Introduction: A Water Tank for Emergencies Made From a Cardboard Box and a Trash Bag

Picture of A Water Tank for Emergencies Made From a Cardboard Box and a Trash Bag

Emergencies can happen and water shortages have been experienced in even the most modern cities during the least expected times. Often within moments of a storm's detection on radar, the news broadcast will send people flocking to stores where people clean the shelves of large containers of water, leaving nothing for those who delay.

This innovation will allow you to store water for washing and other uses during emergencies. Fill the apparatus while the water supply is still running and if you are unable to buy water.

You should be careful to use food grade plastics. Some trash bags are coated with pesticides & can release chemicals into the water. Trash bags are not recommended by the USDA for the storage of food.

Step 1: Find an Empty Cardboard Box

Picture of Find an Empty Cardboard Box

Step 2: Draw an Upside Down Triangle That Arches Downwards (like the Eiffel Tower Standing on Its Head).

Picture of Draw an Upside Down Triangle That Arches Downwards (like the Eiffel Tower Standing on Its Head).

Step 3: Cut the Triangle With a Knife.

Picture of Cut the Triangle With a Knife.

Step 4: Insert the Bag

Picture of Insert the Bag

Insert one or two empty trash bags into the box and carefully pull one of the bag's bottom corners out of the triangle. Inserting one bag into another will increase the overall resiliency of the plastic bladder.

Step 5: Twist the "ear" and Tuck It Into the Triangle's Crack

Picture of Twist the "ear" and Tuck It Into the Triangle's Crack

Twist the corner and tuck it into the triangle's crack. Later on you will see that once the bag's ear is squeezed in between the triangle long seam (crack) the cardboard will provide ample amount of pressure to keep water from gushing out of the ear/spout.

Step 6: Fill the Bag With Water

Picture of Fill the Bag With Water

Fold the plastic bag opening over the box's flaps and fill the box with water.

Step 7: Tie the Bag

Picture of Tie the Bag
Tie the bag opening and tuck it into the box.

Step 8: The Water Tank Is Ready

Picture of The Water Tank Is Ready

Step 9: When You Want to Use the Bag for the First Time

Picture of When You Want to Use the Bag for the First Time

Carefully cut the end of the corner, lift the corner from the crack and un-tuck it to allow water to gush out. To stop the water flow twist the corner and tuck it back into the crack.

Step 10: Extra Securing the Ear/spout

Picture of Extra Securing the Ear/spout

You might also like to secure the spout with a twine.

Step 11: Another Way to Secure the Ear/spout Is With a Clothespin

Picture of Another Way to Secure the Ear/spout Is With a Clothespin


yoav_liberman (author)2012-12-21

Many thanks for leaving your positive remark. Good luck with finding the right bag!

th3_v1k1ng (author)2012-12-21

That is an awesome idea.. so simple..yet soooo elegant.
Very very handy for the UK, where we dont have the USA's bath tub reservoir bags.
Going to get some big bags tomorrow and test this out. See which ones work the best.
Can even collapse the box, with the bag in, for storage, and pull out when needed.
10 outta 10!!!!

daking1 (author)2012-12-02

thanks so far so good 30$ 50 gal rubber maind toughneck trash can from walmart hefty 55 gallon trash bags pretty good normal tank start at around 80 $. No leaks and it has wheels so I can move it pretty easy

daking1 (author)2012-11-29

what kinda of trash bag did you use. I have a rubbermaid roughneck trash can I was going to use hefty 55 gallon contractor bags would that be ok if not how do i find out what bag to use.

yoav_liberman (author)daking12012-11-30

I don't remember what kind of bag I used. Just make sure your bag is made by a reliable brand.

jlmowery (author)2011-10-17

Two things come to mind.
First, make sure the bag is bigger than the box. This way any strain is taken by the box instead of bursting the bag.
Second, Wine boxes make great emergency water storage containers. Not as large, maybe, but they are pre-made and have built in valves. And you have to empty out the wine first.

9w2xyz (author)jlmowery2012-05-11

then again, the wine makes a wonderful survival drink, why throw it away?

