Whatever the reason for impure water might be, natural disaster or just plain bad luck, quite a few of us wouldn’t know what to do if we woke up one day and discovered our clean water supply was gone. Considering that the average human adult can’t last much longer than three days without water, what would you do? If there are no uncontaminated lakes or rivers in your area to haul water in from, what then?
You could be using the most technologically advanced water purification system on the market but without power it won’t be filling your water jugs with anything drinkable. Hopefully, you will never need the information contained in this blog, but just in case it saves your life someday, following are several ways to filter water that don’t require technology or power.
Clarification Is the First Step
Before attempting any purification method if water is cloudy or contaminated with bits of debris it should be thoroughly strained first. You can either let it sit until solids have settled to the bottom or use thickly layered cloth as a filter. If you don’t have a bath towel handy, a large shirt folded several times would work.
Natural Sand/Earth Filter
Water that comes straight up from the ground is often contaminant free because it has to pass through natures filter before it ever reaches the faucet. Copycatting this natural process is fairly simple. Find a tall container (7-gallon plastic buckets are perfect), something to drill a hole in the side of the bucket, a length of hose, clean sand, silt (fine, powdery soil), and gravel. If charcoal is handy, add it to your supplies and then you’re ready to build a filter.
Drill a hole near the bottom big enough to fit the hose in, then add a couple inches of gravel as the first layer. Next add a layer of coarse sand, and then fill 2/3 of the remaining space with a fine sand and silt mix. The last layers should be one more of gravel and one of regular sand. Now all you need to do is pour dirty water directly into the top of the bucket and wait for it to filter down and out through the hose.
Boiling is likely the most well-known way for water purification. It kills most microorganisms in 1-5 minutes and is probably the fastest way to get a clean drink. If there is no power or gas, open pit fires, a solar oven, or the heat of a car engine will get the job done. Boiled water won’t hurt you, but it may taste flat. Shaking it thoroughly will aerate the water and adding a pinch of salt helps to improve its flavor.
Solar Distillation – Time Consuming but Effective
All you need for a solar still is a large sheet of clear plastic, two open containers for water, and a rock. Fill one container with dirty water and place both under the plastic which should be suspended tightly above them. Place the rock (or other heavy object) on the plastic directly above the empty container to form a depression. Sun shinning through plastic will heat the dirty water, evaporate it, and then it will condense on the underside of the plastic. Condensation will naturally flow towards the depression above the empty container and begin filling it drop by drop.
Using the Power of The Sun to Disinfect Water
Sunshine, a clear plastic container with a secure lid, and approximately 6 hours are all you need. Fill the bottle, place it in direct sunlight for 6 hours and that’s it. UV-A radiation from the sun easily penetrates the plastic and kills any bacteria or parasites hiding in the water. It doesn’t have to be summer time either, even in winter this method works as long as you have those 6-hours of direct sun.
Liquid Chlorine (Unscented Bleach)
Note: consult a doctor before using bleach to sanitize water. Bleach can be lethal is used improperly.
The same bleach used in laundry can also be used to make water safe to drink. How many drops needed for one gallon of water depends on the chlorine concentration of the bleach you use. 1% chlorine requires 40 drops, 5.25% is 8 drops, and 8% only needs 4 drops. After the bleach has been added, shake well and let it rest for a minimum of 30 minutes. Bleach won’t kill everything in the water but if nothing else is handy, it’s far better than nothing at all. Aerating the water will help to clear up any unpleasant chlorine odor.
Most modern water purification systems contain quite a bit of charcoal because it has no problem absorbing contaminants. It doesn’t have to be a special type either. Coal left behind from a wood fire will work. Simply crush it up, funnel it into a two-liter bottle that has had holes punched in the bottom and that’s it.
Pour the water in at the top of the bottle and what comes out the bottom should be drinkable. I say “should be” because even though the water will be well filtered, it may still have some bacteria remaining and should be boiled afterwards for safety’s sake.
Tincture of Iodine
20 drops of liquid Iodine at a 2% concentration in one gallon of water is sufficient to make it safe to drink, and if the water is cloudy use 40. Shake well, and 30 minutes later it’s ready. Iodine tablets work just as well and are available most places camping equipment is sold. Packaging will have dosage instructions but if not, all you need to remember is it takes one tablet for every quart of water you need to purify.
All of the supplies for any of the above water purification methods can be found in or around most homes. Now is a good time to take an inventory and see what you have on hand, don’t wait for an emergency. Staying prepared to help yourself puts you in a much better position than being caught off guard in an emergency.