just how important being prepared can be. The following year we were able to finially get water into the house. The little town we moved into did not want to add any new houses to the existing water line but they were forced to add us by the city.Washing cloth diapers back in 1967 was no fun at all believe me. Even today I still keep water on hand in plastic milk jugs with a drop of clorox in it just in case. I have seen times when I have been grateful to have had this water on hand for an emergency. It is always better to be prepared than not no matter what the reason. Same goes for having enough food on hand in bottles in case your freezer goes out or you are without electricity.
qwll, I remember when our water supply kept drying up and the multiple attempts to have a well dug came up empty. Finally, someone with a divining rod pointed out the best place to make another attempt.(my father was desperate to give my poor mother some relief as she was not only keeping all of our household running and laundry for two school age children and her and my fathers laundry taken care of but my greatgrandfather lived with us and had suffered a heart attack and multiple strokes that meant she was caring for a bedridden man. we know there are accidents creating extra laundry. that was just one example of the outstanding woman my mother was. she helped with the animal birthing, the usual garden, freezing and canning and even changed a radiator on my fathers truck so she could have her car back that he was using for work. he worked so many hrs that there just was no time for him to get to it. they are both gone to be with the Lord now but the wonderfulness of being loved by those two will remain with me for the rest of my life./ sorry to have written a mini novel.
Have you invested in rain barrels? I’ve been thinking of getting two or three just for such occasions. If you do collect water in rain barrels, I wonder how long it would remain usable…
We plan on looking into this more next year. I’m not sure how long the water is good for if you keep it clean.
In Apalachin, when we lose electricity, I also lose water from my electrically pumped well. I keep gallons of water in the bottom of my bathroom closet so I can flush the toilet.
I live in Australia and most houses have a water tank that collects water from the roof. There is a system called a first flush system that basically allows the water to clean the roof and disappear into the drain, but that cleaning wash, the water then gets collected. We’ve had no problem drinking water from tanks all year around. If it’s fresh, there’s no problem.
We did the same thing you did last year – living in a camper, while we built our house. Fortunately, we got in the house in mid November – we don’t have a real roof (just double layers of tarpaper) and there’s no drywall yet (only insulation), but we survived. We are still hauling water in buckets from our spring. However, the 7 months we spent in the camper (without water or electric) taught us two things – 1. No matter how many times you block the camper so it’s level, every time it rains its going to sink – and you’ll spend the nights yanking the blankets on your bed back up from the floor – so build the house fast! 2. Invest in a new garden weed sprayer. Take out one section of the wand and it makes a great shower. Fill it with some hot and cold water to a comfortable temperature, pump it up and you’re good to go. I have long, thick hair and I can shower and wash/condition my hair with less than 3 gallons.
Haha, we had the sinking camper problem too! We had some trouble getting it out this spring when we sold it. 🙂 I love the shower idea!
I have learned from living in a state where the pipes, freeze, another that has 12 ft snow blizzards that bury your house, another that has tornadoes and hurricanes that cuts off your electricity, that you need to be prepared.
1 – we stockpile food and supplies. if you cant leave your home, you dont eat.
2 – back up power source. we have solar power generators, enough to power the freezer and water stations.
3 – we had 2 – 50 gallon water containers with its own filter installed, that collects rain waters. we use this for outside items, laundry, and in emergency for drinking. the tanks are buried in an underground station, completely hidden to prying eyes.
4 – in the underground station, we also have emergency firewood, fuel, batteries, solar panels, and camping equipment. again out of prying eyes.
5 – we can also stay underground where the station is in case of tornado/hurricane, and there is a sub-pump in case of flooding.
our underground station is hidden from prying eyes, and not accessible through anything that anyone can see. this way no one can steal anything they cant see, and supplies stay where they need to be if we need them. we eat what we store, so we rotate an replace foods as we use them. we also go camping once a year to make sure our equipment works. =)
I lived on a Indian Reservation for a few years (with 6 kids,newborn-16).
Had electicity,but no running water,(had to go out in 50-60 below to haul it’).
You learn how to deal with whatever life throws at you,wash diapers on a scrub board in a washtub,take sponge baths etc. The main problem I had
was learning you had to put more wood in the stove to cook’ I learned a lot
of valuable lessons on survival techniques’
I am absorbing all of these great ideas to use at our new tiny house homestead. We have a well, but it has a hand pump on it for now. We’re still saving for the electric pump and cost of plumbing it to the house. I’m going to stock up on food and water because its better to be safe than sorry. We were given a woodstove and will be buying a good supply of wood. I love the preparations for cold weather including the rugs that I’ve been crocheting to keep our feet warm on a chilly morning.
