Jill jpegIn my 13 years of working with stone formers, as a nurse in residence at Litholink Corporation and in my own practice, the number one question has always been: ‘How much water do I really need to drink?’ Maybe as important is: ‘How Do I Do It?’

Tread Slowly

Many patients leave their doctor’s office with the vague instruction to increase their water input. How much are you supposed to drink to reduce your stone risk?

Even more, patients are told to go home and start drinking a gallon of water a day. If you don’t drink more than a couple of glasses per day now, how are you supposed to drink a gallon tomorrow?

Drinking more water is a simple way to reduce your stone risk, but simple does not mean easy. Most of you find this task extremely hard. I tell everyone to start out slowly. If you drink one glass per day now, then drink two tomorrow. Set new goals to increase your water consumption each week. I have seen people go from 1 glass per day to 10 glasses per day within a month.

Understanding how much water to drink and all of the details behind it can be exhausting. I just released a course called The Kidney Stone Prevention Course to help you understand how to implement your physician’s prescribed treatment plans.


Spend Time to Avoid Pain

I can hear you saying now; I don’t have enough time in the day to spend it in the washroom”.

This is a legitimate response and one I have heard many times throughout my career. I will not lie. You will spend more time in the bathroom, but you will get accustomed to your more frequent bathroom visits. The bigger picture is the one to focus on. Better hydration means you will be less likely to form more stones; this means that water can reduce ER and doctor visits, and lost time away from work.  What is going to the bathroom a few more times a day compared to all of the pain, suffering, and expense you will endure if you don’t drink more water?

Be Willful

I have seen my share of pilots, teachers, surgeons, nurses, and traveling salesman all increase water intake despite the time constraints of their occupations. The one thing they all do is make the time.

I have worked with surgeons and surgical nurses before and it is true that they cannot leave the OR to use the bathroom during an 8 hour open heart surgery. Intermittent dehydration can be a real problem in this case. My clients who work in the OR do their best to drink for the rest of the day to try and make up for the loss. Sometimes there is really no choice. Thankfully this is the exception, not the rule.

Once you make up your mind that you do not want to suffer with the severe consequences that kidney stones bring to your life, you will find a way to incorporate more water into your daily routine. It is your choice, your commitment to your health that creates a one day at a time habit of drinking more water.

How Much?

Under the usual conditions of life, 3 – 4 liters of fluids a day will provide 2.5 to 3 liters of urine volume, and this is enough. The average healthy adult bladder holds about 1/2 liter, so this means 7 – 9 bathroom trips in 24 hours.

Input Doesn’t Always Equal Output

Four factors make the answer harder to come by: sodium intake, geographical location, occupation, and exercise.

Sodium intake

High sodium intake can confuse people. It is does not by itself change how much you need to drink, but salt intake can shift the timing of water loss so you think you are not increasing your urine volume even though you are drinking. It does something more. It increases urine calcium losses, a matter we will come back to at a later time.

When you eat a meal that is high in salt, you can count on it decreasing your urine output. I have clients tell me that they drink “a ton” of  water but they never have to use the bathroom. The reason is that water is retained with the excess sodium. High sodium meals will decrease urine output that day and even that night, thus causing bloating, worsened hypertension, and higher risk for stones because of higher urine calcium.

But a steady high sodium intake, not just the effects of one meal, will cause a steady water retention and stable weight gain so after a while the extra water you drink will appear in the urine. In fact, when people lower their salt intake they become less thirsty so they have to focus more on drinking or they will ‘forget’.

Even so, keeping your water intake high and lowering your sodium consumption is best. Stone formers who have no medical contraindications to lower salt diets should be aiming for about 1500 mg of sodium per day. People become accustomed to high water intake and low sodium intake, and can benefit not only from the stone prevention but often from a lower blood pressure. How you lower your sodium intake to this number will be discussed in a future post.

Geographical location

There are actually places on the map that we who deal with kidney stones call the “stone belt”. Basically these are the states that are consistently hot and humid or hot and dry. Why is where you live a problem?  Simply put, you sweat more. If you sweat more, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated, and being dehydrated reduces your urine volume and makes you more prone to form a stone. If you live in a hot, humid or dry state, you need to drink more to compensate.


Are you working construction in the summer in Texas? Are you a camp counselor in Arizona? Do you wash windows for a living in Florida? Your occupation can be the increased risk factor for your stone disease. The reason is the same as above. You are sweating more and need to drink more than the office worker seated in the air conditioned office whose windows you are washing.


I am very proud of you that you are doing your daily exercise. We all know how important that is to maintain good health. Exercise plays an important part in stone prevention so make sure you do it. Just remember to hydrate before, during, and after to balance the water lost from sweating!


Here are few ways to make water drinking more enjoyable.

