How to purify water

Purify Your WaterIt’s extremely important to confirm your water has been purified or treated before drinking. If your water is contaminated and you don’t have bottled water, there are various water purification methods that are used today, and each method has its merits and demerits. Filtering is good for basic water tasks such as sediment and chlorine removal, but in the long run reverse osmosis is the best option. At Schultz Soft Water we focus on reverse osmosis units because they require a lot less energy and time required to make water versus distillation.

When reverse osmosis is not available, there are 4 water purification methods that you can use to make your water safe for drinking.

4 – Chlorination

Chlorine is a powerful chemical that has been in use for many years to treat water for home consumption. Chlorine is an effective water purification method that kills germs, parasites and other disease-causing organisms found in ground or tap water. Water can be purified using chlorine tablets or liquid chlorine. As an off-the-shelf water purification product, chlorine is cheap and effective. However, caution should be taken when using chlorine liquid or tablets to treat drinking water. For example, people suffering from thyroid problems should talk to a medical practitioner before using this product. When using chlorine tablets, it is important to apply them in heated water, as they dissolve well in water that is at 21 degree Celsius or higher. Chlorine tablets kill all bacteria leaving your water clean and safe.

If you are looking for the best ways of treating your water, Schultz Soft Water is your best source of advice on best water purification methods and custom solutions to your water purification needs. Reverse osmosis is the best option, whereas filtering is good for basic water tasks such as sediment and chlorine removal. Reverse osmosis covers a larger spectrum of contaminant removal.

Contact our team of experienced water purification experts to give you the best water treatment solutions. We will help achieve better health for you, your family and guests.

Get a Quick Quote on a Drinking Water System

4. Bleach

It might sound a little odd, but bleach can, in fact, be used for emergency water purification. However, because it is a chemical, working with bleach can be dangerous, and one must follow careful instructions in order to ensure proper safety and successful water treatment.

First, check to make sure you are using a soap-free and unscented chlorinated bleach. Use a new or sterile medicine drop per to add the following amounts of liquid bleach to the contaminated water:

  • 4 to 6% chlorine (most common household bleaches) – Add 8 drops of bleach to each gallon of water
  • 1% chlorine – Add 40 drops of bleach to each gallon of water
  • 7 to 10% chlorine – Add 4 drops of bleach to each gallon of water.

After the two have been mixed, let the chlorinated water sit for half an hour before drinking. The purified water should slightly smell of chlorine. If it does not, the process may be repeated.

Why Do You Need to Purify Water?

Always purify water from an outdoor or unsure source before you drink it! It may not seem like such a big deal to drink a bit of dirty water (or even water which appears clean) if you are lost in the wilderness. But, sadly, most natural water sources are grossly contaminated.

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Unpurified water – even from water which appears clean – often contains contaminants like:

  • Giardi intestinalis
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Campylobacter
  • Salmonella
  • E. coli
  • Shigella
  • Enterovirus
  • Hepatitis A

The CDC lists some of the possible effects of drinking these contaminants, the main ones being diarrhea and vomiting.

Diarrhea and vomiting can KILL YOU when you are in a survival situation! They will cause you to further dehydrate, and can also limit your mobility (not to mention that they aren’t very fun to deal with).

When the water is from sources near urban or agricultural environments, there are also risks of pesticides, herbicides, feces, chemical runoff, and much more.

The bottom line? Don’t drink unpurified water if you can avoid it!

So what do you do if you don’t have a water filter, UV treatment system, or other water purification method? Use one of these methods!

Boiling Water

This is the best way to purify water if you don’t have a camping water filter. Simply boil the water for a minimum of 5 minutes, though it is even safer to boil the water for about 20 minutes.

The problem is that this will require you to have some sort of fire-proof vessel. If you don’t, then you can try rock boiling.

  1. Create a vessel to hold your water (such as out of pine bark)
  2. Make a fire
  3. Heat rocks in the fire
  4. Put hot rocks in the vessel with the water
  5. The rocks will cause the water to boil
  6. Continue adding hot rocks to keep the water boiling

Woodland Ways has a good depiction of how this is done here.

Solar Still

I wrote about solar stills in my post about uses for plastic tarp. A solar still is great because it doubles as a water collection method (great for situations where there aren’t any streams, creeks, etc, such as in the dessert) and also a purification method. You will need to have a plastic tarp, but a clear rain poncho would work too.

Here is how you make a solar still:

  1. Dig a hole
  2. Put grass, leaves, cacti, urine, or other moisture-containing things into the hole
  3. Put a water collection vessel into the middle of the hole
  4. Cover the hole with your plastic tarp
  5. Put a rock in the center of the plastic tarp so the tarp angles downwards towards the water collection vessel

The idea behind the solar still is that, as the sun shines through the tarp, it will cause moisture to evaporate from the hole and the things in it. The water vapor will go upwards, hit the tarp, and cool down. This will create a greenhouse effect and cause condensation to form on the bottom of the tarp. The drops of condensation will drip down into the collection vessel.   Since the drops are from water vapor, the water should be (mostly) clean.

