Top 9 ways to purify water, if you’re stranded and Desperate

One of your top priorities in any survival situation has to be water. Your body can only last for three days without water before dying, and it only takes less than twenty-four hours for you to become severely dehydrated, which will lead to pounding headaches and a significant drain of physical energy that severely inhibits your chances of survival. But finding a source of natural water is only part of the process. You also need to find a way to filter or purify it so that it becomes safe to drink. You may think it’s okay to take a risk by drinking the water directly from the source, but the truth is that the harmful bacteria and pathogens within water can wreck havoc on your body and possibly even kill you.

The good news is that there are a multitude of different ways you can purify water, ten of which we will cover right now:

1. Boiling

Boiling water in a pot
Boiling water in a pot

Easily one of the most commonly recommended ways to purify water and make it safe to drink is to boil it. There’s a good reason why: it’s extremely effective at killing all of the harmful bacteria that you can’t see.

Boiling water is simple: you take a metal pot or container, fill it up with your water, and then set it over a fire until the water comes to a boil. Allow the water to boil for a minimum of ten minutes (some survival experts would recommend fifteen just to be safe) before removing the pot and allowing the water to cool before drinking. The biggest drawback to boiling is that while it can efficiently kill off bacteria and protozoa, it can’t get rid of any harmful substances that you can see, such as pieces of debris or sand and it can concentrate some chemicals such as pesticides.

3. DIY Water Filter

If you have literally no manmade materials whatsoever and have to turn entirely to natural resources, your best bet will be to make your own DIY water filter. You will need at least one empty container and then a separate container or bag with holes on both sides. Alternatively, you can take a large strip of tree bark and fold it around into a cylindrical shape.

Fill your container/bag/bark roll up with a layer of charcoal (from a fire), followed by a layer of sand, a layer of pebbles, another layer of sand, and another layer of pebbles. Pour your water through this makeshift water filter so that it empties out into your empty container. While this method doesn’t get rid of all harmful bacteria, it will get rid of much of the visible substances.

4. Home Bleach

Use bleach to purify your water
Use bleach to purify your water

As long as your home bleach is of the regular unscented variety, it will be very effective at purifying water. For every gallon water, pour 1/8 teaspoon of bleach into it. Use the cleanest water possible for the best effect. Use a spoon or another tool to swirl the water around and wait for a half hour. The water will now be safe to drink.

2. Distillation

If you want the most effective and efficient way to purify water, the one method that guarantees the water is one hundred percent safe to drink, it will be to use the distillation method. The trade off? Distilling water is also easily the most complicated method and requires tools you may not have in a survival situation. To distill water, you need two containers of water (at least one must be metal) and a tube of some kind that connects the two.

Heat the metal container of water over a fire until the water comes to a boil (as with the last method). This kills the bacteria and pathogens. The water will then slowly begin to turn into steam and will travel through your tube into your other container, where it will turn back into the water. In the process, the steam gets rid of the particles and substances in the water that you can see, which makes the water perfectly safe to drink.

5. Iodine

Using iodine to purify water is very similar to using home bleach. Simply repeat the same process, only use twice as much iodine as you would bleach.

7. Solar Still

Tech. Sgt. Joshua Anderson teaches Airmen how to build a solar still during a recent desert survival class at a deployed location – Author: U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Karalyne Lowery
Tech. Sgt. Joshua Anderson teaches Airmen how to build a solar still during a recent desert survival class at a deployed location – Author: U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Karalyne Lowery

Okay, this isn’t a method to purify or filter existing water you have, but it is an excellent method to create your own clean water. That’s just as good, right? In the early morning, dig a hole that’s a minimum of a foot and a half feet deep and a foot and a half deep wide. Place an empty water bottle or container in the center of the hole and surround it with green leaves and/or grass.

Cover the entire hole with plastic sheeting such as a tarp, and place heavy rocks on all four corners to hold it. Place one more smaller rock in the middle of the tarp so that it weights down directly over the container.

Leave the still alone and come back at the end of the day. Condensation will have dripped down the tarp into the container, and give you at least two or three sips of perfectly clean water.

6. Purification Tablets

Purification tablets truly are a lifesaver when it comes to survival. Each tablet is made out of iodine or chlorine dioxide (or both). Simply place one tablet in your water bottle and wait for thirty minutes; the water will now be safe to drink.

8. Survival Straws

Lifestraw – safe drinking water – Author: Badri Seshadri – CC BY 2.0
Lifestraw – safe drinking water – Author: Badri Seshadri – CC BY 2.0

Survival straws are another lifesaver just like purification tablets. They can fit right into your pocket or around your neck with a lanyard, and models such as the LifeStraw allow you to drink directly from a source of water. Not only does the LifeStraw filter out visible substances, but it can also remove odors and invisible bacteria a well.

9. UV Light

Another survival lifesaver is to use a UV light bottle. While they can’t rid of visible substances, they can get rid of invisible particles and bacteria. Opt for a battery-free model that allows you to hand crank it instead. It only takes around a minute of hand cranking before the water will be safe to drink.

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nick-oetken is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival