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Best Emergency Water Purification Methods

What happens during an emergency such as an earthquake, when a storm or freeze busts pipes and contaminates water, you are hiking or lost, you are stuck out in the ocean, have an old water well (or a shallow well), or are camping and the only water is from a nearby stream? There could be a host of other reasons why you might need to purify water on site with little to no equipment, so it is best to know what you can and cannot do. Even water collected from leaves or plants, or a windshield, or the roof, could easily be contaminated with bacteria or other microbes.

water distiller

Emergency water purification

First of all, find a source of water. Is it potable? If not, or if you are unsure, then do not drink it without purifying it in some way. Here is a list of several ways of how to purify water without electricity or any special equipment, although

Easy water purification methods

Boil the water

My parents were missionaries in Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Roatan/Honduras, plus other places, and they learned to boil their water for a full 5 minutes before drinking it so they would not get a terrible stomach ache and the runs from the bacteria and/or microorganisms that might be living in the water.

Pros: easy to do

Cons: takes time to cool down before drinking, and tastes acidic/flat

Add iodine

Iodine is a fairly common method of purifying water. Some people are afraid of allergies but those are rare, and the chances are much higher that you will get sick from contaminated water than to drink iodine. Iodine is a necessary nutrient and is usually only naturally in some foods, such as seaweed. You can buy and add drops of iodine (as per the directions) to water to kill the bugs in it.

Pros: easy to do

Cons: must have it on hand before you may need it, makes the water taste weird

Add chlorine bleach

A few drops of chlorine bleach will kill any bacteria or other organisms swimming around in contaminated water. Add 8 drops per gallon, or 2 drops per litre. Be SURE you use plain unscented bleach.

Pros: easy to do, inexpensive

Cons: taste like bleach, may not be healthy long term

Ultraviolet exposure using solar water pasteurization

This is one of my favorite methods because it is basically free to do, and is super easy. If you have clear water you can put it into a clear glass jar and set it in the sun for 90 minutes. The UV in the sun’s rays will kill 99.9% of all bacteria and microorganisms within 90 minutes. Solar water pasteurization has been used for centuries. Even if you only have a wide open bowl (low lipped is best so no shadows are formed as you need full sun exposure) it can work in a jiffy. If in doubt just leave it longer. Since clouds block 70% of the sun’s UV you will definitely need to set the water outside at least five times as long on a fully cloudy day, or at least twice or three times as long if partly cloudy. Another option is to put the water in a solar oven (made out of cardboard) and heat it up while exposing it to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Pros: free (if you have clear jar or pitcher already)

Cons: takes longer than boiling, may have smell or taste if water source is not filtered

Distillation (or solar water distiller)

Distillation is a method of water purification by boiling/heating the water and then condensing it. Because distilling water is a physical process it leaves behind ALL salts, sand, sediments, rust, bacteria, microorganisms, lead and other heavy metals, and other contaminants such as chlorine and fluoride. The key is to not re-contaminate the distillate/product water once you have condensed it. I have a free ebook download on how to make a solar water distiller here or you can see my solar still kits and plans page here. There are free versions as well as more complex ways of making a permanent still to purify water using only the sun (no electricity needed). Special solar stills are also available specifically for purposes of boats or survival rafts when you are stuck out floating on sea water in the ocean.

Pros: easy to do for a simple emergency still using a turkey oven bag and cup in a hole in the ground, can also make or buy stills readily online

Cons: takes a few hours to distill enough water to drink, emergency stills are short-term use only and a permanent still would be required for long-term use, volatiles (like kerosene or gasoline) may survive the distillation process since they are also distillates (but a simple carbon filter at the end will remove this)

Water purification via filters

There are now numerous types of filters on the market that make on-site water purification fast and easy, but you normally have to buy these ahead. There are ceramic, carbon filters, and paper filters available.

You can even buy refillable water bottles that have a filter built into them for drinking on the go. These are great when camping or hiking or traveling in other countries. My mom and daughter used them with great success while in Peru.

There is also a special water filter-straw or straw-filter that you can use in emergencies to suck pond water or similar water source and make it drinkable as you suck it through the built-in filter.

Survival water filters or other survival water purifiers, or even non-emergency water purification systems can also be found on ebay or amazon, or other websites.


Top 6 emergency water purification techniques:

Single basin solar water distillers:

Commercial solar stills:

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