There are several water purification methods to make dirty water safe to drink. The best water purification methods to use depend on the water source. Some methods can kill viruses, others remove dirt and microbes but not viruses. This article covers the best and easiest water purification methods for preppers and bushcrafters.
Boiling water is probably one of the simplest and most well known water purification methods. Heating water to a rolling boil and keeping it boiling for a few minutes will kill bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms in the water. It will not remove particles, chemicals or minerals from the water.
If your water source is dirty, it is best to combine another one of the water purification methods with boiling. Filter the water first, using a basic filter. This could be as simple as a piece of cloth to remove the majority of the dirt from the water. Boiling will then kill any microbes that remain in the water to make it safe to drink.
A single walled metal canteen is a very useful item to have as part of your bug out kit. It allows you to boil water in the same container that you can carry it in and drink it from. Some canteens, such as this one, also come with a cup that doubles as a cover for the canteen.
If you use a canteen to boil water, make sure that the lid is off when heating. Heating water in a sealed contained causes a pressure build up that could rupture the container.
Filtering is another of the simplest and most common water purification methods. It removes particles from the water, and depending on the filter that you use, can remove bacteria and protozoa too.
The most basic filter can be as simple as a piece of cloth, or a paper coffee filter. These will remove most of the dirt and larger particles, but won’t remove smaller particles and micro-organisms. Most of the water filters that are available for bushcraft and survival are able to remove bacteria and protozoa. A few water filters are also able to remove the majority of viruses.
If you obtain water from a flowing stream or river with no nearby farm animal or human contamination, it is unlikely that there will be viruses in the water. A water filter that can remove bacteria and protozoa would make most natural water sources in the UK safe for drinking.
Our recommended water filters are:
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System. The Sawyer Mini is our favourite water filter. It is cheap, small, reliable and great for keeping in a bug out bag. It filters out particles, bacteria and protozoa, meaning it’s perfect for most natural water sources in the UK. You can attach the Sawyer Mini to a bottle, or use as a straw to drink from a water source.
Lifestraw Personal Water Filter. The Lifestraw is designed to use for drinking directly from a water source. Like the Sawyer Mini, it filters bacteria, protozoa and particles out of the water. This therefore makes it suitable for most UK natural water sources.
Survivor Filter Pro. This is a more expensive hand pump water filtration system. It can filter out most viruses as well as particles, bacteria and protozoa. It also filters out mercury and lead from a contaminated water source. The advantage of a system like this is the speed at which you can filter water. It is, however, bigger than the Sawyer or Lifestraw and takes up more space in a bug out bag. For most purposes in the UK, the Survivor Filter Pro is probably overkill, but it gives you an even better guarantee of safe drinking water.
Chemical Water Purification Methods
Water purification tablets contain chemicals that kill water borne micro-organisms. These are a great water purification technique for preppers as they are easy to use, safe and also very small and easy to pack. They won’t remove particles, so combining with a basic filter, such as a paper coffee filter, before adding the tablet to the water will remove at least the larger particles.
It’s always a great idea to have some water purification tablets at home and in your bug out bag. They don’t cost much, don’t take much space, and last a long time. You don’t know when you might need some, so I’d recommend buying some now.
Some preppers also use household chemicals to as a water purification technique. It is possible to create a similar effect to water purification tablets, however I would not recommend this method as miscalculating the amounts of chemicals could do serious harm. Stock up on water purification tablets instead!
Distillation is basically turning water in to steam, and then cooling it to turn it back in to water again. This is a great, safe water purification technique because it extracts clean water leaving behind most impurities and micro-organisms. Distillation can even extract fresh, drinkable water from seawater. The drawbacks of this water purification technique are the length of time it takes if using a solar still, and that it removes the natural dissolved minerals that are good for you (e.g. calcium and magnesium) as well as removing impurities. Replace the minerals in your diet by using mineral drops or including foods that contain them in a balanced diet.
There are several ways to distil water. You can buy water distillers, however these are usually expensive and often electrically powered, make your own water distiller that can be used to distil water with a camp fire, or make a solar still that uses the sun to distil water. A solar still is easy to make and use in survival situations, and doesn’t need much additional kit.
UV light kills micro organisms, and can be used as an effective water purification technique. It does not remove any particles or chemicals from the water, and so is best used in conjunction with a basic filter to at least remove particles from the water.
Sunlight can be used as a water purification technique, this is known as SODIS (SOlar DISinfection). This is as simple as leaving a clear bottle filled with water out in bright sunlight for at least 6 hours. The UV sunlight kills micro-organisms in the water. The disadvantages of this technique are the amount of time it takes, and that it does not remove particles or chemicals from the water. Combining the technique with a basic filter when filling the bottle will help with particle removal.
UV light can also be generated from an artificial source, and there are many UV water purifiers on the market. Most of these are electrically powered, and therefore are not ideal for any disaster scenario where you may not have power. Even battery powered UV water purifiers will not be much use once the batteries run out unless you’re able to replace them.
What Are Your Favourite Water Purification Methods?
You’ve seen our five of the best water purification techniques. You’ve seen our favourite products too. Which water purification techniques are your favourite? Do you use the products we’ve suggested in this article, or do you prefer something else?