Of all the things we need for survival, water is one of the only necessities that we can only go without for a few days. In our everyday lives, water is also something that is extremely accessible, so it often doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves.
However, there are plenty of scenarios, where fresh drinking water may not be so easy to acquire. When going to the sink for an unlimited supply of pure water is no longer an option, you’ll need to know how to purify water from less sterile sources.
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If you know how to purify water, you can continue drinking from your tap even after the facilities in charge of purifying the water have ceased operations. You’ll also be able to purify water you collect from streams, ponds, rainfall, and more.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of the top water purification methods that you can use to ensure that you always have access to clean drinking water.
Note: As one commenter pointed out, the term “purify” isn’t entirely accurate for many of these. Purifying means removing biological, chemical, mineral, and metal contamination. Whereas filtering only removes biological contamination (down to a certain size).
Many of the methods below will only filter water, not purify it. You may want to combine several methods to get your water as pure as possible, but it is still risky. If it comes down to dying of thirst and taking that risk, it’s better to take the risk. Just keep in mind that none of these methods should be considered 100% effective by themselves.
1. Boiling Water
Boiling water in order to purify it is the oldest methods and continues to be the most commonly used water purification method around the world. Boiling water is completely effective at killing all living contaminants in just a few minutes. Boiling water won’t remove certain non-living contaminants such as heavy metals, but it can remove many chemicals through vaporization.
For more information on boiling water as a water purification method, check out this article.
Adding a small amount of bleach to your drinking water can kill off living contaminants without making the water unsafe to drink. To purify your water using bleach, you’ll want to add 8-16 drops of bleach per gallon of water depending on how cloudy the water is and let it sit for at least thirty minutes.
Keep in mind that bleach will only eliminate living containments. It’s also important to keep in mind that bleach only has a shelf-life of about six months and will not be effective at purifying water past its expiration date.
To learn more about purifying water with bleach, check out these instructions from the CDC.
3. Sand Filtration
With the right supplies, you can create your own sand filter fairly easily. Sand filtration won’t do anything to remove microbes, but it can still clean up dirty, murky water and turn it into something that is drinkable.
To learn how to make your own sand filter, check out this video:
Like bleach, iodine can be added to drinking water in order to kill off living contaminants. It takes twice as much iodine to purify water as it does bleach, and iodine is more expensive to purchase.
However, the key advantage to purifying water with iodine is the fact that mineral-based iodine has an infinite shelf life. This means that, if you put away enough iodine, you will always have the ability to purify drinking water.
5. Purification Tablets
Tablets designed expressly for the purpose of purifying water are relatively affordable and easy to acquire. Typically, the primary ingredient in these tablets is chlorine dioxide, tetraglycine hydroperiodide, sodium dichloroisocyanurate, though some water purification tablets are made with iodine as well.
To learn more about water purification tablets, check out this article.
6. Water Filters
One of the most effective ways to purify water is to make use of a high-quality water filter. Water filters come in all kinds of designs, from large filters that sit on your counter to portable filters that you can take with you and everything in-between. Best of all, many of these filters will last for an incredibly long time before they need to be replaced.
To learn more about choosing the right water filter, check out this guide.
7. Solar Distillation
Distilling water can allow you to remove many heavier substances such as salt and minerals from the water, which means that it is an especially effective method for making saltwater drinkable in an emergency scenario.
There are a number of ways to distill water, but you can distill water using just the energy from sunlight if you create a solar still.
Keep in mind that solar distillation won’t remove many contaminants such as microbes, so you may want to still boil the water after you distill it. To learn how to make your own solar still, check out this video:
8. Survival Straw
Survival straws are a relatively new product. However, they are quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to purify water in a survival scenario thanks to their convenience and effectiveness.
A survival straw is simply a very fine filter placed into a straw-like configuration. As you drink through the straw, the water is passed through the filter and is purified before it reaches your mouth.
There are a number of survival straws on the market, but you’ll want to purchase one that is high quality and easy to use. For that, I recommend the LifeStraw.
9. Water Bottle Filters
Water bottle filters are similar to survival straws in that the filtration system is built into the drinking receptacle. Like survival straws, water bottles with built-in filters make for a very convenient and portable water purification method.
There are plenty of water bottle filters to choose from, and they range dramatically in terms of both price and effectiveness, so it’s important to take your time and research the options that you have available. To learn more about choosing a water bottle filter, check out this article. I personally have a couple of LifeStraw Goes.
10. Solar Disinfection
Solar disinfection is considered a last resort water purification method. If you have the ability to boil your water instead, you should always do so.
In an especially serious survival scenario, though, where you need water to survive and boiling it first isn’t an option, you can use solar disinfection to make the water at least somewhat safer to drink.
To purify water using solar disinfection, all you need to do is place the water in a clear container and set it in the sun for a day or two. If the weather conditions are ideal, the UV rays from the sun can kill off many contaminants.
To learn more about solar disinfection, check out this article.
11. Activated Charcoal Filters
Activated carbon is an impressive material that is able to filter out a wide range of contaminants. While you can make your own DIY activated carbon water filter, you can also purchase activated carbon filter pumps that are designed to fit inside a backpack. These pumps make it easy to filter large quantities of water in a relatively short amount of time.
12. Stone Boiling
If you don’t have a fireproof container to boil water in, you can use a method called stone boiling to boil your water without having to place it directly over a heat source.
Stone boiling involves heating up a stone in a fire, placing it in the water, and repeating the process until the water is brought to a rolling boil.
To learn more about stone boiling, check out this video:
13. UV Light
We’ve already discussed how setting water in direct sunlight can kill containments thanks to the sun’s UV rays. However, making use of an actual UV water purifier is an even more effective way to purify water using UV light.
UV water purifiers are small, handheld devices that can be used to quickly kill most contaminants in a small container of water. To learn more about UV water purifiers, check out this article.
14. T-Shirt Filtration
Using your t-shirt to filter water is another last-resort method as it won’t be nearly as effective as many of the other methods we’ve covered. If you have no other option available, though, passing water through your shirt can remove many of the sediments.
If your water is especially cloudy, filtering it through your shirt before you boil it or adding chemicals to purify it can clean up the water and make it more pleasant tasting as well as safer to drink. To learn more about filtering water using only your shirt, check out this video:
15. Xylem Filter
A xylem filter is a simple yet highly effective design, making it one of the most promising water purification methods for people in third-world countries.
To make a xylem filter, all you need is a piece of flexible tubing, a chunk of pine or other conifer wood, and a little glue. Fixing the piece of the wood into the end of the tubing with the glue allows you to pass water through the tube and filter it through the wood, removing up to 99.9% of contaminants.
The only drawback to using a xylem filter is that it is a very slow way to filter water. To learn more about xylem filters, check out this video: