No prepper needs to be told how important water is in a survival situation. When it comes to material needs, the only resource more important than water is oxygen.
Depending upon your environment, you might have water all around you when you need it, but the irony is that the water could be of uncertain safety or even completely undrinkable in the case of sea water.
When you are dehydrated, if your choice is to take your chances on drinking questionable water or die, what are you supposed to do?
You had better figure it out fast because no one can live very long without any water intake.
A few days at most without a drop to drink and you are history, and chances are you will be incapacitated days or hours before you breathe your last.
Dehydration is an assault on your body, and the negative effects pile up quickly further complicating your situation and making your chances of survival slimmer by the hour.
It is virtually impossible to undersell the importance of clear, drinkable water in a survival situation.
This is why everyone that calls himself a prepper must know how to procure clean drinking water no matter the environment and no matter the source.
To do that you should be able to call upon several methods, improvised or not, in order to make your water safe to drink. Today we will share with you 10 proven methods for purifying your water.
You Should Not Rely on Only a Single Method for Purification
Though there are many ways by which one can purify water to make it safe, or at least safer, to drink one common problem I encounter out here during my travels in prepperdom is the reliance, or rather I should say complete dependence, on only a single form of filtration to cover all of your survival bases.
Though this is understandable thanks to the preponderance and reliability of our modern purification methods, it is still a big mistake. Let me tell you why.
Take our modern water filters for instance. I don’t know any prepper and virtually no hiker, camper, or other outdoorsy personality that doesn’t have a water filter or two as part of their full-time kit.
These wondrous compact water filters can allow you to drink clean water directly from a source that is so hideously nasty you can scarcely stand to look at it.
To say they are efficient and effective is an understatement, and furthermore, they are as compact and lightweight as they have ever been. What a time to be alive!
The problem is that dependence only on filtration through the use of a commercial water filter is a dependency you can ill afford in a long-term survival situation.
What will happen when you need to purify water but your filter is broken, worn out, lost, or otherwise unavailable? What will you do, die?
If that doesn’t sound like a happy outcome you had better have a plan B, and furthermore plans C and D.
These plans should consist of alternative technological methods for filtering water as well as a comprehensive practical understanding of how you can improvise or employ field-expedient methods for purifying water.
Anything else means you are only one bad turn away from losing access to clean drinking water and then you might as well go on and start the clock on your survival. Anyway, sermon over; let us get on to the list!
How to Make Water Safe to Drink: 10 Ways
For many peppers, boiling water is probably the first technique they learn for purifying water.
Boiling is absolutely effective, but it is a limited form of purification because it will only reliably eliminate biohazard threats like bacteria, viruses, parasites and certain other microscopic nasties that you don’t want to ingest.
Unfortunately boiling will not eliminate the vast majority of chemical contaminants and it won’t do a thing about heavy metals and other dissolved solids.
But this does not mean boiling should be discounted entirely in favor of other methods. Many of the aforementioned pathogens can lay you low or even kill you if you contract them.
That’s just one more thing you cannot afford in the middle of a survival situation. The other shortcoming in regards to boiling is that it requires a sustained source of intense heat to raise your collected quantity of water to 212° F.
Note that you don’t have to boil water continuously for 30 minutes or anything like that in order to kill the germs hiding within a minute, maybe two for insurance, and you’ll be good to go.
These tiny infectious critters cannot withstand high heat to say anything of sustained boiling, so boiling your water longer than that wastes fuel and time.
Where boiling really shines is when you are only able to bring another modestly effective method of purification to bear that can remove the aforementioned solids.
A quick spin through a primitive filter followed by boiling is enough to render most water taken from natural sources plenty safe enough to drink under the circumstances.
Remember that boiling won’t solve all your problems related to purifying water, but it will never hurt.
Filtering is a time-tested and highly reliable method of purifying water and has been used since times of ancient antiquity all the way through today.
The trick with filtering is that its effectiveness can be highly variable depending upon the quality of the filter.
You might also be surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily need a modern, high-efficiency filter to produce clean-enough and safe water from most sources.
On the other hand, the latest generation of technological marvels can produce water that is astoundingly, unbelievably pure, so don’t count them out!
The key to understanding effective water filtration is knowing what you can expect from the filter, specifically what size particles it can effectively catch while allowing the water to pass through it.
A coarse or minimally effective filter might only catch large objects floating in the water or the largest particles of dissolved sediment.
At the opposite end of the scale the finest, most incomprehensibly effective filters can even filter out individual viral organisms and dissolved solids only a few molecules in size. Remarkable does not begin to describe it!
But you can even improvise a filter that is impressively effective. By arranging various media in layers utilizing a funnel-shaped container you can allow water to steadily trickle through while leaving ever-smaller contaminants behind.
A layer of gravel on top of a gauze mesh followed by a layer of clay and then a layer of ground charcoal before a final stage cloth layer will catch quite a lot, accepting microorganisms and dissolved heavy metals.
A good plan is to rely on a purpose-built emergency water filter while also knowing how to improvise a field-expedient filter in a pinch.
Giving your found water the old, reliable combo of filtration followed by boiling will take care of 99% of your problems.
Solar purification is a clever method that is perfect for lazy preppers or just peppers who have a lot of things to do and don’t have time to oversee a complicated or involved purification method.
Solar purification relies on ultraviolet radiation, the most abundant source of which is our sun, to bombard bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms living in the water.
This is most easily achieved by compartment a smaller quantity of water in a clear container, be it glass or plastic, and then simply leaving it in direct sunlight.
It really is that easy, and the only other prerequisites for successful employment are clear skies, plenty of sunlight and water that has hopefully been at least minimally filtered to reduce cloudiness.
Water that is extremely murky in essence provides places for germs to hide, and that means your attempt at disinfection may not be 100% successful.
Time is another factor, and you should leave your sourced water in the sun for at least 12 hours, up to 24 hours if you have overcast skies or intermittent direct sun.
That sounds like a long time to wait for disinfection, and it is, but consider that you should have an easy time doing multiple batches of water at once.
This makes it especially effective for mass production of purified water while also saving a considerable amount of fuel that you would otherwise spend on boiling.
Bleach has many uses during survival situations, especially those where you are bugging in. It is great for sterilizing surfaces, cleaning tools, and getting particularly nasty germs off of your skin with high reliability.
It is also excellent for purifying water by killing any microorganisms that might be hiding inside. It’s true: standard, unscented, non-thickened chlorine bleach is all that is required for this procedure.
The process is simple and requires adding only a minuscule amount of bleach to a given quantity of water before agitating it and then letting it sit for about half an hour to do its work.
So long as the water has a definite smell of chlorine at the beginning of the process you can be sure you added enough to do the job.
Note that chlorine breaks down in the presence of oxygen, eventually completely neutralizing so you can rest comfortably knowing that your water will be safe to drink so long as you follow the formula precisely.
It is duly effective and can be relied upon to destroy viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms like parasites that can make you sick but it is not a miracle additive.
Bleach will do nothing to remove or disrupt other chemical contamination and it is only highly effective on water sources that are relatively clear.
If you cannot manage to filter your water even a little bit of bleach might not be the best first step.
Iodine is a time-tested and true method of chemical purification for drinking water, and even a small vial of iodine can purify lots of water reliably.
Iodine works very much like bleach and other chemical additives by destroying hostile microorganisms that would love nothing more than to infest you and make you ill.
It is effective against the vast majority of pathogens that are commonly encountered in natural water sources, making iodine a common standby for campers and hikers.
Iodine is not without its drawbacks, the first among them being the need to precisely measure how much you are adding to a given quantity of water and also the fact that it will significantly, and negatively, impact the taste of the water.
It also does nothing against chemical or heavy metal contamination.
One more thing to be aware of is it is far from unheard of for some people to have an iodine allergy, and though rare it should not be taken for granted so endeavor to check before committing to treating communal water sources with iodine.
Iodine also has a shortcoming in that it is typically prepared and carried in a liquid state, thus making evaporation or loss through leaks or spillage a perennial concern.
Despite these drawbacks, iodine is a well-understood and thoroughly tested method of purifying the water you can trust.
U.V. Light Sterilization
UV sterilization is a comparatively high-tech method of purifying water and another one that only works on biological threats.
The principle is well understood and certainly effective: by bombarding a water source with UV light microorganisms are destroyed.
This technique can be adapted to both field and home use through the use of compact and increasingly portable UV light pens which are inserted into your water bottle before being switched on, nuking the germs from point-blank range!
At home, larger lamps can be employed utilizing bulbs or emitters with a specific light frequency.
UV sterilization is thorough and virtually effortless but it does have drawbacks, namely the reliance on electrical power for operation.
Also, this technique loses efficacy rapidly as turbidity of the water increases, with it failing almost entirely in cloudy, murky water.
This means that this option is only at its best when starting with a clear or nearly clear source or after effective filtering.
Nonetheless, being able to forgo chemical additives for removal of microorganisms is attractive, especially when you are in a setting where electricity is assured.
Also, as you probably already determined, it does nothing to remove solid contaminants including heavy metals.
Sterilization tablets are one of the most plentiful and most user-friendly purification options available to preppers today, and are in wide-ranging use with military forces, NGO’s and civilians who are forced to rely on local water sources in remote locations or undeveloped Nations.
One of the most popular, AquaTabs, relies on troclosine sodium to do the dirty work and they are undoubtedly effective against an extremely wide array of microorganisms.
Various other brands rely on different chemicals, but the end result is the same.
Sterilization tablets can be extremely convenient since they are solid, have sturdy packaging, and are lightweight and compact making them easy to carry.
However, this form factor along with their mode of operation does introduce some challenges that have to be overcome: They are typically designed for insertion into a standard size canteen or water bottle so that the dosing formula is certain.
You’ll have to do a little bit of math if you are working with a larger or unknown quantity of water.
Certain chemicals can actually be particularly hazardous if ingested in too great a quantity or if concentration in the water is too high, so caution is advised.
Additionally, most tablets take a certain amount of time to work, anywhere from 10 minutes to upwards of a couple of hours.
Lastly, as a rule, they all change the taste of the water and usually not for the better. This is a major hang-up for some people but not for others, so be prepared before you commit!
Stop! Don’t close that browser tab! I know you probably think you have stumbled across some hippy-dippy, crystal-rubbing, crunchy granola method for purifying your water but I promise it isn’t like that- and respected scientists back me up!
As it turns out, through some bizarre quirk of vegetable life, common cilantro is capable of doing something that very few other methods of water purification can do.
Cilantro can bind and therefore remove heavy metal contamination at the molecular level in water. No fooling!
I won’t begin to attempt to explain how it is able to do this and why the process works, but suffice to say that large-scale studies, even a few major inquests conducted by major universities, have proven this out.
The process works exactly how you are imagining it. Grab your water, drop a big bunch of cilantro in it, give it a stir and then wait.
24 hours later your water will be free of heavy metals, or at least the quantities will be greatly reduced.
This is an incredibly important capability for anyone who might be sourcing found water near human settlements, because it is these water sources that are geometrically more likely to be contaminated with dangerous heavy metals, materials that are very difficult to remove any other way.
Cilantro is kind of a one-trick pony, however, because it will not remove other dissolved solids, germs or anything else. Still, keep this specialized trick in mind!
Desalination is the process whereby saltwater has its salt content removed. Or maybe you are removing the water from the saltwater and leaving the salt behind.
Whatever, and however you want to think about it what is important is that this process allows safe drinking water to be made from the most plentiful sources of water on earth that just so happens to be one that is in no way safe to drink.
You don’t need much imagination to understand how crucial this technology is, especially when at sea, or for anyone who lives near the coast.
Desalination occupies a strange place on our list because it is not a typical technology that preppers will call on in the context of survival.
Desalination is typically employed at a very large scale to generate safe public water for coastal communities, especially ones in hot, arid environments or access to freshwater is anything but guaranteed much of the time.
That being said, there are small-scale, end-user desalination devices that can fit on your boat, vehicle or even be nominally carried around.
These could very well be the key to your survival if you ever wind up marooned, lost at sea or trapped aboard a disabled vessel.
History provides many examples of the lost and the damned dying of thirst at sea due to a lack of fresh water to drink in the exact same situations. There is simply no other way to make use of seawater for survival.
Distillation should not be confused with desalination, although you can employ distillation as a purification method to desalinate seawater. Confused? Don’t be.
Distillation is simply a process by which water is evaporated from one container and then condensed in another.
Something really cool happens when the water sublimates to steam, it leaves all contaminants of every kind behind, and when it condenses and it’s new container what is left behind is pure, super clean water.
If this sounds like the ultimate method by which water might be purified, you are not far off but there is a catch.
Distillation typically requires two things, though sometimes it can get away with only requiring one but nonetheless the requirements are substantial.
First, it requires lots of time with even distillation appliances that are electrically powered taking quite a bit of time to produce a drinkable quantity of water.
Second, the reliance on heat to evaporate the water means its distillation is typically a “fuel hog” method, with the only exception being solar distillation which takes advantage of the sun as a heat source.
In the end, you won’t be generating much water with distillation but it remains an essential method for purification because it can render even the nastiest and most contaminated water safe to drink.
This might make it the default choice when dealing with seawater or other sources of otherwise completely undrinkable water.
Obtaining safe drinking water is non-negotiable for survival, and you won’t have long to regret it if you fail in this regard.
It doesn’t matter what kind of disaster or environment you are dealing with the need for hydration is ever-present and never-ending.
Rolling the dice on a questionable source of water might only accelerate your demise. You need not take that chance so long as you provide several methods of purification, both modern and improvised.