Ask Lifehacker: How Do You Survive Without Running Water?

Ask Lifehacker: How Do You Survive Without Running Water?


Dear Lifehacker, This morning I awoke in my apartment and noticed a distinct lack of running water. I live in a non-English speaking country, and while I’m slowly learning the language – it’s not quite there yet. There’s a good chance that I will have a difficult time getting hold of my landlord, so, my question. Does Lifehacker or the community have any tips for a coddled city-boy who has never been without running water in his life? Washing? Dishes? Coffee? The toilet? Any advice would be awesome. There’s some heavy construction across the road, so I’m assuming they’ve shut off the mains, but knowing this country they could do it again, and again, or for a couple of days …and I would rather be prepared. Dry Regards, Paul

Dear Paul, My own personal experience of going without water has generally been restricted to rather brief mains outages, so I’m hoping that our readers will have some extra hints. However, here’s some obvious ideas to get you started. You’ve mentioned an apartment, so I assume you’re not living in a small mud hut.

  • Obviously, you should make use of external resources. Find out where the local library is (you’ve obviously still got Internet), and check if they’ve got a toilet. Ditto for the nearest local cafe and restaurant. This might also be a good time to join a gym if there is one, which will give you access to showers. (If you work in an office, check if the building has a shower as well). If there isn’t a gym, filling a plastic bucket with water from an outside tap a few blocks away will get you plenty of exercise.
  • Hit your local supermarket and buy a few cheap bottles of drinking water. The massive rise in consumption of bottled water is an ecological disaster, but it means water is pretty much available anywhere built up. With that and a kettle (or coffee maker), you can handle hot water for dishes, making coffee, and giving yourself a blanket-style bath with a facewasher.
  • For bathing purposes, you could also purchase a packet of baby wipes and give yourself a quick wash that way.
  • You can also flush your toilet with bottled water in an emergency (that makes for an expensive trip if you do it too often, though if you wash dishes in a bucket you can recycle that water). In areas with water restrictions, the longstanding toilet principle is “if it’s brown, make it drown, if it’s yellow, let it mellow”. Just remember to keep the lid shut at all times.

Readers, if you’ve got extra hints for Paul, share them in the comments. Yours in damp geekiness, Lifehacker AU


  • We just had this happen last month, but I am in an English speaking country – I feel for this person. After a few hours I learned that the water wasn’t out for the houses two streets up, so to flush the toilets, rinse children, cook and clean with I organised buckets to carry water back, instead of buying it. It may be worth while going over block and asking for water, using hand gestures or with a printed note.

  • In cyclone areas they advise residents to fill their bathtub before the storm for use if the water infrastructure is disabled. Of course, you may not have a bath tub so buckets are in order.

    You do not mention in you email weather the water is irregular or turned off entirely. In any case, if you bath with a face washer, don’t flush the toilet unless you need to and are careful, you might be surprised just how little water you can live on.

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