Superstormj (author)jlmowery2012-03-27

Empty out the win first.. you sir, are a genius. Now I have a reason to buy one of them.. bonus!

yoav_liberman (author)jlmowery2011-10-17

These are very good points

EricHunting (author)2011-09-14

This must be one of the best entries I've ever seen on this site. The range of practical uses for this simple idea is huge. In a relief context, this would be a true life saver.

Many thanks!

TampaGeek (author)2011-09-12

Very useful and creative idea, especially for those who don't have a lot of storage room (or who have filled/exceeded their storage area!). Living in Florida, we keep a few five gallon water containers full at all times, refreshing them every other month, because you just never know when the water is going to be out without any warning. If we do have some warning, we scour and fill up the bathtubs; those with a top-load washing machine can fill that as well. This idea with the boxes and liners is a great additional source of "just in time" water storage that takes up little room when not being used. Thank you for posting! (And thanks to Lifehacker for posting about it.)

soconnor2 (author)2011-09-10

Re: Food grade plastic bags. I would suggest using Turkey roasting bags. I keep some around to cover large plates of cookies and cupcakes for bake sales. You can find them in most grocery stores. I'm not sure the extra large Zip-lock bags are food safe. Don't forget that as soon as you have a warning you could fill up your bathtubs and sinks for all other no drinking water uses.

yoav_liberman (author)soconnor22011-09-11

I love the turkey bag option, thanks!

sconner1 (author)2011-09-07

Good Idea and almost free. Good recycling idea.
No need to panic-spend or be gouged just because of the weather.
I like the comment on hanging bar soap in a stocking, no wasted liquid soap.
In Scouts we re-used boxed wine bags, rinsed of course.
They collapse and take less backpack space as they are used.
There would still be a slight hint of wine flavor but we liked "roughing it".

yoav_liberman (author)sconner12011-09-07

Thanks for sharing your informative comments.

SewAmazing (author)2011-09-04

I LOVE this project. I would like to use this as an outdoor event hand washing mechanism, by placing a bucket underneath and a bottle of handsoap on top. I guess it could wash a small amount of dishes and utensils too.

In Scouts we had a bar of Ivory Soap in the top of a clean nylon stocking that was tied to the spigot.
(Never did find out who was wearing nylon stockings.)

LOL! I would have liked that Scout!! Obviously they had style and ingenuity too. YES!! I will add his contribution to my hand washing stand..plenty of stockings around here. Thank you lots

lukeyj15 (author)SewAmazing2011-09-06

My scout troop used that little trick a lot. Except they never remembered to remove the soap from the wash basin, so we always ended up with a stocking full of mush.

SewAmazing (author)lukeyj152011-09-07

Oh no..what a waste, especially since I like Lever2000. I will use a cheapo brand just in case..tx

panzerfaust379 (author)2011-09-06

Good idea..

InterociterOperator (author)2011-09-06

You can use the top 1/3 of a yellow plastic mustard bottle for a spigot (food grade plastic too)
Cut the top third of the bottle off and throw the bottom 2/3 away. Unscrew the lid. Put the top third part of the bottle inside the bag and screw the lid on from the outside of the bag. Twisting the top lets the water squirt out.

I think that this is the best way I heard about so fur, to install a reliable valve on the bag.

I forgot to add you have to poke a hole in the bag where the nozzle goes before you fill the bag with water. (I shouldn't assume)

pbates123 (author)2011-09-06

Hey there great idea - what ever works ehay?

Just a couple of suggestions. Your idea is great if one is caught off guard and needs easy to construct containers from scratch. With a little bit of planning you can purchase the valves like those found on many large coffee pots and water coolers. I did a search for "Replacement Water Crock & Water Bottle Faucet" and found some on Amazon for around $5.00. Mount the spicket to the box with your plastic trapped between the nut and box and you have an easy dispenser!!

A great container for this purpose is 5 Gal buckets. A friend uses old pickle buckets from restaurants or sandwich shops. Once they have used the pickles they through or give away the buckets there also great for painting, washing cars and many other projects.

yoav_liberman (author)pbates1232011-09-06

Great suggestions for anyone who might have some additional time to prepare.

Gadget93 (author)2011-09-05

Where can one find a "food grade plastic" bag for this?

yoav_liberman (author)Gadget932011-09-05

Good question.. perhaps some folks here can answer this question?

seamountie (author)2011-09-05

Nice simple idea well presented. Just a cautionary note. If concidering for using this for drinking water, remember a couple of things about garbage bags: a) they are not food safe b) many have a deodorant impregnated in the plastic . Neither of these is a concern if it is not being used for potable water, or if it is constructed for use in an emergancy (icky water is better than no water). Nice Instructable.

spark master (author)2011-09-05

campers buy foldable 2 gallon bladders with spigots, rain water need filtering and decontamination (bleach works), I thought of the bag thing a long time ago , but in addition I use distilled water and seltzer, neither leave flavor or residue, I kept 18 gallons worth of empties in attic.

Go to to a wine/beer making supply house for food grade 7-10 gallon rigid food grade plastic containers with lids. Few drops chlorine per gallon and you can stock up at beginning of storm season, dump on lawn at the end, (or boil and make beer!). I believe they have big food grade plastic bags as well. Call manufacturer if you don't know. You can fit them with spigots as well.

E-prep is all planning and having it ready to go, in place, BEFORE you need it. This is quite elegant and doable If you get big bags that are not going to be useful w/o a real hard wall (milk crate) then line milk crate with cardboard. I used old wood paneling to make storage/moving tool crates that were screw nail shut and stackable.

great Instructable-elegant even

kill-a-watt (author)2011-09-05

Great Idea on the spout, but I worry about it's reliability. At the very least store several of these container so just in case you get a leak, all of your eggs were not in the same basket.

It would take some forethought, but a bit of flexible hose could be used to siphon out the water as needed. I think I got about ten feet of clear plastic hose for about $3 at the hardware store. Your method has the advantage of being pulled together at the last moment from everyday items.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out chapter 8 in Cresson H. Kearny's excellent and free Nuclear War Survival skills. He uses plastic bags like you do to store water. He encloses them in earth pits or burlap bags and he also used a siphon when possible.

Personally, I like to use 2 liter soda bottles. I rinse them out and fill them with tap water. I then date them with a Sharpie marker. There's enough chlorine to preserve the water for at least one year, and when it's "expired" you can just open it, water the plants, and  recycle the bottle. 

I also fill large pots and pans when I expect a "boil water" order to be put in place. This happened after Isabel, but we got through Irene OK this year.

After I fill the pots and pans, I fill the tub with water for flushing, and throw the main water valve. This gives me several gallons of drinking water in the pipes, plus all the water in the hot water heater.  If I need to flush during the storm, I can just get a bucket of water out of the tub and pour it into the toilet.

Dream Dragon (author)2011-08-31

Yes we get wine boxes and things here too, I've even stored a few of the plastic bladders for water carriers, but this is a really clever piece of lateral thinking. A simple and elegant solution, using readily available materials and applicable to a wide variety of situations. A well presented instructable to boot.

Well Done!

Many, many thanks!
I have been thinking that I should try and take a few more pictures of potential valves, one can find at home. Objects such as Black paper clip, rubber band, ViseGrip pliers with duct tape on their jaws to protect the bag.
Once I take the pictures (and test the valves first, I will post it on Instructables.

johnny3h (author)yoav_liberman2011-09-04

An actual "valve" is not really necessary, just a relatively secure closure of the bags.

For over 60 years, we've lived in hurricane country [SE Texas on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana border], and waaaay back in the early days we used this technique for storing water.

Now we "stock up" on "drinking water" in 2 1/2 gallon "refrigerator containers" which have  carrying handle and a spigot.  We keep a supply of about 10 such containers, but date them [felt tip pen] when bought, and then use them regularly, using the oldest first.  We keep one in the fridge so we've always got cold water [it 's HOT down here, usually from late spring to fall].

Back when we did make our own "cubetainers," we used whatever plastic bags were on hand [grocery, produce, trash, and the thin (doubled or trippled up) dry cleaning bags, etc.].

We did not worry about a valve or spiggot, we just tied the end of the bag and STORED the box with the openable bag end on top.  When available, we also either used the large office clamp-type paper clamps, or even used wire [before produce bag wireties came along!].

As to sizing, I would not try to use a box/container size greater than about ONE CUBIC FOOT as has been mentioned by another poster, that will weigh about 62 1/2 pounds and anything larger is much more difficult to handle.

