Many are the resources you’ll need to draw on if you want to survive in an SHTF situation, but few are as precious, and as urgent as the need for water.
Water is not abundant in many places of the world, and even where it is you’ll find scarce few sources that are safe to drink as they are found. A lack of water, or a lack of clean water, is responsible for countless tens of thousands of deaths around the world every single year.
A human can only survive a couple of days at most without any water, so there is no situation that will not be made conspicuously worse by a lack of it. Even well before you perish from dehydration, your body will begin to break down and your mind will begin to malfunction.
The overwhelming desire for water drives many to drink from questionable or known bad sources, often causing illness or disease that makes worse an already bad situation.
You cannot afford to go without water and you cannot afford to drink bad water when your life is on the line.
For that reason, it is imperative that every prepper knows, understands and has equipment appropriate to purify water and make it safe to drink no matter the environment. In this article we will share with you 10 proven ways to make water safe to drink.
Learn Both Primitive and Technological Methods
Many preppers associate the purification of found water sources with modern filtration methods alone. This is understandable, as portable water filtration technology has come so far and been made so accessible, it is almost unthinkable that we would go without it as part of our kit.
Compact water filters like the Berkey and LifeStraw have proven time and time again to be overwhelmingly effective at removing typical waterborne contaminants that can adversely affect our health.
However, these systems are not the only way to purify water, even counted among our modern technology and furthermore you don’t even need much in the way of modern technology to purify water.
Primitive and ancient methods of water purification have been around for ages, and even if they are not as fast, as certain and as effective as our modern technology they can still take care of business when you need to know that your water is safe, or at least safer, to drink.
Some of the methods that we will share with you below are made possible strictly by our modern technology and access to it.
Other ways can be executed using modern technology or primitive methodology, and are excellent candidates for inclusion into any prepper’s repertoire.
I will let you know in the following section which methods can be adapted to primitive implementation in the appropriate entry. You would do well to learn and understand both approaches.
With that said, let us get on to the list.
10 Ways to Make Water Safe to Drink
Filtration is one of the oldest, most relied upon and commonly used methods for purifying water. Filtration can be employed using field improvised and/or primitive methods, or through the latest advances in technology and material science.
The only difference is one of efficacy as better filters will remove smaller and smaller contaminants from the water, progressing from the large scale of dissolved silt and sediment all the way down to the nanoscale of viruses, bacteria and other impossibly tiny microorganisms.
Filters come in all shapes and sizes, from built-in home water filtration systems to ultra-portable compact emergency filters like the LifeStraw, meaning there will always be a form factor and price tag to suit your needs.
This latter category has long been beloved by hikers, backpackers and preppers since they are so lightweight, effective and generally portable they can always accompany you into the field and be close at hand when you need a drink from a found water source, or a safe way to refill your water bottle or canteen.
Improvised filters can be something as simple as a bandana over a pot or cup, capable of filtering out little more than the largest floating objects and some larger sediment.
Or they can be something as intricate as a multi-stage filter assembled using an empty bottle or barrel, varying sizes of gravel, clay and crushed charcoal that rivals in home filters for effectiveness.
You will be a wise prepper indeed if you invest in an effective portable water filter, and also learn how to improvise filters from various materials and tools.
Boiling is another time honored and common technique for the purification of water, though it is one that is not nearly as efficient and well-rounded as filtration.
Boiling helps make water safe to drink by killing the overwhelming majority of microorganisms that might be hiding inside, microorganisms that can make you extremely sick if ingested.
Giardia is one such bug that can cause you to lose the contents of your guts from both ends, further dehydrating you rapidly. Mercifully, giardia cannot survive high temperatures, to say nothing of boiling.
There are many other viruses, bacteria, parasites and similar gribly creatures that will die when subjected to heat. Boiling water ensures that they all get what is coming to them, and after you allow the water to cool down it will be much safer to drink.
I say “safer”, and not “totally safe”, because boiling does nothing to remove other contaminants of a non-biological nature. Many chemicals, heavy metals, various dissolved solids and other things will not be affected by boiling.
This is less of a concern when drawing water from an otherwise pristine natural source, but the more likely it is that water has been contaminated by any of these mentioned substances the less appropriate boiling is as a “one-shot” method of purification.
Boiling is often at its best when used in conjunction with filtration, especially when that filter is not 100% effective on its own.
The one-two punch of filtration and then boiling is often the best that any person will be able to do under the circumstances, and barring heavy metal or radiological contamination usually adequate to get a person through a survival situation.
If you have a way to build a fire and a metal vessel to hold your sourced water you’ll be able to employ boiling.
Distillation is a process of water purification by which the sourced water is evaporated and allowed to condense in a separate container.
Distillation as a process has been understood for an extremely long time, and is commonly employed at an industrial scale for scientific, commercial and civil purposes. The resulting water should be safe to drink for the short term at least.
For our purposes, distillation is one of the single most effective purification methods available, as the resulting water will be completely devoid of all contaminants.
They’ll get left behind in the primary vessel when the water transitions to steam and then condenses back in a separate, clean container.
Distillation works best, and fastest, with the benefit of an appliance that handles the entire process with the press of a button.
That being said, it is also possible to employ distillation using a very simple lab glass and burner setup or even field improvised primitive methods utilizing nothing more than a sheet of translucent plastic, a vessel and the power of the sun’s rays.
The greatest shortcoming with distillation is that it requires time and a considerable amount of fuel, one way or another.
Running any kind of burner or heating element apparatus to constantly heat the suspect water source takes tons of energy, and even employing the practically limitless energy of the sun means it will require even more time.
The water yielded for the time and energy invested is comparatively small compared to other methods, but its purity is assured, and that makes distillation the method of choice when you are forced to deal with extremely contaminated water.
Learn to make your own water distiller at home here.
4. Solar Disinfection
Solar disinfection is an interesting and adaptable technique that allows you to kill microorganisms in the water using nothing more than a common, transparent container and an open view of the clear sky on a sunny day.
The secret is in the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. As it turns out, subjecting microorganisms to this radiation bombardment for a length of time is enough to kill them utterly, just as good as any chemical or boiling found elsewhere on this list.
Solar disinfection is a somewhat specialized technique, but only requires minimal material and time, along with cooperative weather conditions.
All you need to do is pre-filter your water as best you can to reduce turbidity, as cloudy water will take much longer to sanitize compared to clear water.
Then all you need to do is pour the water in your clear container, cap it, and leave it in the direct rays of the sun for about half a day, or a whole day if you have intermittent sun.
At the end of the process the quantity of water will be sterilized of germs and much safer to drink. This is an outstanding technique to be employed in any long-term survival scenario when you have containers and cooperative weather on your side.
It does not waste fuel, it does not require much in the way of babysitting and it is shockingly effective- that makes it a sure winner for preppers.
5. Cilantro Purification
In what has to be the most outlandish method of purification on this list, I’m happy to report that cilantro purification is absolutely real, effective, and can do something that very few other methods of purification can lay claim to, and that is the effective removal of heavy metals from your water source. Sound too good to be true? I can assure you that it is not!
Quite a few university studies have been conducted on the subject along with significant anecdotal testing performed by various survival professionals. This technique is as legit as any other.
Cilantro purification of water is quite simple, and involves placing fresh cilantro in your water source, bottle, jug or whatever. That’s it.
It does take time to work but through some miracle of nature cilantro actively purifies the water, attracting and binding heavy metals with no more effort on your part.
The process takes about 24 hours to complete, but there is much you can do in the meantime while you wait on your water to purify.
As you might have deduced, cilantro purification is highly specialized in that it only reliably removes heavy metals.
That being said, this is capability you cannot afford to neglect and in conjunction with filtration, boiling and other methods elsewhere on this list cilantro can prove to be the ace in the hole that removes one of the deadliest and most persistent contaminants to be found in various water sources.
This is an especially critical method for urban and suburban preppers who might be dealing with found water sources contaminated by man-made materials.
Desalination is the process by which salt is removed from salt water, making the water fresh and nominally safer to drink. Saltwater is always especially tricky to deal with because there are very few methods by which its chief contaminant, sodium, can be removed.
You don’t need me to tell you that you cannot drink salt water; poor souls trapped in maritime survival situations throughout history have often been driven to the brink of madness trying to stave off their thirst before eventually succumbing, drinking salt water, and dying shortly thereafter.
Desalination as a process is not often talked about in a survival context because it is typically the province of large plants that conduct this process on an industrial scale to supply public water to coastal communities.
This is obviously invaluable and indeed completely necessary for some cities that exist in otherwise arid coastal environments. But it does not help us as preppers, especially considering that other methods, like distillation, desalinate water as a matter of course.
But as technology has marched on so has our capabilities. Various companies now produce small, portable or semi-portable desalinators that can allow you to take seawater, and render it into safe drinking water through a single process.
Katadyn is one such company, as their flagship model of the type, the Survivor 35, is an expensive but ultimately invaluable addition to any prepper’s seagoing complement. Devices like this can greatly extend survival time in a maritime environment.
7. Water Purification Tabs
Water purification tabs, steri-tabs, or sterilization tabs, have been around in one form or another for a very long time, being widely used in military forces around the world as a way to purify questionable water sources and make them safe, or at least safer, to drink.
There are several manufacturers of these tablets, and each one relies on a different chemical or composition of chemicals to get the job done, with popular options being chlorine, troclosine sodium, and sodium dichloroisosyanurate.
Whichever brand or type you prefer so long as you follow the instructions carefully you can rest well knowing that any harmful microorganisms in your water have had their asses thoroughly kicked and you won’t get sick from drinking them.
Sterilization tabs have been mainstays of other outdoor folks and professions besides the military for a long time because they are portable, stable and generally reliable in a variety of circumstances.
No matter what sort of filtration or other purification technology you are relying on you can always make a case for bringing along sterilization tablets in addition.
Do take care, though: These tablets do nothing to eliminate harmful chemical contamination or remove things like heavy metals and other dissolved solids.
Also be sure you pay close attention to the instructions, because adding too much of the active chemical could be harmful in the end!.
Iodine is the other long-running, “Hall of Fame” water sterilization chemical, one that is well deserving of its accolades for effectiveness and thoroughness, though you’ll have to pay attention when carefully metering it out into a given quantity of water.
Adding too much could have adverse effects. Also, iodine is fairly notorious for making water taste “skunky” or otherwise bad, so you might have to hold your nose and drink.
At least you can be grateful that there won’t be any hostile organisms left alive in the water to make you ill!
Iodine, like other chemical additives, is only effective against biological threats. It won’t do a single thing against dangerous chemical contamination, heavy metals or other particulate contamination. This stuff also stains skin and clothing ferociously so you have to be extra careful when administering it.
9. Ultraviolet Steri-Pen
Ultraviolet light, as you might have already learned, is an effective way to kill germs in water and on surfaces, and thanks to modern technology improvements in miniaturization and power supply we now have on demand ultraviolet sterilization capability for our water bottles.
The ultraviolet steri-pen works by bombarding a small quantity of water with intense ultraviolet radiation, destroying viruses, bacteria and parasites. Most of these tiny critters cannot withstand the intense scrutiny of the sun, so they won’t stand a chance when they are face to face with this thing!
To operate, devices of this nature are inserted into a small quantity of water typically carried in a bottle or jug before switching it on and then gently stirring or swishing the water.
These devices work well most of the time, but they definitely struggle in anything but clear or nearly clear water, so if you are drawing water from murky sources or have no ability to pre-filter these might not be the best choice. Once more, these will not remove or neutralize anything but microorganisms!
You might not have known that common, ordinary bleach that you use every week on laundry day could be one of the best tools you have for purifying water; it’s true!
By adding a small amount of bleach to a known quantity of water and then giving it time to work, the chlorine in the bleach will kill all of the germs present in the water, and do so with a high degree of certainty.
No joke! Considering bleach is so available and so inexpensive, there is no reason you shouldn’t know how to employ this technique.
Just a couple of considerations before you begin, so don’t go adding bleach willy-nilly: First, the bleach must be regular chlorine bleach without any additives, thickeners or performance-enhancing “bonus” chemicals. Just standard, sodium hypochlorite bleach.
Next, the amount of bleach you have to add to even a gallon of water is extremely small, and must be measured precisely, so if you are wise you will print out the various formulas and keep them handy in case you need them assuming you can’t commit them to memory.
Lastly, bleach works best on clear water, so you should pre-filter first. Also, as with every other chemical additive, it does nothing to remove other chemical contamination, dissolve solids, or heavy metals.
Access to safe and reliable drinking water is one of the most pressing survival concerns that anyone will deal with. No matter your environment, no matter the situation, you must have water to drink and plenty of it.
You can chance making a bad situation worse by drinking found water sources as they are, or you can sidestep that roll of the dice by purifying your water using any one of the methods shared in this article.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.