7 Ways to Safe Drinkable Water

Excerpt from Survival Tips, Tricks and Traps by Wanda & William Priday, Chapter 5 – Water

1. Always disinfect water when you can. Boiling is the most effective way to purify water. Boiling water will kill ALL biological contaminants, but will not remove chemicals, toxins, heavy metals or radioactivity. If you boil saltwater, the steam created is fresh water and if you boil all the water out, you are left with salt. Salt is important in all climates to maintain adequate electrolyte levels. To help replace electrolytes, add a small pinch of salt back into a liter of distilled water. If you need to boil water and you do not have a fireproof container, fill a container, such as a 5-gallon bucket, about halfway with water. Line the container bottom with small rocks (do not use sticks unless you are certain they are non-toxic and not poisonous) to protect the container from melting, and then add hot rocks from your fire into the container until the water bubbles and boils. Filter through a cloth or the above-mentioned filtration system to remove debris.

2. Iodine tincture 2% kills all biological contaminants except Cryptosporidium which comes from deer, goats, cows, sheep and elk. Pregnant women, children and those allergic to seafood should avoid this water purification method. Add 8-10 drops of iodine per liter of water and wait about 20 minutes.

3. Average household bleach containing 5% – 6% sodium hypochlorite disinfects water. Add bleach according to the chart below and wait 20 – 30 minutes before drinking. Bleach has a shelf life of no more than 1 year after its expiration date so rotating your stock is important. In an event that creates long term supply demands, it will most likely be an item that is initially available but over time become in high demand. 

.                                                 High Turbidity

Volume of Water to be TreatedBleach Solution to Add
1 quart/1 liter5 drops
1/2 gallon/2 quarts/2 liters10 drops
1 gallon1/4 teaspoon
5 gallons1 teaspoon
10 gallons2 teaspoons
Fig. 5-1 Bleach to Water Treatment

The chart above is for water that has high turbidity, such as muddy pond water or puddles. If the water you are disinfecting is clear to begin with, these amounts can be reduced in half.

4. Potassium  permanganate (a.k.a. Condy’s  Crystals  or  KMNO4)  disinfects bacteria from water. Add 3 – 4 crystals per liter of water and let sit for 2 hours. You want the water to be light pink which indicates enough potassium permanganate has been added to disinfect.

There are hundreds of water purification methods readily available on the market, whether tablet form, purification pumps or purification straws. Using iodine, bleach or potassium permanganate are recommended because they serve multiple purposes and are compact, easy to store methods.  Knowing what surplus water supply you will be using can narrow your method.  Be advised that due to the use of pesticides, mismanagement of industrial waste, boating accidents and other environmental hazards, many large bodies of water in the United States and abroad, such as Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River and the Potomac River are riddled with non-biological toxins that are not easily removed without specialized filtering systems. In some cases it is impossible to remove heavy metals/toxins to a safe drinking level, however if it is the only water available and you are on the verge of death from dehydration, you may want to drink it and deal with the toxicity concerns after you are rescued or out of the emergency situation.

5. Charcoal can be used to filter unwanted flavor and smell from water. Add charcoal to water when you boil it or pour water through a charcoal filter. This can be made by putting charcoal in a sock or piece of cloth and pouring the water through it and into a container. Making a larger water filtration system is easy. This method does not purify all contaminants from water, but it will reduce biological and chemical toxins and remove odors. Gather three or four 5-gallon buckets. Punch small holes in the bottom of 3 of the buckets. Half fill each bucket as follows. The top one gets gravel. The next gets sand. The bottom of the last bucket gets a piece of fabric or non-toxic plant fibers and then crushed charcoal from a fire. Add a fine layer of sand at the bottom of this bucket too if feasible. Stack the buckets one on top of the other, top – gravel, middle – sand and bottom – charcoal. Pour water into the top bucket and let it filter through. It won’t come out clear at first, so run the water through it repeatedly. It will eventually run clear. Again, this will not kill or remove all pathogens.  If you only have one container, you can layer the gravel, sand and charcoal in that container and allow to run through into a catchment device.

6. Transpiration devices can be made by using a plastic bag (no need to be clear) and filling them with non-toxic non-poisonous vegetation,  Fill the bag with green leaves, grass or other plant material such as roots, blow up the bag to add lots of air, tie of the bag and leave in the sun. This won’t work so well in cold climates.  In warm climates, the heat from the sealed bag will cause the plant material to evaporate moisture.  If your plant material was nontoxic/non-poisonous you will reclaim a small amount of water that has been evaporated from the plant material in the bag. This process will not yield much water, but a little water is better than none.

7. A distillation device can be made for both salt and fresh water, by using a clear plastic water bottle, you can create a solar distillation device. In an even circle, cut the bottom 3rd off of the clear plastic water bottle.  Take top 2/3rds portion of the bottle and make a 2 inch fold to the inside of the bottle. Fill up the 1/3 cutoff bottom with saltwater. Place the 2/3 top of the bottle over the bottom 1/3. Bury your bottle distiller in direct sun about 1 inch into the sand. The saltwater will evaporate and collect on the top 2/3rds portion of the bottle and potable water will run down the inside the top portion of the bottle into the portion you folded inside and up.  To get the clean, distilled water out, unscrew the top and pour out into another vessel. This will provide you with a few teaspoons of water.  For this method to be successful create multiple distillation devices. Fortunately (and unfortunately) you should have no problems finding plastic water bottles scattered on the beach, along roadsides or just about anywhere.  

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