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When your mouth is bone dry and your body is dehydrated, you don’t want to wait around for water to go through the purification process. You want a drink right now. Besides, if you’re on the move, you might not have time to make a water filter from scratch or wait for a solar still to do its thing. And water that hasn’t been purified is a very serious risk. So how can you get clean drinking water in a hurry?
Here are the 8 fastest ways to purify water, starting with the slowest of the 8…
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1. Household bleach
Household bleach (regular unscented) can purify water in 30 minutes. A gallon of water with low turbidity can be purified with only 8 drops (or 1/8 teaspoon) of bleach. Cloudy water takes 16 drops (or 1/4 teaspoon).
Once you’ve added the bleach, gently swirl it around. Let it sit for half and hour, then sniff it. If you can smell a bit of chlorine, the water is ready to drink. If not, then repeat the process.
Keep in mind that bleach is only an effective option if it hasn’t expired. Be sure to check the best by date on the bleach bottle before using this method because bleach begins to lose its potency after only 6 months. Also, it will not remove chemical contaminants or metals.
Iodine is similar to household bleach except you need twice as many drops to purify the water. Iodine can sit on a shelf for a year without losing potency, as long as it is stored out of direct light. Anybody who is allergic to shellfish will likely be allergic to iodine.
However, if you get the kind that came from minerals and not shellfish (like the kind I linked to), it has no expiration date and shouldn’t be a problem for people with shellfish allergies. But either way, pregnant or nursing women are not advised to drink water treated with iodine.
Unlike bleach, iodine can penetrate protozoan cysts. But despite its effectiveness, iodine is not a popular water purification choice due the strange taste, how expensive it is, and the other drawbacks mentioned above. And as with bleach, it takes about 30 minutes to purify water.
3. Purification tablets
Purification tablets are generally made with chlorine dioxide or iodine, with the latter less common. This means they also take about 30 minutes to purify water. Gently swirling the water will oxygenate it and make it taste a little better. The ones I linked to come with an extra bottle of tablets that neutralize the taste of iodine and remove the strange color.
Unfortunately, water purification tablets will not kill protozoa or remove chemical contaminants. Also, it takes 8 tablets to treat 1 gallon of water. And since a $5 – $10 bottle only has 50 tablets, it can get a bit expensive. You’d need to carry multiple bottles with you in order to have enough to last several days in the wild.
4. Boiling Water
Boiling water is one of the most common ways to purify it. It’s effective at killing everything, even small protozoan cysts that can’t be killed by other means. Depending on the amount of water you have and the type of fuel, you can have clean drinking water in about 10 minutes.
You can speed up the process by covering the pot, which also keeps condensation inside it. When every drop counts, you don’t want to waste anything. The water only needs to be at a roiling boil for a minute before it’s pure. The main drawback is that it takes time to use a camp stove or build a fire. Also, boiling water won’t remove any chemicals or metals from it.
5. Berkey water filters
Berkey water filters are great, which is why I use one for my everyday drinking water. However, since they’re fairly large, you’ll have to keep it at home or at your secondary retreat. There are numerous models to choose from, many of which are made with stainless steel which is a huge perk because you don’t have to worry about rust. And although replacement filters are expensive, they last a very long time.
The Berkey filter is one of the few filters that can remove the tiny viruses that may be lurking in your water. Viruses are extremely small–as small as .05 microns–and most filters only filter down to 1 micron. But with the Berkey you get sub-micron filtration so it removes 99.99% of bacteria and viruses. In my opinion, this is a great investment.
6. Katadyn filters
Katadyn filters are similar to Berkey filters, only more portable. The Katadyn pocket water microfilter I linked to is pretty expensive, but it can filter out every microorganism larger than 0.2 microns and will purify 13,000 gallons before you have to replace it, so you get your money’s worth.
Katadyn also makes a more affordable filter called the Vario water filter. As with the other filter, you have to use a pump mechanism. It can filter a half gallon and minute and a maximum of 500 gallons before you have to replace it.
7. The Lifestraw
The Lifestraw is an amazing filter that cleans water as you suck it through. It’s essentially instantaneous. Just stick it in a stream or a puddle of water and take a drink. As the water travels through the straw, it also goes through the filter.
There’s also a Lifestraw water bottle which is even more convenient because you can take the water along if you’re on the move. You can filter over 250 gallons of water with these filters before they need to be replaced. And again, the main problem is it doesn’t filter out viruses. But while the Lifestraw is technically the fastest way to purify water, if you’re willing to wait a few more seconds, check out the next method…
8. The Steripen
The Steripen is one brand of UV filters which are great when you’re on the go. These devices use ultraviolet light to kill harmful pathogens in water. They’re a bit expensive, but you can use them over and over. They’re usually powered with batteries, solar, or a hand crank. And there are some that can be charged through a USB port.
This system only works with clear water, so you’ll need to prefilter the water with something like a shirt or a coffee filter. Once the water is prefiltered, it only takes 90 seconds to purify it. And unlike the Katadyn and Lifestraw filters, this one kills viruses as well as bacteria and protozoa. The Steripen is definitely one of the best options if you need clean water quickly.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to purify water. There are many other water purification methods you should learn about, especially if you plan on spending any time in the wilderness. But these ideas should get you started. Bottoms up!