How to Purify Water

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Years ago, I hadn't given a single thought about the need to purify my water until my co-worker contracted giardia in the Colorado Rockies. It wasn't pretty. Well, what I should say is him being sick for over a week wasn't pretty... The water LOOKED clean! And he thought he was drinking from a safe supply. It's difficult to tell exactly where he picked up the parasite, but the week or 2 he was battling it stuck in my mind. The lesson is, bacteria and parasites can be anywhere. Don't play around with drinking untreated water. 

So, let's have a look at some methods for purifying water today.

Method #1: Boiling

This is the #1 thing most people think of. Living in a hurricane prone area, I have heard the "boil water" advisories - and perhaps you have too, depending where you live. This isn't a difficult thing to do if you have the tools (a little more difficult if you don't have a heat source). Put your water in the pot, then place the pot over a heat source, and wait. Depending on the temperature of your heat source, it may take anywhere from three to five minutes before the water fully boils. Don’t rush it (you want to make sure that all bacteria and parasites have been killed). If you’re in the wilderness and need to boil water, then you will need a fire and a pot to boil in. If you don’t have a pot, look for a container that is fire-proof.

(You may wish to invest in a Kelly Kettle - it boils water VERY fast. If you have seen the famous "Bears Mission" show, and host Bears Grylls, you may already know that the Kelly Kettle is a favorite! We'll talk about this cool tool in another post!)

Don't think that once you see the water begin to simmer that it's "hot enough." It's not. Get that water going to a hard rolling boil.

That’s when you know you’ve sufficiently boiled the water. In most cases, you can have your water boiling in five minutes or less. If done correctly, it should kill off most of the microorganisms inside the water. It may also remove some (not all) chemicals. 

Remember, boiling won’t remove solids, minerals, or metals. This is one of the easiest ways to learn how to purify water. Here’s a fun video to show you how it’s done:

Method #2: Distillation

If you’re stuck in the wilderness somewhere without a filter, you might not have any choice but to build a solar water still. Solar water stills allow you to turn dirty water into crystal clear distilled water. And the best part is that it’s relatively easy to build, and doesn’t require any fancy equipment or extensive knowledge. Similar to how water evaporates from say, a pond, the water in a solar water still will evaporate and collect in an isolated container (leaving all of the “junk” behind).

Of course, you have to have something with which to distill the water to begin with. This method isn't necessarily going to be your best choice. Which is why I am a huge fan of portable water filters that should ALWAYS be in your pack, car, bug out bag, etc.

Anyway, it’s much easier to show you how to build a solar water still than write it out, so here’s a handy video that will walk you through the exact steps:

Method #3: Filter Straws

Unlike the previous two methods, portable water filters (a.k.a. “Survival Straws”) don’t require any knowledge or experience to operate. One of the best examples of these is the LifeStraw and the Sagan XStream Straw. These are basically portable water filters that will allow you to drink from any water source without worrying about getting sick.

The LifeStraw doesn’t have any moving parts, doesn’t use chemicals, and costs about $20, while the XStream Straw has a few more parts, but it more versatile - more about the XStream Straw later. In my opinion, this is one of the best things to have when you are faced with a need to purify water. 

By the way, the LifeStraw has the ability to filter up to 1,000 liters of water (possibly a little more). It’s also proven to remove up to 99.9999% of bacteria and parasites. As you’ll see from the following video, it even makes dirty toilet water drinkable! Click on the big orange button below to read my full review on the LifeStraw.

Method #4: Purification Tablets

As you can probably guess, purification tablets help make dirty water drinkable. They kill microorganisms in water to prevent things like cholera and dysentery. What I like most about water purification tablets is their simplicity and portability. They don’t require any experience to use, so they’re perfect for beginners. Due to their small size, they can be taken anywhere. A quality example is Potable Aqua. These tablets use chemicals (usually iodine) to kill potentially harmful bacteria. When learning how to purify water, always have purification tablets on hand. They’re inexpensive, work quickly, don’t affect the taste of water, and can save your life. Keep in mind that once a bottle is opened, most have a limited shelf life of about six months. Let’s take a look at how they work:

Method #5: Purification Pumps

Purification pumps are another common way that people learn how to purify water in the wild. In fact, it’s one of the first methods that people think of. These devices purify water by pumping it through a filter.

This filter contains small “pores” that are too small for parasites and bacteria to move through. From a functional standpoint, it works a lot like the LifeStraw (discussed earlier) with the exception that it requires more work. I’m not saying that I have anything against purification pumps, but in my personal opinion, survival straws like the LifeStraw are the better option for quick use.

A lot of people swear by the larger pumps, however- and there are many to choose from. A perennial favorite among outdoorsmen and women remains the MSR pumps.

We have a few VERY avid campers in our family, and they use MSR pump. Refer to the following video demonstrating the MSR Guardian (pricey, but effective):

Method #6: UV Light

One of the lesser-known ways to purify water is by using UV light. A quality UV system can “zap” and destroy 99.99% of harmful microorganisms. For some people, this is the preferred method over purification tablets, which have been known to alter the taste and odor of water. UV treatment of water is cost effective, reliable, and quick- all good reasons to give it a try. When learning how to purify water, know that ultraviolet light is a proven technology with o drawbacks. While its initial cost may cost more than other methods, over the long run, you’ll actually save money (due to its low operating cost). As a result, these systems typically pay for themselves pretty quickly. The following video will show you exactly how they work:

How to Purify Water – Bottom Line

When is learning how to purify water important? Well, when SHTF, there likely won’t be any reliable ways to acquire fresh drinking water. For this reason, you’ll need to be proactive and do it yourself. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult once you understand the proven steps. Practice some of these techniques in your spare time so that you can get good at them. That way, when the time comes where you really do need to use them, you won’t be running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

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