Stylish water bottle

Find a water bottle  that you really like carrying around. Seems like such a silly thing, but it really does help. I like big ones so I don’t have to keep getting up to fill it and it makes me very proud to see it empty. You may find smaller ones keep you inspired and you can easily go refill it as you make your bathroom pit stop. Here is an awesome water bottle I have found to help

Make Tasty

Add fruit to your water. Adding lemons to your water has the added benefit of increasing your citrate level which is a natural inhibitor of stones, but use fruit that makes you smile most.

Using the product Mio has helped many patients who constantly tell me that water is BORING. My reply is always, “better boring water than excruciating stones”. It is at that point that they take another sip.

Water is the most benign way to increase fluid intake, but don’t forget to include other beverages in your daily intake: Green tea, lemonade (no sugar), flavored waters, even fruit like watermelon, grapes, etc. will be helpful.

Be Techy

If you’re a phone app geek like me, download this app and track your progress


Eat Your Water

Here is a list of foods that are made up of at least 90% water. Be careful. Some of them are high in oxalate and for those of you who need to limit your oxalate intake I have asterisked them: cucumbers, radishes, iceberg lettuce  celery*, tomato*, green peppers, cauliflower, spinach*, starfruit, strawberries, broccoli, grapefruit, baby carrots*, and watermelon.

Channel Your Inner Child

I have straws on my counter top in a cute container. They add color, fun, and make drinking water a much more whimsical experience. They also makes the water go down a bit faster. I find myself downing a glass with ease when I have a straw. My son likes it too. No matter what your age or disposition, straws add fun to an otherwise boring activity.

If you are enjoying some grape or apple juice, dilute it with half water. You will cut down on your sugar and increase your water intake. This is a win-win.

A neat way to add color and zest to your water without added calories or artificial flavors: Freeze grapes, or lemon, lime, or orange peels, and add to your water instead of boring ‘ole ice cubes.

Make new habits

Every time you reach for a diet soda, replace it with water. Soon you will just reach for water and your old diet soda will be a long forgotten bad habit.

Upon waking, drink a glass or two of water with lemon. This helps keep your urine alkaline and gets you feeling ready for the day.

In winter, get some hot water, lemon and honey. It will warm you up on a cold day.

Green tea (yes, low in oxalate).

Le Croix. For those of you who are addicted to bubbles. Try this no calorie, carbonated water. It comes in many flavors and has been a staple in my house for the past year. There are generic versions of it for budget conscience stone formers.

Drink a glass of water before and after a meal. Drink water. Eat less. Yet another win, win. Who knew it would be this fun?

Be Patient and Persist

I want you to know that incorporating large amounts of water into your life takes a bit of time. New habits are built with commitment, patience, and an understanding that you are not perfect. You will have days that you cannot get in the amount of water that you would like to. It is ok. Your goal is to do your best on more days than not. And when you don’t, you can get back on track the next day.

Drinking more water is the number one thing you can do to help prevent further stone formation. It also has no bad side effects. So what do you say?  Let’s raise a glass, a refreshing, ice cold glass of water. It might just save you from your next ER visit.

A Reservation

Water is always the first line of treatment for stones.The most important thing to do about supersaturation is lower it, and water will do just that. In relation to kidney stone prevention, more is better. In a perfectly healthy younger (below age 50) person taking no medications, up to 5 or even 6 liters a day is safe provided it is consumed over the whole day and never all at once. But if you have heart disease, kidney disease, or liver disease, or are elderly, great caution is important and the amount of water needs to be determined individually for you. When diuretic drugs are being used, to lower urine calcium excretion for stone prevention or for blood pressure control, water intake needs to be no more than 3-4 liters a day and testing is necessary at intervals to be sure blood sodium levels have not fallen. Many other medications interfere with water excretion; psychoactive drugs can do this, for example. All drugs in use must be reviewed with  your physician before drinking large volumes of water, above 2.5 liters daily. It is true that most people can easily and safely drink the extra water needed for stone prevention, but the reservations are important, always.

I have recently put together a private FB page called THE Kidney Stone Diet.  It is a group that helps educate you on your physician prescribed treatment plans. I moderate it to keep it clinically sound.  Come on over and join the discussion!


More You Might Like

Jill Harris on Variety of Beverages

Our Page Dedicated to Patients

Tips On How To Get The Most From Your Physician

Supersaturation: The Key To Stone Disease

Understanding how much water to drink and all of the details behind it can be exhausting. I just released a course called The Kidney Stone Prevention Course to help you understand how to implement your physician’s prescribed treatment plans.


253 Responses to “HOW TO DRINK ENOUGH WATER”

  1. Dana

    Great article! I was wondering if adding apple cider vinegar to water would help as well? A friend of mine is a producer of kidney stones but said his episodes with them have dropped since adding apple cider vinegar to his water. I got my first kidney stone in November and recently just had another one, even with all of the water I drink. I never drink soda or anything with sugar in it and have significantly cut down on sodium and added sugar intake in my food as well.

  2. Karen Smith

    Hi. I have a history of kidney stones, ulcerative colitis, and dairy allergy. 24 hour urines which led to dx of IH, placing me on 1200mg sodium restricted diet, (344mg of the 1200 consumed by meds that Gastroenterologist doesn’t want decreased), an increase of daily fluids to 2-2.5L, and Chlorthalidone 25mg which I was unable to tolerate. (nausea, vertigo, loss of balance despite dose reduction). Follow up 24hr urines indicated increased stone risk due to elevated oxalates, probably due to all the nuts, nut butter and cinnamon harvest Kashi cereal I was consuming, daily, in an effort to avoid sodium. Between the diet restrictions, ulcerative colitis and dairy allergy I am struggling to balance it all. If I keep the oxalates in check then my sodium level is probably lower than recommended at <1000mg/day and I'm having difficulty getting enough calcium and calories. Losing weight and really don't want to lose any more. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also, gastro recommended I take turmeric several times a day. Also, do you know the oxalate value of turmeric compared to that of turmeric extract? Thank you in advance.

    • Fredric Coe, MD

      Hi Karen, Your situation is genuinely complex because of the ulcerative colitis. I presume the stones are calcium oxalate and you do not take steroids, the latter will raise urine calcium and could lead to a false diagnosis of IH. Given your diet restrictions, perhaps you may be one of those who need calcium supplements, and these are tricky because they have to coincide with your main sources of oxalate. I cannot help much from so far away. Someone like Jill Harris might be helpful about diet details and turmeric, as well. If you were near I could help directly, but I doubt you are. At this distance any detailed advice from me would be improper and probably off the mark. Regards, Fred Coe

  3. Laura

    Hi i was told after taking a ct scan that I have 3-4 kidney stones of each kidney about 3mm I believe I had these about a years ago when I last had a ct scan and first found out that I had stones they said they were really small it was probably genetic and they can stay like this forever without any problem or medication to help pass them through so now obviously I had not try to do anything to get rid of them so now i had a ct scan at the ER. And it show up again so they prescribe me flomax 0.4 mg to help pass them through but read side affects got a little worried cause not nit will I be in so much pain but have to worry about possibility of other so my question is how much water or what can I eat to help pass these through without medications and is it even possible thanks.

  4. Stacy

    Will adding some baking soda to water help prevent stones? I take it for heartburn sometimes.

  5. Burhanuddin

    I’m having 3-4mm kidney stone, and it seems urine is not passing through kidney, is it due to Stones, can milk with soda will cure my problem?

    • Fredric Coe, MD

      Hi Burhanuddin, If a stone is passing it can obstruct the kidney. Your physician will know to remove it as obstruction can damage kidneys. Mile and soda have no place in all this – you need a skilled urologist. Regards, Fred Coe

  6. Sherry B

    What if all you drink is bottled water, could this be harmful due to the minerals and salts that are added.

  7. Hemanth

    My stone size is 6-8 mm can it will be removed through water

  8. Kansay

    Hi, can water break down stones already formed in kidney??

  9. Kathy W.

    Your suggestion:
    “Upon waking, drink a glass or two of water with lemon. This helps keep your urine alkaline and gets you feeling ready for the day.”
    Isn’t lemon acidic? How does this keep urine alkaline?
    Also, my husband and I drink alkaline water at 9.5 ph. Is this a good thing for kidney stones? He is supposed to be on a low oxalate diet.
    Thank you.

    • Fredric Coe, MD

      Hi Kathy, Lemon contains molecules that are metabolized in such a way as to increase bicarbonate and therefore urine pH and citrate. But I never advocated for lemon except for flavor. Alkaline waters often contain high amounts of sodium salts – I am not much in favor. The electrolysis machines seem dubious to me, and adding alkaline salts is a mistake. So no. Regards, Fred Coe

  10. Sean Surrao

    Hi, very nice article, loved it. I just had a question for you since you have had so much experience being around stone-forming patients. Can a person even after consuming say around 5-6 liters of water a day form a stone?.. Love to see your reply on this, thanks !

    • jharris

      Hi Sean,

      Although water is an important piece of stone prevention, it is only that, a piece. You need to do all the things necessary to prevent stones. Have you done a urine collection to see what your particular issues are? Remember there are other dietary changes that are just as important. Read this:

      Thanks for writing,


    • Whitney

      SOME PEOPLE CAN. In theory, fewer, but absolutely. And for the record, not all urologists care to test your stones or urine (or blood) for whatever is causing the stones to form (and apparently some people make different types of stones each time!). Also, even tiny stones that don’t show up on xray and thus “cannot be treated” can cause increasingly frequent, and significant, pain, and for a long time (like over a year long time) depending on where they are. My hope is that these generic guidelines apply to most people, because they certainly didn’t apply to me. 🙁 If you don’t fit in the mold, know that you’re not alone but you’ll probably have to figure a lot out on your own. Also, despite the pain and frustration, know that long-term use of ibuprofen and naproxen (Advil and Aleve, for example) (both nsaid’s) can reduce kidney function so you may wish to get that checked by your physician. As far as how to get water intake up, this article gives lots of awesome ideas.


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