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7 Ways To Purify Water In A Survival Situation

In this article you will learn various methods to purify water, either using items from your home, specialized tools or improvisations in the wild.

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Water is the number ONE survival essential. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are; if you don’t have access to drinking water then it is Game Over.

The average person can only survive three days without water, and dehydration will set in quickly – drastically altering your decision-making and physical capabilities.

There are many ways you can stock your home store with water or source it when out in the wild, but you need to know how to make it safe to drink in any given scenario.

In this article, we will talk through a range of options for purifying water at home and out in the bush.

Finding a Water Source

If you are at home and your water supply has been cut off, or you are totally on-the-move – then identifying your closest source of water is your top priority.

Rainwater, hail, ice, dew and even new snow can all be used for hydration without purification; but you cannot rely on having a steady stream of precipitation at your fingertips.

Water can be collected from rivers, ponds, lakes, trees and even the ocean – but it is imperative to purify it and make it safe to drink via one of the below methods.

Water-borne diseases kill millions of people around the world every year, and children or those with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

That being said, if you really cannot purify your water and are about to die of thirst – then drinking diseased water will still keep you alive; you just have to hope that your immune system can fight off any impending disease, or that you can get to a hospital in time!

Top 7 Ways to Purify Water


Main benefit of boiling: Quickest and simplest method

Main downside of boiling: Requires fuel

Boiling is probably the most common and effective way of purifying water.

It works well in most scenarios, at home or out in the field; except if the water is heavily contaminated with chemical or radioactive particulates (in which case, see ‘distillation’ below).

Boiling water kills bacteria and harmful pathogens, but will not remove heavy chemicals. Sustain a rolling boil for at least five minutes to be certain that you have killed anything that might harm you.

The downside to boiling water is that it requires fuel or fire. Fuel is a precious resource, and needs to be conserved if you are to be hauled-up at home or on-the-go for a long time.

Fire is easy enough to make, but if you are trying to be discreet then the smoke will give away your position.

Whilst boiling is simple and effective, it is always good to have several backup purification methods in mind for a range of scenarios and to conserve your fuel.

Cup with water boiling over a campfire

Purification tablets

Main benefit of purification tablets: Easy to use

Main downside of purification tablets: Can leave unpleasant taste

Water purification tablets are likely something that you’ve heard of, and are indeed a common feature in any prepper’s pantry.

Most of them are iodine-based, and you simply add one tablet to a certain volume of water, wait as the tablet dissolves, and are left with clean drinking water.

The slight downside to these is that they can leave your water with a distinct and unpleasant taste. This is probably not your biggest concern in a survival scenario, but can certainly affect your level of comfort – which is especially important if you have children.

The amount of time needed for purification to work ranges anywhere from 10 minutes to 40 minutes – with the quickest-acting tablets generally leaving the strongest taste.

It is best to stock up on a range of brands just so you have a variety. If you are on-the-move then having to wait 40 minutes every time you want a drink will quickly become tiresome.

To alleviate the taste, consider adding a small amount of low-sugar juice concentrate to encourage your young ones (or yourself!) to drink enough.

Survival Straw

Main benefit of a survival straw: Instant clean water

Main downside of a survival straw: Not reliable for heavily-soiled water

Survival straws are increasingly popular thanks to their portable and “instant” nature.

The small filter contains an active carbon element which removes a good quantity of harmful pathogens and bacteria from the water; but it is not the most effective product in our list.

This is instant filtered water, no wait-time required. They are a common item in Bug Out Bags and take up barely any space in your backpack.

They are best used in clear water, and are not to be relied upon for water that is dirty or heavily contaminated. If you can, first use another, more thorough method of purification and then drink through your survival straw.

Note: they do NOT filter out salt!


Hand Filter

Main benefit of hand filters: Instant filtering on-the-go

Main downside of hand filters: Eventually the filters need to be replaced

Hand-powered filters have been around for a long time and are a reliable way of producing clean water. They are either pump-action or drip-filters and can provide instant clean water at very little effort.

Most use a ceramic cartridge which filters out large particulates, twinned with a silver core that removes harmful bacteria. These are a popular choice with hikers and backpackers and can be used on rivers, streams or lakes.

As with most methods, flowing water is recommended over standing water for these hand-filters – so that harmful bacteria do not build up in the water source.

Katadyn are one of the most reputable brands of water filter, and they make long-lasting products for on-the-go or home-use.

Last update on 2024-04-03 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Main benefit of distillation: Best method for saltwater or heavily-contaminated water

Main downside of distillation: Takes a long time

Distillation is one of the safest ways of purifying water, but it requires special gear or a little ingenuity.

In this method, unsafe water is heated which releases water vapor. This water vapor is then trapped, condensed and collected – yielding clean, safe drinking water.

This method is especially good for purifying salt water.

It is possible to buy a home distillation kit – or make your own DIY version – to keep in your stores so that you can safely distill any water you gather from a stream or nearby water source.

Check out this video on how to build a homemade water distiller made by desertsun02.

If you’re on the move and running low on water, then there are ways you can make a “solar still” - a way of distilling any source of water in the earth to make it safe to drink.

To make a solar still:

  • Dig a hole about 2ft deep and 3ft in diameter in direct sunlight. Do this in the morning to conserve energy and produce less sweat.
  • Place a container in the center, this will be your drinking container.
  • Fill the hole with any source liquid you can find. Sea water, bog water, vegetation, even urine!
  • Cover the whole with a sheet of transparent plastic and secure the edges with dirt and rocks. Place a small amount of dirt or small rock in the center to make a cone shape directly over your container.
  • Over the course of the day, the heat from the sun will cause any liquid in your hole to evaporate, and water vapor will collect on the plastic. It will run down the cone shape and eventually drip into your container. Bingo – clean drinking water!

Watch this video to see how to build a solar still from All 4 Adventure TV.

UV light

Main benefit of UV Light: Quickly and reliably kills bacteria

Main downside of UV Light: More expensive

Using UV rays you can eliminate pretty much all of the harmful bacteria that can accrue in water. I have met many travelers who swear by them as the best water purifier, even deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle.

Steripen is probably the most popular brand of UV water purifier, and for good reason. They offer hand-powered or battery-powered option and claim that their purifiers kill 99.9% of bacteria.

Note that this is not a good option for saltwater – UV cannot remove salt! This is certainly a good option to keep at home, and you can even buy small, portable ones to add to your Bug Out Bag or Get Home Bag.

Last update on 2024-04-03 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

They are hand-sized so they can slip into your pack easily at not much extra weight or space.

Household chemicals

Main benefit of household chemicals: Easily done at home using common chemicals

Main downside household chemicals: Bleach can be dangerous and leave an unpleasant taste

In an emergency, there are actually some common household chemicals that you can use to purify your water. Bleach and iodine can both serve as an effective purifier, and almost all households will anyway stock bleach – prepper or not!

It is hugely important to use the right type of bleach: chlorine-free, unscented with no added chemicals. You must also pay attention to the amount you use: ingesting too much bleach can be seriously damaging to your internal organs.

The recommended amount is 2 drops of bleach per liter/quart and you should leave it for at least 30 minutes to kill bacteria effectively. Leave your bleached water in a cool, dark place and when you open it, it should smell slightly of chlorine.

If not, add a couple more drops and wait again – better to have a slightly unpleasant taste but know that your water is safe to drink!

See official government advice for more ratios, depending on the strength of your bleach: EPA Drinking Water Guide.

Final Advice On Purifying Water In Survival Scenarios

The best thing you can do is to stock up with a few (or even all!) ways of purifying water. Make sure that your home pantry and all survival bags are well equipped with purifying options, each covering a different scenario.

It is easier and much more comfortable to survive at home than in the wild, but if you are forced out of your home then you will thank yourself for being so well-prepared.

As a prepper, we often imagine a “doomsday” scenario where we are all forced into some ultimate survival mode.

But more often than not you could lose your water supply due to natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake – or even something as simple as a bust water pipe in your home town!

Even if you are not preparing for the End of Days, knowing how to purify water is still a very useful thing to learn.

Remember: you simply cannot survive without water and this should be your top priority.

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