Today's post is a bit long but water purification is VERY important. Enjoy!
Copyright ©2010 Noel Napolitan
There are many ways to treat water. None is perfect. Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Before treating, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of clean cloth. The important thing to remember here is that boiling and chemical disinfection will kill microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, most other chemicals and radioactive fallout. The final method distillation will remove microbes as well as most other contaminants, including radioactive fallout.
There are several ways you can purify any water. The most important thing to remember here is “When in doubt, clean it out”. This includes the water from your faucet if it has an odd smell or is clouded at all. These methods are boiling, chemical disinfection (avoid if at all possible), distillation (which uses boiling in the process) and mechanical purification.
Boiling is pretty self explanatory. Use a large pot and, making sure you have adequate ventilation, bring a gallon of water at a time to a rolling boil for at least ten minutes. Allow it to cool down if it is for drinking purposes. This will kill most of the bacteria that can live in the water and is the better than chemicals.
Chemical disinfection is perhaps the most dangerous method simply because you are using chemicals that can potentially kill or poison. Before choosing this method, make sure that you are fully aware of any allergies that exist in your group and never use chemicals if you must provide clean drinking water for anyone who is pregnant. I list this method simply because it exists. It is best, truthfully, to avoid this method all together since the boiling method is much more effective.
There are two mostly simple ways to chemically disinfect your water. The first is using iodine or water purification tablets (usually chlorine). This method involves adding, usually, one tablet per ½ liter or three drops per quart of water to be disinfected. Always follow the directions on the container and pay attention to the printed expiration date. If either of these pieces of information is missing, it is a good idea to discard this method and use one of the others. Also, iodine can be very dangerous for people who have iodine allergies, pregnant or nursing women and people with thyroid problems. Iodine should not be used if any of these cases exist.
The other way is by using plain bleach, with no fragrances or additives. The chlorine content should be between 4 and 6 percent and your water should be at room temperature. If your water is cloudy, use double the amount listed. Once you have disinfected the water using the following chart (which lists the maximum you should use), allow the water to sit in a sealed container for at least one hour before using it. When ready, it should have the very faint odor of bleach. If it does not, treat it again (you can safely use up to double the amount listed). Always keep this container sealed when not in use as the chlorine will dissipate. Also, never use this water for reconstituting any food or drink containing dairy.
Distillation is a method of boiling your water and capturing the steam caused by the process. This is, perhaps, the best process to use. Overall, it is quite simple and there are many ways to do it. I will explain the simplest way and you can use your imagination if you want to distill larger quantities faster.
You will need a large container or pot (with a capacity of at least one gallon) with a tight fitting, domed and handled lid, a smaller container (with a capacity of a cup or two) having an upper ‘lip’ and a strong piece of string or wire. Making sure all of your items are clean, follow the steps listed and you will have distilled water.
1. Fill your large container about halfway full with water
2. Using the string or wire, attach the smaller container (in an upright position) to the handle of the lid (in an upside-down position)
3. Make sure the small container does not dangle in the water when you place the up-side down lid back onto the large container
4. Place the entire ‘contraption’ over your source of heat and bring the water to a boil
5. The steam will condense on the inside of the domed lid and run downward to drip into your smaller container
6. Empty your small container into a clean storage container each time it gets about half full
7. Once your storage container is almost full, cap it tightly and shake it vigorously to add a little bit of oxygen back into the water (this will help it to not be so bland)
This method can be very time consuming and will use a large amount of your available fuel. However, if you have lots of time and fuel, this is the very best way to go. Aside from putting one of these together yourself, pre-assembled ‘stills’ can also be purchased.
Solar stills operate upon the "greenhouse effect." A clear plastic barrier (a plastic bag, ground cloth, or a plastic grocery sack) is placed over a “source,” such as the ground, tree branches or other organic materials. The sun’s (solar) energy passes through the barrier and heats the source material. Moisture from the source vaporizes and then condenses on the underside of the plastic barrier. The moisture is then collected as drinkable water. Solar stills are capable of distilling almost any tainted water, even seawater. Solar stills can condense drinkable water from substantially anything that contains moisture. The only source materials that it cannot distill drinkable water are materials that give off toxins, such as fluids with high amounts of chemicals, radiator fluids, and fuels.
Solar stills are easy to assemble and require only two essential components: 1) a container to catch the water, and 2) a large sheet of clear plastic (from 6’ x 6’ to 9’x 9’). Optional items include a long plastic drinking tube with end cap, a small shovel, and duct tape.
Solar stills are inexpensive to make and most of their component parts can be purchased at a hardware store. However, solar stills should not be your only method for finding drinkable water during an emergency. This distilling process is extremely slow and only small amounts can be collected daily. A solar still is good when you have exhausted other methods.
Silver - Throughout the centuries, people in many countries have used pure silver to disinfect water. Additionally, silver has been and is being used therapeutically for sicknesses, infections, and as an antibiotic (although some controversy continues as to its actual effectiveness). Silver is a natural purifier. In the United States it recently has been accepted as an agent for water purification. There is still some controversy as to its effectiveness as a therapeutic or not.
Ultraviolet (UV) - Because ultraviolet light requires electricity, it is mainly used as a home filtration method for water; it is not typically practical otherwise. Water enters an ultraviolet-lighted chamber and swirls around a high output, low-pressure mercury vapor lamp, which emits powerful ultraviolet light. The energy components of microorganisms absorb the light energy, which disrupts their DNA preventing them from reproducing. UV lighting literally sterilizes the microorganisms rendering them ineffective in making one sick. UV lighting adds no chemicals to change water’s taste. Beyond requiring electricity, UV methods demand some form of filtration to remove dirt, debris, chemicals, tastes and odors. UV purification is considered a good “stage” of the purification process, but it is not complete by itself.
Combining methods can make water safe to drink and taste better. Become aware of your area’s surrounding surface water and determine what methods work best to make that water safe to drink. Educate yourself to know what works, what doesn’t, and how you can get more drinkable water if needed. You should get a simple water testing kit, usually available at military surplus stores (or check with your local water board), know how it works and practice using it, testing and purifying water for drinking at least twice a year.
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Here is a link to a water purification calculator: