Stocking your water reserves is one of the most important things you can do to get your family prepared for disaster. It is recommended that you store 1-3 gallons of water per person per day.
You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool, but you should never ration water. If you’re thirsty, drink!
If the disaster lasts long enough, eventually, you’re going to run out of water. What will you do then? You’ll need to know where a water source is, and you’ll need to know how to purify water.
If you are ever thrust into a situation where you have to use water from a questionable source, and you don’t already have water purification systems in place, you’re going to need to know how to make that water safe to drink.
In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis.
While there are many ways to purify water, none are perfect. The best solution is usually a combination of methods.
Before purifying, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of paper towel or clean cloth (such as your cotton bandana you certainly have with you, right?).
How to Purify Water by Boiling
Boiling is the oldest and most common method used to purify water. While boiling water kills most germs, parasites and microbes that may cause intestine related diseases, it cannot remove chemical toxins, heavy metals, or salts.
Still, if you have a fresh water spring, standing puddles of rainwater, or access to a lake, river or stream, boiling may be all you need (just be careful of animal scat or urine in standing puddles). A good rule of thumb is to take water from a moving source rather than a still-standing one as there are likely to be less contaminants in moving water. Scoop the water up in a camp kettle or stainless steel water bottle and bring it to a boil.
In the time it takes to bring water to a boil, all pathogens will be killed. To be safe, it is recommended you boil the water for a full minute to ensure it is safe to drink. Boiling water for 5-10 minutes does nothing more than wastes some of the water through evaporation.
If you’re in a true SHTF situation and have no food, you could add various things to the water to make a tea or broth — boullion cubes, pine needles, wintergreen, and white cedar just to name a few. Some of the wild edibles may be toxic or produce chemicals that you may be allergic to, so please do your due diligence and research before you just throw a handful of greenery in your boiling water.
Remember that boiled water retains no purifying qualities, so water that has been purified and stored using this method only will still be prone to microbes and other germ contamination.
Purification of Water by Chlorination
You can purify water using liquid chlorine bleach to kill microorganisms and other harmful pathogens as well as preventing the spread of waterborne diseases. This method is called chlorination. Add 2 drops of bleach per quart of water (four drops if the water is cloudy), stir or shake and let the water stand for at least 30 minutes. If it doesn’t have a slight chlorine smell, add another drop or two, shake or stir, and let it stand another 15 minutes.
Be sure to avoid using bleach with perfumes or dyes added. Bleach will not remove chemical pollutants and does not kill all disease causing organisms.
There is a lot of controversy about using chlorine in water for purification. Health nuts (no offense intended) will tell you that it’s unhealthy. It may very well be unhealthy, but in a SHTF situation, I’d much rather drink a couple of drops of bleach per quart of water than drink all the pathogens in the water and get sick. The short term health effects are minimal when compared to the long term health effects of drinking unpurified water.
Using Water Purification Tablets
Purification tablets release iodine or chlorine to purify water. They are relatively inexpensive and readily available online as well as at most sporting goods stores and even some drugstores.
Each package comes with directions to follow. Usually one tablet is good for each quart of water. If the water is cloudy, you might be able to double the dose. Water is safe to drink in approximately 30 minutes.
These tablets are used for short-term and emergency uses only, and should not be relied upon for constant water purification. While purification tablets protect against most pathogens (like giardia), they also neutralize the iodine aftertaste and color, helping your drinking water taste better.
Purify Water by Distillation
Distillation is basically boiling water and condensing the steam released in the process. The water vapor rises and then gets collected without any of the harmful impurities. Distillation will purify water by removing microbes, heavy metals, salts, most other chemicals, and radioactive dust and dirt (fallout).
Filtering Water to Remove Impurities
Filtering will also remove radioactive fallout. (Water itself cannot become radioactive, but it can be contaminated by radioactive fallout. It is unsafe to drink water that contains radioactive fallout.) Filtering to purify water can be as basic as pouring water through a cloth or as complex as building a survival filter. In an ideal situation, you should have the water run through a commercial filter, but in a pinch, you can filter water using sand, charcoal, grass, cloth, or any number of materials.
If you don’t already have one, I would highly recommend you get yourself a LifeStraw to put in your bug-out bag. A LifeStraw is a portable water filter that removes 99.9% of bacteria and protozoan parasites (including giardia) and even reduces muddiness.
The most common DIY survival filter setup is made by turning a plastic bottle upside down and cutting the bottom out. Keep the bottle upside down so you can use it kind of like a funnel. Place a piece of cloth into the bottle near the mouth to prevent any of the other materials from falling out, and as a last step in the filtering. Next, fill the bottle 1/3 of the way with sand, then 1/3 of the way with charcoal – (you can make your own if you need to), and the final 1/3 with small pebbles or rocks. Pour the water through and catch it as it comes out.
Putting It All Together
No one method is necessarily going to completely decontaminate and purify water, but if you combine methods, you should have perfectly drinkable water that can be stored.
First, filter the water to remove as many solid particles as you can. Next, distill the water. The boiling will kill the microbes in the water, while the rest of the distilling process will ensure there are no heavy metals or salts in the collected water. Finally, chlorinate the water. After you have filtered, distilled and chlorinated, the water will be about as pure as you’re going to get it, and you can keep it in clean containers for as long as necessary.
Emergency Water Sources
In a SHTF scenario, you will eventually run out of clean drinking water and will need to find more. Don’t think you’ll be able to go to the store and find it – I assure you, it will already be gone. You will have to seek alternative sources of water including:
- Natural Springs
- Toilet Tank
- Water Heater Tank
I pray you never have to use any of these sources or purify any water, but it could be possible. Practice every way to purify water that you can as often as you can so when the time comes, you’ll know exactly how to do it properly and won’t risk getting sick.