I also suggest stroring them on a sound, solid floor, NOT several [for example] on an ordinary table as you can easily overload a table, have it collapse, and potentially lose much of your water and/or create one heck of a mess!!!!

Also, for a large storage of non-drinking water for dishwashing, cleaning, bathing, etc., I've "rescued" [from curbside discard piles] a half dozen discarded water heaters.  Most water heater failures are due to one or two small leaks [usually at a defective glass lining at the side seam] and after removal of the outer shell and insulation, the leaks can easily be plugged using a twopart epoxy [I like "J-B Weld"].  I then built a heavy duty [2x4s], stand to raise the "tanks" so that water can be drawn using the tank drain valve near the bottom.

In an emergency [for example, if you run out of potable water] this tank water can be made safe for drinking by boiling, OR using UNSCENTED Clorox [their website provides detailed instructions for using Clorox to disinfect water].

Although your plastic bag and cardboard box water storage is not new, it was an excellent idea to post your 'ible for those not aware of this technique.

Thanks for doing it.

wocket (author)johnny3h2011-09-05

Wonderfully informative! thanks!

yoav_liberman (author)johnny3h2011-09-04

Thanks johnny3h!
Your in depth comment enriched and informed me and all of us who read my Instructables posting.

siafulinux (author)2011-09-04

This is actually quite smart. As mentioned in the comments below I can imagine a number of these being stored and in times of possible need (approaching hurricane for example), one can unpack these and start storing water.

criggie (author)siafulinux2011-09-04

Why do you not have stored 3 days of drinking water in bottles permanently? Rotate it every month or so, but don't get caught without.

We've had ~4 quakes here this year, each time water goes off for weeks at worst or hours at best. "Be Prepared" is not just for scouts.

wocket (author)criggie2011-09-05

Lots of people don't live in disaster type zones and simply don't think of having a food/water storeage area in the house.

poppet2 (author)2011-09-05

An extra note: It is great to read comments after an Instructable. So often they hit on important, even necessary, points, and rarely do you find a 'snotty' remark on any of them. It's all upbeat. Nice to see in this busy world.
And yes, I did write this already, but your compliment is a good example of what I mean about 'niceness'--which is just as much a necessity for survival as anything we can learn.

poppet2 (author)2011-09-04

Someone mentioned folding for transport to disaster areas. Seems folding up your box(es) for your own use would be a space saver for those who have limited storage. Place bag, clip or tie inside folded box. When you need them, open the box, maybe use a little duct tape for closing bottom, (a strip around middle of sides of box would add strength if you're worried) and fill with water. You could store half a dozen boxes folded in the space one open box would take...probably more. Place them upright against the back of a closet wall.

jsilcox (author)poppet22011-09-04

Instead of folding it, why not fill it with other things needed in an emergency. A flashlight, spare batteries, candles, matches, etc would be good...

poppet2 (author)jsilcox2011-09-05

That's smart, or if you intend to use the bag for drinking water, stash your other supplies in a bag right next to it. Another point, it would be smart to cut your cardboard slash (spout hole) ahead of time. There's always a million things to do in an emergency. Nice to have most of it done ahead of time. Then if time is really short to still get water from a faucet, you won't have that extra chore--that you'll probably make a mess of in your hurry.
An extra note: It is great to read comments after an Instructable. So often they hit on important, even necessary, points, and rarely do you find a 'snotty' remark on any of them. It's all upbeat. Nice to see in this busy world.

yoav_liberman (author)poppet22011-09-04

Excellent suggestions!

rene1502 (author)2011-09-05


ewillke (author)2011-09-04

Great instructable. Very simple.

heathbar64 (author)2011-09-04

great idea!
I think with my experience with boxes, I would recommend adding a little extra tape at the seams to reduce the chance the box would burst open from the water pressure. Most of them aren't glued that good anymore.

cinstallers (author)2011-09-04

Its an ok idea , make sure its food safe plastic though.

acoleman3 (author)cinstallers2011-09-04

he rather said tht already.....

"You should be careful to use food grade plastics. Some trash bags are coated with pesticides & can release chemicals into the water. Trash bags are not recommended by the USDA for the storage of food."

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