7 Water Purification Methods For Survival

Clean Drinking Water During An Emergency Procuring safe drinking water is one of the first things you should do when a disaster strikes. It’s easy …

Clean Drinking Water During An Emergency

Procuring safe drinking water is one of the first things you should do when a disaster strikes. It’s easy to take our taps and fancy bottles of Fiji for granted in our day to day lives, but in a survival situation water quickly becomes a valuable commodity.

With modern conveniences mostly unavailable during natural disasters and their aftermath, you have to learn to use what’s around you. That means you have to learn how to purify water from streams, ponds, rain puddles, and other natural sources.

We’ve gone ahead and written down the benefits of several different purification methods, and I’ve written instructions on how and when you should perform each method.

It might be tempting to pick the easiest method and master it, but I highly recommend learning to do each of these purification methods before you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

You never know when your favorite method will become unavailable.

Why Make Your Water Safe For Drinking?

Purifying your water is a crucial part of survival. There won’t be modern conveniences such as taps and bottled water for sale in an emergency.

Natural sources of water are exposed to a long list of contaminates. Trash pollutes it, animals defecate in it, fish die in it, and tons of microorganisms call it their home.

Drinking impure water can cause you to suffer from Cholera, Dysentery, Typhoid, and a whole list of other deadly ailments, and in an emergency, it’s likely that there won’t be any hospitals available to help you with those.

dead fish in polluted water alongside rubbish

When Would You Need To Purify Your Water For Drinking?

If you’re sitting at home on an average day, you probably don’t need to worry about purifying your drink water. However, that’s not the case when modern conveniences aren’t available.

You should purify your water any time you’re not drinking it from a purified source such as a tap or a water bottle. This includes water that you get from streams, rivers, ponds, or any other natural water source.

It doesn’t matter if it looks sparkling clear and tastes great. If it wasn’t previously ran through a purifier of some sort, it’s extremely risky to drink it.

A Source Of Water Is Essential

Before you can purify water, you need to locate a reliable source of water. It’s unlikely to be purified, but there are a few things that you should look for.

First, you never want to take water from a source that is close to waste products. This can be anything from a puddle next to a pile of trash bags, to a pond 100-feet away from a city dump. It also means to stay away from water on farms. Livestock and pesticides are often a part of life on a farm.

Sources like that are likely to have chemicals and other forms of pollution that you’re unlikely to fully remove from the water, and drinking from them is extremely risky.

Instead, you should look for moving water such as streams and rivers. Lakes and ponds can provide suitable sources of water, but they’re more likely to have particulates built up because the water isn’t moving.

If you’re really desperate and away from natural water sources, you can find purified water in the tank of your toilet. The bowl is dirty, but the tank behind the toilet has the same water in it that you get from your sink, and you won’t have to worry about it unless your plumbing has been compromised.

Some Examples Of Water Purification

Now that you know why it’s important to purify your water, it’s important to learn several different ways to actually do it in an emergency.

You don’t want to rely on one purification method. Sometimes you won’t have access to some of the materials needed for some methods, and having a large variety of options will ensure that you always have a way to create safe drinking water.

Water Purification Tablets

Purification tablets are probably the simplest method, but they can be a little time consuming to use, and they make the water taste slightly like pool water.

They work by chlorinating water to the exact level that you need to make it drinkable. A purification tablet won’t get rid of particulates that can protect germs and viruses, but it will kill most forms of microorganisms in a short amount of time.

Tablets are also very easy to use properly. When you mess with some of the other chemical purification methods, you have to measure things to exact amounts, and using the wrong amount can make you sick. Tablets are pre-measured. You just drop one in to purify whatever amount of water the package says one tablet can purify.

However, it can take more than thirty minutes for purification tablets to fully clean your drinking water, and it can take hours in some situations. If you’re in need of water immediately, you can’t rely on water purification tablets to get the job done.

Survival Water Filter

Survival filters have become must-have parts of any survival kit. They’re light, convenient, and able to be used hundreds of times.

However, there are a lot of different types of survival water filters available, and each type has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Here are the three that you’re most likely to come across and actually use.

Water Filter Straws

Survival straws made a huge splash in the prepping world when they first debuted. Originally designed to aid people in countries with small amounts of clean water, straw filters can remove the majority of pollution and microorganisms from water, and they can process thousands of gallons before they’re worn out.

Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System, Single, Blue

There aren’t many drawbacks to using a survival straw. They can easily fit in a bug out bag, and they last a very long time.

To use a survival straw, all you have to do is remove the caps on either end, put the designated end directly into the water source of your choosing, and drink through the exposed end. It’s that easy.

A survival straw will remove bacteria, particulates, chemicals, and most other problematic substances from your water source, but it’s not perfect.

You can’t expect to filter ocean water, and contrary to what a lot of preppers think, it’s not a safe way to filter water out of your urine. It will work in the short term, but there’s still too much salt to drink from it regularly. It just can’t remove such high amounts of salt from those sources. It also won’t remove some of the smaller viruses that might be present.

That doesn’t mean a survival straw is a bad choice for your tactical backpack, though. It’s incredibly useful, and it gets rid of most of the contaminates in a water source as you drink from it.

I simply suggest ensuring that you have a secondary option to handle water with viruses or other issues that a survival straw can’t handle.

Gravity Water Filter

Gravity water filters can be made from scraps or purchased. The latter is much more reliable, but if you’ve ever seen Bear Grylls or Les Stroud pour their water through a sock with plant materials in it, you get the idea of how a commercial unit works.

All a gravity filter does is pull water through several layers of carbon with the power of gravity. They take up more room than some of the other methods, and they’re pretty slow, but they do a great job of removing the majority of contaminants.

I don’t suggest relying on a gravity filter for all of your water needs, but it’s a good thing to set up at camp. You can set it up, continuously feed it more water, and use it to create a small stockpile while you focus on other things.

This makes it a great option for long-term survival with a group of several people, and it can be a good way to stay ahead when you have to survive alone.

Water Filter Pumps

Pump-style water filters are great for removing debris and large contaminates from a water source, but they aren’t as good at removing smaller contaminates such as viruses.

They work similarly to straw-style filters, but you don’t use your mouth to provide the suction necessary to draw water. Instead, they typically have a long hose that you place into a water source, and you use a hand-powered pump to draw water.

These work pretty quickly because of all of the force you can use to pull water through the filter, and they allow you to store the water in large emergency containers as you pump it.

That makes them great for creating stockpiles of water in a relatively quick manner, but you don’t want to trust your life to them entirely. As I said, they can’t remove smaller contaminates such as viruses.

It’s fairly easy to get around that obstacle, though. You can use a pump-style purifier to remove particulates and chemicals from a water source as you pump it into larger containers. Then, you can use a chemical purification method or boil it to remove viruses entirely.

Boiling Water

If you check the CDC’s website, you’ll see that boiling water is the most effective way to ensure that it’s safe to drink. This is because boiling water is the only way to be 100 percent sure that viruses and bacteria doesn’t remain in the water when you go to drink it.

pot of boiling water over camping fire

However, boiling water doesn’t remove particulates or chemicals. You’ll have to remove particulates from the water by filtering it. You can use a pump-style water filter or gravity filter to get rid of particulates, or you can use a tightly-woven fabric such as a coffee filter or cloth.

If the water is contaminated with chemicals, you can’t use that water source. It’s just not possible to ensure that all of the chemicals are removed with any of the survival filters on the market.

Once you’ve ran the water through a filter of some sort, all you have to do is boil it. The CDC recommends boiling water until it comes to a rolling boil, and then maintain that rolling boil for a full minute.

After you’ve boiled it, you obviously want to let it cool. From there, you can store it in a safe container, or you can drink it without worrying about becoming sick.

Distilled Water

Distilling your drinking water allows you to safely drink from some of the worst water sources without consequences, and it can be done in so many ways that it’ll almost always be an option.

Distillation is basically the act of causing water to evaporate and catching the pure water as it reforms into a liquid. You can set up complex lines of tubing and heating elements, or you can simply stretch a piece of plastic over a water source while the sun does its job.

The most effective way to distill water without complicated equipment is to make a basic setup. You need tubing that is preferably made from clean metal, a fireproof vessel that’s sealed to boil water in, and a vessel that is clean enough to store water in.

I recommend using a stainless steel water bottle or something similar for your boiling vessel. Fill the boiling vessel with water, insert one end of your tubing into the vessel, but don’t submerge the tubing, run the tubing in an arch-like pattern, and put the other end into your collection vessel.

If you can, I recommend sealing the area where the tube enters the boiling vessel. You won’t get a lot of clean water if most of it is evaporating away from the tube’s opening.

As water evaporates, it enters the tubing and rises. As the water vapor gets further away from the heat, it turns back into a liquid, and it falls down the tube and into your collection vessel.

