Picture this: you're lost in the wilderness, you already finished your last sip of water, you're huffing and puffing up steep hills, when you finally stumble upon a pristine lake. Your heart swells with relief – finally, you can quench your thirst. But wait! Before you fill up your water bottle, consider this: clean water is the #1 survival resource – but contaminated water has the power to kill you.
Waterborne diseases could be lurking even when water looks clear, and water quality should always be a top-of-mind concern when sourcing water outdoors. Poor water quality can also be an issue when traveling, or even in your very own home. After a natural disaster or emergency, water treatment facilities may be compromised, making tap water unsafe to drink.
So, how do you make sure that the water you drink is safe? In this blog post, we will explore 5 different treatment methods to make water safe for consumption, including boiling, filtration, disinfection, UV light sanitation, and distillation. Quench your thirst safely with the methods below.
Turn Up the Heat: Does Boiling Water Make It Safe?
So, does boiling water make it safe? The short answer is yes. According to the CDC, boiling water is the most reliable method of killing germs and bacteria. It's a primitive yet effective way to ensure that unwanted (and invisible) microbes and parasites present in water are destroyed.
It's also widely accessible, easy, and time efficient. All you have to do is heat the water until it's at a rolling boil. If you're at or near sea level, boil the water for at least one minute. If you're above 6,500 ft. elevation, boil the water at least 3 minutes. Let it cool before drinking.
Crystal Clear: Filtration for Safe Drinking
Water filters work by removing harmful contaminants and pathogens from the water, leaving behind clean and safe H2O. There are a number of different options available on the market, from countertop models to portable ones, but one of the most popular for survival purposes is the personal water filter straw.
For best efficacy, choose one with a pore size of 1 micron or smaller. These handy devices are small enough to take on camping trips or stash in a bug out bag and can provide you with a clean source of drinking water straight from streams and rivers.
Pre-filtering "wild" water can be an important first step in the purification process, as it helps to remove larger particles like sediment, dirt, and debris before passing through your water filter. A simple coffee filter, wash cloth, or even a pair of pantyhose can do the trick. Just pour your water through one of these make-shift filters first and watch as the sediment and larger impurities are left behind. Taking the time for this simple step can extend the life of your filter.
Emergency Essentials: Disinfecting Water for Safe Drinking During a Crisis
Disinfecting water commonly involves the use of household bleach to kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites present in the water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are the guidelines for disinfecting water with bleach:
- Add 2 drops of regular, unscented household bleach (5-9% sodium hypochlorite) to one quart (≈ 1 liter) of clear water.
- If the water is cloudy or contains visible particles, use 4 drops of bleach per quart.
- Mix the water well and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before drinking. There should be a slight chlorine smell. If there isn't, repeat the process at the same dosage and wait another 15 minutes before consuming.
Note #1: Do NOT use scented bleach, color safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.
Note #2: Bleach's efficacy degrades over time. According to the Scripps Research Institute, "Bleach can expire. After a shelf life of six months, bleach starts to degrade. Even in its original bottle, bleach becomes 20 percent less effective as each year goes by."
In emergency situations, iodine can also be used as a temporary water disinfection method when no other options are available. To use iodine for disinfecting water, follow these guidelines:
- Use 2% tincture of iodine (which is available in most pharmacies).
- Add 5 drops of iodine per quart of clear water. If the water is cloudy or contains visible particles, use 10 drops of iodine instead.
- Mix the water well and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before drinking.
Please note that iodine may not be as effective against some parasites like Cryptosporidium. Pregnant women, people with iodine allergies, and those with thyroid issues should avoid using iodine to treat water.
Both iodine and bleach treatment should only be used as a short-term solution in emergency situations.
Disinfecting Drinking Water with UV Light: A Powerful and Chemical-Free Solution
You can also harness the power of UV light to sanitize water without the need for chemicals.
The secret behind its effectiveness lies in the ability of UV light to penetrate the cells of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms, effectively killing them and rendering them harmless.
One of the key advantages of using UV light for water sanitation is the availability of portable UV light sanitizers, which make it easy to purify water on-the-go. These devices are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, travelers, or anyone in need of clean water during emergencies.
However, if you find yourself in a dire situation without access to a UV sanitizer, natural sunlight can also help. By leaving clear plastic water bottles in the sun for several hours, the sun's UV rays can assist in killing harmful pathogens. Although this method is not as thorough or effective as using a proper UV sanitizer, it's better than nothing in an emergency.
Distillation: A Time-Tested Method for Sterile and Safe Water
When you're out in the wild and need safe drinking water, distillation can be an effective method to obtain it. Here's a simple way to create a makeshift distillation system using readily available materials:
Gather materials: Find a large container (like a metal pot or a large, empty can), a smaller container (such as a cup or small bowl), a clear plastic sheet or bag, and some rocks or heavy objects.
Set up the containers: Place the smaller container in the center of the larger container. Fill the larger container with water from a nearby source, ensuring that the water level remains below the rim of the smaller container.
Cover the setup: Stretch the clear plastic sheet or bag over the top of the larger container, sealing it tightly around the edges to prevent evaporation. Use the rocks or heavy objects to weigh down the plastic sheet around the edges, creating an airtight seal.
Create a collection point: Place a small rock or object in the center of the plastic sheet, just above the smaller container. This will cause the plastic to slope downward, directing the condensed water droplets into the smaller container.
Heat the water: Place the entire setup in direct sunlight or near a fire, taking care not to melt the plastic. As the water in the larger container heats up, it will evaporate and condense on the underside of the plastic sheet. The droplets will then slide down the slope and collect in the smaller container.
Collect the distilled water: Once you've collected a sufficient amount of distilled water in the smaller container, carefully remove the plastic sheet and enjoy your purified drinking water.
Remember that this method may take some time to produce enough water for consumption, and it may not remove all contaminants. However, it can be a valuable technique to know when you're in a survival situation and need clean drinking water.
To Sum it Up: Stay Prepared to Have Safe Drinking Water in Any Situation
If you want to be prepared for a camping trip, natural disaster, or SHTF survival situation, it's important to prepare and have a good grasp of different methods that can make water clean and safe to drink. This is especially critical info for preppers, survivalists, and outdoor enthusiasts who want to know the best water preparation practices in situations where there is little or no access to clean water.
Contaminated water is an extreme health hazard. In addition to storing clean drinking water, being familiar with the above 5 methods could make the difference between life and death in an emergency situation where water quality is compromised.