Whether you’re preparing for a potential survival situation or a lack of drinking water at home, this guide will show you how to remove salt from water.
Here are 7 ways you can remove salt from water so you can drink it:
- Stovetop desalination.
- Solar still desalination.
- Plastic bottle and soda can desalination.
- Reverse osmosis.
- Forward osmosis.
- Water purification kits.
- Countertop water distillers.
As you can see, there are many ways to turn saltwater into potable drinking water. The best manner to extract salt from water depends on your situation and available tools. Keep reading to learn more about how you can turn saltwater into clean drinking water.
1. Stovetop Desalination
The first and perhaps most straightforward way to remove water is by boiling it. This process is called desalination by evaporation, as boiling water will cause freshwater to evaporate and condense on another surface, leaving the salt behind.
Also known as water distillation, this is a tried-and-true desalination method that has been around for close to 2,000 years. As such, this process is a fail-proof way to remove salt from water so that you can drink it.
Removing salt from saltwater by evaporation is one of the easiest and cleanest ways to get clean water. This process will leave behind any salt in the water and other bacteria and harmful chemicals that may have lingered in it.
The easiest way to do this is with a large pot, a glass, and a pot lid. Follow these steps:
- Place a large pot on the stove and put a tall glass or glass bowl in the middle of it. The glass must not be taller than the pot of water, ideally leaving 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm) of space at the top.
- Fill the pot with water, stopping when the waterline is 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm) from the rim of your glass.
- If available, place the lid of the pot upside down so that the lid’s handle goes into the glass in the middle. Otherwise, cover your pot with plastic wrap and place a small rock or object right above the glass. You want to create a dip above the glass so that the condensed water droplets can fall inside it.
- Boil the water slowly and make sure that the condensation flows to the middle of the lid (or plastic wrap) and ultimately drips into your cup.
- Turn the heat off when the glass is full. This condensed water is your fresh water desalinated through evaporation.
Here are a few pictures of me doing this in my kitchen:
Here is a quick YouTube video also showing the process:
2. Solar Still Desalination
If you happen to find yourself on an island, you might have to rely on the sun to desalinate your water. Solar desalination has been around for centuries, so it’s one of the most reliable methods of turning salt water into drinking water.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recommends that you build your desalination plant at home in the form of a solar still. This solar still requires few materials and can become a reliable source of drinking water.
To build the desalination solar still, follow these steps:
- Dig a deep pit in the ground. Make sure that it’ll be big enough for a large bowl or water tank. The larger the water container, the larger your hole will need to be.
- Place a bowl or water tank at the bottom of the pit. This container will catch the condensed water.
- Cover your pit with a tarp or a plastic sheet. Don’t worry about sealing it shut too tightly.
- Place a rock or small object in the middle of your plastic covering, right above your water tank. This protuberance will ensure that the condensed water flows to the middle and drips into your tank.
- Fill the pit with water. Make sure that no saltwater falls into your water container. Only fill up your pit as high as 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm) below the upper edge of your water container.
- Leave the solar still overnight or for a few days. You should have some clean drinking water in 12-24 hours.
Keep in mind that this process is highly time-consuming. You’ll need to be patient and remember that there’s only so much that the sun can do to help you desalinate water.
To speed up the process, ensure that your pit location gets plenty of sunlight. If possible, remove any foliage or debris that may block any sunlight.
Also, keep in mind that this process won’t work unless you live in a warm environment. That’s why a solar still may be helpful if you happen to be stranded on an island or in the middle of the desert, but not if you live in an area with harsh winters.
3. Plastic Bottle and Soda Can Desalination
If you’re stuck in a survival situation, you may not have pots and pans to help you desalinate water. You might not even have a cup to help you make a solar still desalination plant.
That’s why being resourceful and having numerous strategies is one of the best things you can do in survival situations. The best way to prepare is by anticipating multiple scenarios with different challenges before facing them.
Luckily, you may be able to turn saltwater into drinking water with just a plastic bottle and a soda can. If you happen to find either of these, you should be able to remove salt from saltwater so you can drink it.
To desalinate water by using a plastic bottle and soda can, follow the steps below:
- Grab the largest plastic bottle you can find.
- Cut off the bottom of your bottle using a sharp knife or scissors. If you can’t find either a knife or scissors, use the sharpest object you can find.
- Find a soda can and use your knife or scissors to cut off the top.
- Turn the bottom of the plastic bottle inside to make an inner gutter.
- Fill your soda can with salt water and place the plastic bottle on top of it. The inner gutter of your water bottle should look like a dry moat around your soda can.
