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Water Purification Methods

13 Ways To Purify Water


13 Ways To Purify Water

How to purify water in an emergency situation does not typically cross the minds of most people unless they are going to travel overseas. For most of our lives we have heard that water is a finite resource, but it has always been plentiful and we do not think twice about it.

Those of us who have been caught in an emergency or disaster situation have more than likely thought about what we could change if we found ourselves there again. Having access to clean, drinkable water is necessary no matter the emergency.

The drought in California, Hurricane Katrina and Sandy and the numerous yearly tornados are just a few reasons for having an emergency water storage plan.  Take the necessary steps to ensure you and your family have the necessary water to drink, cook and use for hygiene.

In 2004 we lived in Maitland Florida, right outside of Orlando, and hunkered down during the three consecutive hurricanes that hit that summer. Even though our home was connected to city water we still had a boil water alert because pathogens and environmental elements infected the water and it was unsafe to drink!

Though we purchased several gallons of water, we just trusted that clean water would be accessible within reasonable time (as in a couple of days). This was not so, an immediate boil water alert went up and lasted for several weeks.

Even if we would have had the amount of water stored,  1 gallon per person, per day, for 3 days, recommended by FEMA we would not have had enough to get through the boil water alert.

We lived in a typical residential neighborhood that was without electricity, we did not have a generator and of course no wood for a fire so how were we going to boil water?

Well, we were resourceful and got through it, but quickly realized we did not have a plan to filter or purify drinking water for long term use and very well could have dealt with worse conditions like the victims of Hurricane Katrina.




Even if you have long term water storage, you will still need a way to filter and purify it. Water can easily become contaminated by pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. These can either make you very ill or possibly kill you. The most common pathogens found in water are Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

If we had a filtering and purification system in place we would not have had to be concerned with the boil water alert.

There are different ways to purify drinking water, choosing the method that fits your environment, budget and storage capability are important considerations, it also may come down to what you have available to use in case you find yourself without clean water. It is important to note:

Methods to Purify Water

  • Boil Water
  • Distillation
  • Pasteurization
  • Solar Still
  • Water Purification Tablets | Drops
  • Chlorine Bleach | Iodine
  • Purification Pumps
  • Carbon Filters

  • Ceramic Filters
  • Gravity Fed Purifier
  • Ultra Violet Light
  • Ion Exchange System
  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Ozone
  • Copper Zinc Systems

What is the Difference Between Filtered Water and Purified Water?

Before we go over the different options in water filtration and purification it is important to know the difference between the 2. Filtered water is not necessarily purified water and filtering does not always make water safe to drink. It really depends on the method and or product you use.

Water filtration and water purification are not the same. Find out the difference.

Water filtration and water purification are not the same. Find out the difference.

Water Filtration

Water Filtration rids water of debris and particles through a physical process.  Depending upon the type of filter used even the smallest of particles can be removed like bacteria or microbial cysts.

Water filters cannot treat viruses and should not be solely relied upon for clean water. The only filters that are effective against some viruses are ones that have a chemical disinfectant component.

This is not a guarantee and it is important to research the safety and cleanliness of the filtered water from the option you choose. Water filters come in many sizes and shapes, they can be DIY (Do It Yourself) or bought.

It really depends on what your needs are. If you are going camping then a pocket or straw filter may be appropriate. If you are looking to filter water long term or large amounts of water you may consider a device such as the gravity filter.

Water Purification

Water Purification is a chemical process that will purify the water by removing germs, bacteria, and other unsafe contaminants or impurities.

The 2 most common chemicals used for purifying water are chlorine or iodine.

The most common store bought purification comes in the form of tablets or drops.

A best practice is to first filter the untreated water and then purify it.-2

Boiling Water to Purify

Boiling water is an excellent way to kill pathogens, viruses, and protozoa, however, it may not remove chemical pollutants. This is a great method If you find yourself in a natural disaster where your tap water becomes unsafe to drink or you have to collect water from the following sources:

  • Rainwater
  • Lakes
  • Rivers and Streams
  • Natural Springs
  • Ponds

Altitude does determine how long you will need to boil your for, the higher the altitude the longer you will need to boil. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute and 3 + minutes for altitudes higher than 6,562 feet above sea level. It is best to boil for 5-10 minutes then additional 1 minute for every 300m above sea level.

If the water is cloudy or contains particles and sediment filter it first. For basic filter from household items use a sock, coffee filter or clean paper towel. Place the water in a pan or pot and bring to a rolling boil. After 3 minutes (pending your altitude) remove the water and let it cool naturally.



Boiling water is one way to purify.You can improve the flavor of the water with Water Purification Tabs or a pinch of salt per quart or liter of water. Store in food grade water containers.  Boiling water does not remove sediment, minerals or heavy metals.


Distilling water is a process of boiling it until it steams and the condensation from the steam is captured into a clean container. Boiling water will kill bacteria and pathogens, when the steam rises it leaves any heavy metals, minerals & heavy contaminates behind. As the steam cools it will condensate returning to water and can be collected and stored.


Pasteurizing water uses less fuel than boiling, so if you have limited cooking fuel say while camping this method will be more efficient. The water needs to be heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 6 minutes in order to kill bacteria and parasites in water. There are DIY techniques that can be used for solar water pasteurization or with a solar still. Another option is using a solar oven with a water pasteurization accessory

Solar Still | Desalinating Salt Water

Locations with plenty of sunshine provide a great way to purify water. This is a common method used to make potable drinking water from salt water. You will need a bowl or container to hold the salt or dirty water and then a heavy weighted cup to sit in the center of the bowl.

Make sure to not contaminate the cup with the unpurified water. Place clear plastic wrap over the bowl and make sure it is tightly sealed. Place a small rock on the clear wrap over the cup and place in the sun. When the water evaporates it will gravitate towards the rock and then condensate since it does not have any place to go.



This condensation will drip into the cup, when the process is complete remove the cup to have drinking water. This method takes several days depending upon the amount of water, and sunshine available.

Another option for desalination of salt water is to buy a ready-made desalinator that is compact and easy to travel with. These are great to store in an emergency survival kit on a boat, raft beach house or condo.

Water Purification Tablets | Water Purification Drops

Water purification tablets or water purification drops are inexpensive and lightweight. They are great for travel kits for your car, hiking, and camping. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the package for use.

You will want to wait 30 minutes to ensure they are completely dissolved before drinking. The colder the water the less effective and more time is needed for the bacteria to be effectively killed.

The downside is that the water may leave a bitter taste in your mouth. You can purchase purification tablets that do not leave a chemical taste in your mouth or discolor the water. Check the expiration date before use as most have a shelf life of about 12 months.

Water treatment drops can be added to your water storage containers after they are filled. The solution will protect the water from bacteria or can refresh the taste and quality of the water.

It is best to rotate your stored water every 6 months to maintain the quality of the water, however if you find yourself in a situation where you have stored water such as in a 55 gallon barrel for a long period of time and would like to refresh the taste then this would be the time to use the water treatment drops.

Purification Pumps

Purification pumps come in many uses and are very versatile. They can be attached to your kitchen sink, or come as a handheld pump with filter and can be used in conjunction with a water bottle. They typically come with 1 or 2 separate hoses, one for clean water and one for dirty water.

The pump comes with a plunger used to suction the water through the hose, passes through a filter and out the clean water hose into your water bottle or container. The filters used along with pumps or in other purification devices are ceramic, carbon and gravity fed.


There are water bottles that have built in purifiers. They work similar to the pump but the water passes through the filter inside the bottle first prior to being available to drink from the bottle. It can be used along with water purification tablets to improve taste or increase the effectiveness of ridding bacteria and viruses.

How Do Ceramic Filters Work

Ceramic filters work by forcing water via gravity through very fine pores of the ceramic material to trap bacteria and sediment from the water. It removes contaminants such as E. coli, salmonella and bacteria like protozoan cysts, Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

They will not eliminate viruses, pesticides or organic pollutants out of the water so the water will still need to be treated or used in conjunction with a carbon filter.

These filters have a long life but will need to be replaced over time due to breaking and they must be cleaned regularly. This type of system that includes both a ceramic and a carbon filter to purify large quantities of water would be a great choice to have in a cabin in the woods or mountains or a hunting and fishing camp.

How Do Carbon Filters Work?

Carbon filters remove pesticides, chlorine, and several industrial chemicals. They are effective at removing bacteria and will need to be combined with another water purification option. Water passes through the activated carbon filter and it absorbs the impurities and contaminates.

The drawback to these filters is that they do not last very long. Once the absorption capacity is reached there will be remaining impurities in the water and the filter will need to be replaced.

This type of filter comes in many options for traveling to DIY and home systems. It is also a fairly inexpensive system especially if you create one yourself at home.

Gravity Fed Purifier

A gravity fed purifier uses gravity to pull the dirty water through the filter. The filter will either trap or absorb the impurities and contaminates. These can be purchased as a ceramic or carbon option.

About the Author Stephanie Anson

Stephanie Anson grew up farming with her grandparents where food preservation was an important aspect of her life. This included canning and other food storage techniques. Her enthusiasm continues today with her husband in wilderness survival, homesteading and colonial food preservation methods. Her foundation comes from past military experience along with her husband’s work in the field of biology. Stephanie has 3 children, her eldest in college and her youngest just over a year old. Enjoy the adventure with us!

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