While distillation is great, it’s time consuming, and it demands a few resources that aren’t common in survival situations. Some people also worry about the purity of the water. It’s so pure that it doesn’t contain any minerals or other healthy additives.

If you’re a prepper, you probably know that you won’t care about getting minerals and electrolytes when you’re dying from dehydration, but it is something to consider for long-term use.

UV Light

Using ultra-violet light to purify water is easy, but it takes a lot of time to purify a little collapsible water container this way in a survival situation.

The most basic way to use ultra-violet light to purify water is to filter out particulates, put it in a transparent container, and let it sit in the sun for hours at a time.

The ultra-violet rays from the sun will slowly kill viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms, but it won’t affect debris or chemicals.

As you can probably imagine, that’s a lot of work for a minimal amount of water. This is something I only recommend using when you’re out of other options.

However, you can buy UV purifiers commercially, and they’re a lot more effective. They’re a little expensive in comparison to pretty much any other type of purification tool, but they work indefinitely, and they’re reliable.


Chlorinating your drinking water is the same as using water purification tablets, but instead of using pre-measured tablets, you use chlorine bleach in its liquid form.

If you have access to purification tablets, I recommend just using those. It’s easier to do, and you don’t have to worry about messing up the process. However, you can make a bottle of chlorine bleach stretch a lot farther than a small package of water purification tablets.

To use chlorine bleach, you just add one-quarter of a teaspoon per gallon of water, and you leave it alone for an hour. If there are particulates in the water, filter them out before you add bleach. If there are chemicals or solids in the water, you can’t use it.

You also want to use regular household bleach. Don’t use anything that has additives in it.

Iodine Treatment

Iodine is another way to chemically treat your water. You can buy it as a liquid, tablet, or crystal, and each method works the same way.

If you’re using liquid iodine, you use it the same way as you use bleach. However, liquid iodine comes with a tincture to measure out proper amounts of iodine, and you have to add 5 drops of it per quart of water.

Tablets and crystals have instructions marked on their packages. We prefer the solid products because they won’t make a mess if they end up spilling, and they can still be used if you do spill them.

Water Storage Considerations Following A Natural Disaster

Even if you know how to purify water, you need to know how to keep it safe. It doesn’t make sense to waste your time purifying it, and then store it improperly. Here are a few things that you should consider when you go to store your water.

Stockpile It Before You Need It

The best way to avoid not having water in an emergency is to store it beforehand, maybe alongside your emergency food storage is something to consider. If you’ve ever watched the news before a bad flood or another natural disaster, you’ve probably seen how quickly people will clear every single bottle of water from a store’s shelves.

It’s important to avoid having to use any of these tips for short-term emergencies by simply keeping a stockpile at home.

Don’t Use Improper Containers

Using an old milk jug might seem like a great idea, but that old milk jug is a breeding ground for bacteria, and it’s not suitable for water storage.

The best types of containers are reusable bottles or vessels made from stainless steel. You can also reuse bottles that were originally used for storing water, but make sure you clean them thoroughly with a bleach and water solution.  Also make sure these bottles are food-grade plastic bottles.

Keep Water Away From Chemicals And Fuel

It’s unlikely that you’ll store your water supply next to gasoline and other chemicals, but if you are planning on doing that, you’re going to taint your water source.

The vapors released by those chemicals and fuels can penetrate plastic, and the substance will leech into your water.

Keep It Cool

Whether you’re storing water before or after a natural disaster occurs, it needs to be kept in a cool and dark place. UV sunlight can quickly degrade plastic bottles, and it can ruin your water supply if you expose your water to it for long periods of time.

Post-Emergency Checks

Even if you properly store your water before an emergency, you’ll want to ensure that it held up to any abuse that might have occurred during a natural disaster. If you had it in your basement during a flood, make sure it wasn’t compromised by the flood water.

If you’re effected by a hurricane or tornado, you’ll have to make sure your water containers weren’t damaged during the storm. Failing to do so can lead to you drinking contaminated water.

Final Thoughts

There are many different ways to purify impure sources of water, but we personally feel that a small handful of those methods stand out against the rest.

Our favorite method is boiling. It’s quick, easy, and extremely reliable. It’s the method I recommend for most situations. We are also fond of survival straws and chemical treatments in tablet form. They’re convenient when you need water quickly, and they’re almost as reliable as boiling the water.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the time to learn the other methods, though. Emergency situations are unpredictable, and you never know when your favorite purification method won’t be an option. It’s a good idea to know as many purification methods as possible.