“You never know when …” I live in Honolulu, the weather is beautiful, I have electricity and have had no running water for the past 10 hours due to a busted underground supply pipe. My when is now. Thank you Merissa for sharing!
I’m so glad you can use these tips!
Plenty of helpful ideas here. We had no water for almost a month now thanks to the drought then the tourist influx during a festival. Living in the suburbs far from the city center, we really don’t have any water connections and rely instead on private tap water delivery tanks. We used to have a water hose connection to a spring but that had permanently dried up thanks to population boom. And so the annual suffering begins, nothing to clean the house and ourselves, and I am basically stuck at home. The bottled water is good for a while but after a month of using them, things get really expensive so I avoid going out unnecessarily. I can’t get out to find another job, and I quit on my MMA amateur career. Imagine stinking while grappling with people? Sponge baths won’t do it at all if you’re all covered in sweat. Everything really goes downhill if you don’t have water, unless you have the money to move out.
In conclusion, I’d rather have an entire month of no electricity than months of no water. I’d rather wake up at 2am and walk to work (I did it once, can’t afford a car and the fuel) than have nothing to clean myself up after a hard day of sweating at work.
We live in the country and so when our electric goes out, our well pump for our water doesn’t work, so it really is not having electricity or running water for us! Luckily, we have learned to implement many of your suggestions and are prepared!
Presently, my community of 58 condos are out of water because a pipe busted underneath the street. Its day 2 without water. My HOA really sucks because some of the board members didnt see it as a priority!!! And felt as though it can wait to get fixed after the weekend is over. I have a tub filled with water that I use to dump in toilet, wash my.hands and face and brush my teeth. Then in the morning, I take a pot and boil water. Pour it into the bathroom sink to rake a ‘bird bath”. I took another pot of hot boiling water and dumped in kitchen sink to wash dishes
Then another pot to rinse dishes. This waterless life sucks. Especially living in the 21st century and in a condo. And these old HOA board members are old, have dementia and senile and dont care when the water is turning back on.
Water compnay shut off the water and keeps billing me for sewer and taxes which are 90% of the bill, nit sure when I can catch up, but these tips help. The toilet isn’t used but liter of bottles helo with =1 and large pladtic drink cuos jandle #2 then into thebfreezer they go dounke plastic wrapped and aluminum foil till they get disposed of. I need to learn the sponge bath routine, i have limited water on hand in two liter bottles but they smell like the soda that use to be in it even though they were rinsed well before stockpiling them makes me winder about the plastic that leaches into our drinks, thanks for your tips!
Hi thanks for the tips! I too, try to prepare for the unexpected. One thing that I do is use any empty containers to collect water for flushing the toilet during a power outage. I use empty rinsed out milk jugs for this mostly. I clearly label them for their purpose and store them on the opposite side of the basement from the consumable water and emergency foods. I had not even considered the paper products! I will add those to my next list and store them for that! I guess you can be too frugal at times, who knew?! Also, I include 4 one-gallon water bottles to my shopping each trip to ensure I have 3 gal per person per day for at least three days. Single use bottles that come in a case are great, but the plastic waste is increased. Using ones from bulk stores like Costco can be cheaper than the gallon bottles though. For me, waste, storage area and the ability to carry it easily to and from storage factor in more than cost. I’m in my mid-sixties and have bad knees. (whine, whine, lol)
This winter, we lost power (which meant our well, etc.), for 58 hours. We borrowed a generator that could run our furnace (pretty new to country living, for this Chicago girl…), but NOT our well. It could also power, thanks to my husband rewiring a dedicated circuit in our breaker box, our bedroom outlet, which meant we could (alternately) use his CPAP, 1 lamp, 1 tv and 1 DVD player, charge phones (no cell service, however, and no internet with no power…).
I read a lot of books, huddled under blankets… Then I had the brilliant idea of scooping 5-gallon buckets of snow and filling the bathtub, so it would all melt and we’d have water to use to flush the toilet. ASK ME HOW QUICKLY YOUR HOUSE COOLS DOWN WHEN IT’S TRYING TO BRING SNOW TO ROOM TEMPERATURE!!!!!
Take-home lesson: If you have a garage or shop, something that’s fairly insulated where you can melt snow? By all means do it! But don’t try to do it in a house without adequate power, because you will kill the Propane bill!!! Ugh!!! ~Chrissie
PS to this post: We bought a generator that could power our well. We actually disconnected everything from the borrowed generator to see if we could power JUST the well; no go… So, the working theory is, now that we HAVE a generator powerful enough to supply the furnace and the well, we’ll hopefully never, EVER have to use it again – UGH!!! 58 hours!!!