- Place your desalination plant in the sun. The saltwater will evaporate and run down the inner edges of your plastic bottle.
- Wait for the inner gutter to fill up before taking a drink.
- Refill your soda can with more saltwater and repeat the process!
Like the solar still method listed above, using a plastic bottle for desalination will be time-consuming. The most important thing is to be patient and avoid drinking saltwater at all costs. As long as you have an effective desalination method, you’ll be fine.
4. Reverse Osmosis
While desalination by evaporation is the oldest method of turning saltwater into freshwater, there’s a newer and more efficient technique. Reverse osmosis is a new desalination process that’s far more economical than other desalination processes, which is why most desalination plants use it today.
Reverse osmosis uses pressure to filter water by passing it through a membrane. The membrane removes chemicals, nutrients, bacteria, viruses, and salt from the water. These membranes can purify the water and turn saltwater into drinking water.
Watch the following YouTube video for a more in-depth explanation of how reverse osmosis works:
Although reverse osmosis for saltwater processing is usually best for desalination plants, you can install an at-home reverse osmosis system to desalinate your water. Having a reverse osmosis filter at home can be very helpful when the drinking water supply is shut off or runs out.
You can find high-quality reverse osmosis filter systems that filter salt out of water. We recommend the Waterdrop D6 Reverse Osmosis System (available on Amazon) to filter out salt from saltwater easily. This tankless system is ready to install and provides a cup of water in only eight seconds. It’s also noise-free and manufactured to be leak-free.
Remember that not all reverse osmosis filters have membranes to filter salt from saltwater. If you’re looking for a filter for your home, ensure that the system you purchase can handle saltwater.
5. Forward Osmosis
Forward osmosis, just like reverse osmosis, uses a membrane to remove impurities like salt to turn saltwater into drinking water. Instead of using pressure to filter water, forward osmosis allows gravity to make water pass through the membrane.
You can watch the following two-and-a-half-minute YouTube video for a slightly more technical explanation of how forward osmosis works:
Large industrial wastewater treatment plants often prefer forward osmosis because of its low intensity. Since the filters don’t rely on pressure to force water through the membranes, forward osmosis purifying systems are often cheaper to install and less costly to operate than reverse osmosis systems.
With that said, most at-home purifying kits employ reverse osmosis techniques to purify water. The main reason is that forward osmosis systems are slower than reverse osmosis since they don’t use pressure to push the water through the membrane.
However, forward osmosis systems have several advantages that can persuade people to buy an at-home forward osmosis purifying system. Some of the benefits are:
- Compact sizes make them easy to accommodate.
- No need for electricity since they don’t build pressure artificially.
- Highly portable due to small size and lack of demand for electrical current.
6. Water Purification Kits
Another way to be prepared if you ever need to remove salt from water is by ordering a water purification kit. Most of these kits aren’t portable enough to bring with you every backpacking adventure, but you can surely keep one in your car or at home in case you ever need it.
Having a kit will ensure that you’re not missing any parts when building a purification artifact. You’ll save time setting up your homemade purification plant and ensure that you’re purifying your water to the highest standard.
We recommend the Survival Metrics Solar Water Purification Kit. This kit comes with vegetation stills, purification tablets, and collection bags to simplify your solar still.
7. Countertop Water Distillers
A countertop water distiller can be a great way to ensure that you have clean, drinking water at home or on the go. With a high-quality distiller, you can fully automate the water desalination process so that you only have to worry about having to turn on your filter.
We recommend the Megahome Countertop Water Distiller. This distiller is a competitively priced and portable filter option that can help you fully desalinate up to 1 gallon (4.55 L) of water every 5.5 hours.
This filter also comes with a boiling chamber that fully distills water, making it effective at removing the salt from the water so that you can drink it.
Another benefit of using countertop water distillers is getting the Green Piece Activated Charcoal Distiller Filters (available on Amazon.com). These filters—although not essential—can elevate the taste of your distilled water to the point where it tastes just like water from the store.
Keep in mind that electric distillers can be a great option if you plan to distill water at home, although they might not be helpful if you’re in the wild. Relying on an electric filter for water distillation purposes can be risky, as running out of power or an energy source means that you’re also running out of clean water.
Fresh water is fundamental to our continued survival and a resource precious beyond any gold. It’s essential to know how you can desalinate saltwater to survive if you find yourself in a situation where there is no fresh water nearby. Filtering your own water is also a great way to save money on costly bottled waters that pollute our environment with plastics.
For more, check out 8 Practical Ways to Purify Water Without Boiling It.
Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!