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solar still

Image credit: “Puits Solaire” by Solar_still.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Build a Grass-Gravel-Charcoal Water Filter

There are a few different ways to build these DIY water filters. They all work on the same basic principle though: the water goes through various layers of grass, gravel/sand, and charcoal. During each step, impurities in the water are removed. It is really important that you use charcoal as this is what will absorb the harmful bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. The other materials are more for filtering out big pieces of dirt.

Learn how to make DIY activated charcoal 

If you have spare cloth, then you can build the water filter this way.

diy water filter

If you don’t have spare cloth, then you can make a water filter in a found plastic bottle (luckily, there is usually trash around). If you can’t find a plastic bottle, then you can make a cone out of birch bark for the filter.

diy water filter gravelImage credit: Water filter by Ryo Chijiiwa, Work found on Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0

Bleach for Purifying Water

In urban emergency situations where you are without clean water, bleach will likely be the best way to purify water. The EPA says bleach will kill most disease-causing microorganisms (though it will not remove chemical contaminants). They give these instructions:

  1. If the water is cloudy, let it sit so particles settle on the bottom. Only filter the clearer water on the top. Or, you can filter the water through cheesecloth or a coffee filter.
  2. Locate some bleach with 8.25% sodium hypochlorite. It should be unscented and have no additional cleaners added to it!
  3. Add 6 drops to each gallon of water (2 drops per quart)
  4. Let the water and bleach sit for 30 minutes. The water should slightly smell of chlorine. If it doesn’t then repeat the dosage and let it stand for another 15 minutes before drinking.

Get printable instructions on how to treat water with bleach.  I recommend keeping the instructions on your fridge in case you need them!

Using the Ground to Filter Water

With this method, you are basically digging a well next to a water source. The idea is that the ground will filter out most of the contaminants which are at the surface of the water or in the water source.

About 2 feet from a water source like a pond, start digging. You will have to dig DEEP until you hit water, and keep digging. The deeper you go, the cleaner the water will be. I honestly can’t imagine ever using this method for purifying water, but it is still useful to know in case you ever bug out in the same location for a long time.

Have you ever used any of these methods for purifying water? Let us know your experiences in the comments below or join the discussion on Facebook!

I’m Jacob Hunter, founder of Primal Survivor. I believe in empowering people with the knowledge to prepare and survive in the modern world.

More about Jacob here.

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Boiling water


The classic method. If you have access to a stove or you’re a dab hand at building a fire, then boiling your water is a relatively easy method for you to use. All you have to do is bring the water to boiling point for one minute at elevations of up to 2,000m and three minutes at elevations higher than that, remove it from the heat, let it settle and cool for further few minutes – and then you’re all good to go! Just be aware that boiling water will not remove any solids, so if you can see any suspicious looking floaters, you’ll want to strain those out.

Gravity filter


If you’re on the go and haven’t got the time to be faffing around with stoves or building fires, then using a gravity filter is a great option. They’re super easy to use, as once the water is in, gravity will do all the hard work for you (so no need to pump!). Once the water has gone through the filtering system, you’re fine to drink it as the contaminants will have been removed.

MSR’s AutoFlow Gravity Filter is an ultralight and efficient purification system, which would be well-suited for any backpacking trip. To read more about the product click here.

Using a pump to purify water


Using a pump is a highly trusted way to purify water. They were originally designed for use within the military and are still commonly used by adventurers all over the globe today. Water is driven through the filtering system by a hand pump, which filters out all the bad stuff, ensuring it’s safe for you to drink.

MSR’s Guardian Purifier is a long-lasting and reliable option, which enables you to clean your water with ease. To read more about the product click here.

Chemical treatment

Probably the most lightweight water purification option out there, using chemical treatments (e.g. chlorine or iodine) is a very easy way to get clean water. All you need to do is pop the treatment into your water and wait the instructed amount of time before drinking it (this can be from minutes to hours, so make sure to always check the label!). The only downsides to chemical treatments is that they don’t remove solids, and you may find that some leave a funny taste in the water.

Pocket sized filters


If you aren’t a fan of the taste of chemical treatments, but you still need an option that wont weigh you down, then pocket-sized filters could be for you. They’re super handy for times that you are on the go and need instant hydration, as you can drink straight from the source, which makes finding safe water to drink an easy task. You can also use them to fill your vessels, giving you clean water to drink for hours.

MSR’s Trailshot Pocket-Sized Water Filter, is ideal for the fast paced adventurers. To read more about the product click here.

See MSR’s full range of water treatment products by heading to

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