It’s no secret that our bodies need water to survive. But in an emergency situation, it can be difficult to find the stuff. Then, most of the time, there is a good possibility that it won’t immediately be safe to drink.
Sure, boiling water is always the best way to go, but that isn’t always an option. Besides, while boiling water can kill bacteria, parasites, and pathogens, it doesn’t remove chemical pollution. Luckily, there are many other ways to ensure that your water is safe to drink.
Here are 8 straightforward ways to purify water that does not require boiling.
1. Transpiration Bag
One way to collect water is to make a transpiration bag. All you need is a cord or a piece of strong string, clear plastic bags, a small rock, and a non-poisonous tree or bush located in a sunny spot. Big trees have big roots, which means you’ll be able to collect a lot more water.
- The first thing you’ll need to do is pull several of the branches and leaves together. Try to get enough to fill up most of your bag, if possible.
- Then, place the branches and the little rock inside the bag. Ensure that the rock falls down to the corner of the bag that is closest to the ground. This will weigh the bag down enough so that the water will all collect in one place. If you don’t have a rock, you can also anchor the bag to a stake in the ground with another piece of cord.
- Use a cord or string to seal it tightly.
If you’ve done everything correctly, water will begin to drip down the sides and collect in the bottom corner of the bag. The water will be safe to drink as it is because the sun’s UV rays have already purified it.
The amount of water each bag collects will vary based on the container’s size and how sunny it is outside. You should expect that each bag will produce between one cup and one quart of water per day.
Pro Tip: If you open the bag from the top, you will need to go through the entire process again. It is much easier to retrieve the water by cutting a small hole in the bag’s corner and allowing it to flow into another container. This way, you will be able to tie a knot in the bag so that water continues to accumulate.
Each bagged bundle of branches can produce water for two or three days. After that, you’ll need to move the bags to a new location.
Here is a video with an example of what it might look like:
2. Tap Into a Tree
This typically only works in later Spring or early winter when the sap is generally flowing most freely in trees. You can create a tap in a maple, birch, or white pine tree.
- Peel off the bark of a large branch.
- Stick in a plastic tube or even just a sharp stick.
- Collect the Water. Water will pour down the stick or through the tube into a container.
Any water poured through the top of the tube will be filtered by the tree’s xylem fibers. These fibers eliminate all of the dirt, dye, and harmful bacteria in the water, making it safe to drink immediately.
Check out this cool video to see the process:
If you have a pressure canner, you can easily make a distiller by fitting a narrow copper tube over the steam vent. The steam that comes out can be collected, and when it cools, you’ll have safe drinking water.
This method works well, even in the case of a nuclear disaster. A pressure canner is a great item to have on hand in an emergency because it can also be used to preserve food. (Please note that a pressure canner and a pressure cooker are two different things.)
If you aren’t at home, you can make your own distiller, called a solar still, with a five or six-foot square of clear plastic. Milky plastic is fine too, but clear plastic will produce more water.
- Start by digging a hole in the ground. If possible, it’s best to dig your hole in damp soil where it will get the most sunlight. Adding plants or urine to the hole will also produce more water.
- The next step is to place a clean bowl, bucket, or another container in the hole.
- Install a tube that you can drink from so that you won’t have to take the still apart each time you get thirsty.
- Cover the hole with the plastic and seal it by packing dirt around the edges.
- Place a rock in the center of the plastic so that the water flows down into the hole.
Here is a video showing the basic process:
The same thing can be done at home with a pot and an upside-down lid.
4. Build an Egyptian Well
As a last resort, you can build an Egyptian well near a river, lake, or any body of water. This method won’t eliminate 100% of the water’s bacteria, but if you don’t have any other way to filter the water, it is better than nothing.
How to do it:
- Using a stick or a shovel or your hands, dig a hole about two feet from the water’s edge. You’ll need to keep digging until water begins to fill up the hole.
- After a while, the clear water will rise to the top. When this happens, you’ll be able to scoop it out using a cup or other container.
Here is an excellent video showing the process:
5. Build Your Own Water Filter
Trying to filter water through a typical water filter probably won’t work very well, and it could even ruin it. However, you can make easily make one that will work much better.
Materials: You’ll need a plastic juice or soda bottle, as well as rocks of various sizes, sand, charcoal, and a piece of cloth. If you don’t have a piece of cloth, you can substitute cotton balls, grass, or a coffee filter.
- Poke some tiny holes in the bottle’s lid and cut off the bottom part.
- Layer the items inside the open part of the bottle in the following order: large rocks, medium rocks, small rocks, sand, charcoal, sand, grass, or cloth.
- Place the cap end of the bottle into a cup and pour it from the top. The water will slowly flow through the filter and out of the holes in the bottom
Here is a variation on the technique:
If you don’t have access to all of these materials, you can still build a filter out of sand and cloth or sand and pebbles. It’s also possible to create a filter with only charcoal and cloth.
In these situations:
- Place the cloth or the pebbles in the neck of the bottle and pour the sand or charcoal on top. If you are using charcoal, crush some of it and break the rest into small, medium, and large pieces.
- Pack the charcoal firmly in the bottle to maximize it’s filtering power.
- You may need to run the water through the filter several times before it comes out clean.
6. The Power of Plants
Several types of plants and fruit can be used to filter out harmful bacteria, pollutants, and even the E. coli virus. Here are a few of them:
- Minced Banana Peels- Banana peels are known to filter out pollutants and can be used up to 11 times.
- Lemon Peels- If you have some rubbing alcohol and some lemon peels, soak the peels in the alcohol. After they dry, place the peels in water and allow them to absorb all of the pesticides, commercial dye, heavy metals, and other toxic materials. Before drinking the water, make sure to remove the peel.
- Citrus- A few citrus slices added to a clear container of water will eliminate E. coli from the water if you leave it in the sun for a long time.
- Cilantro- Crushed or ground cilantro can be used to filter heavy metals and is just as effective as using a charcoal filter.
- Flowers- Other plants, such as yellow irises or water lilies, can be used to purify water too. You might even want to consider planting some outside of your home.
- Swamp Plants- If you live near a marsh, bulrushes and reeds will also make excellent water filters.
- Seeds- In other cultures around the world, people use seeds to purify their water. People in Sudan use seeds to clean their drinking water and eliminate parasites. Crushed Jackfruit seeds and crushed Moringa seeds added to your water will clean the water and provide additional health benefits.
One way of purifying your water is by just being patient and letting gravity do the work for you through a process known as sedimentation.
- Basically, you just let water that needs purified sit in a container for a couple of days. The earth’s gravity will draw any dirt or contaminants to the bottom.
- Afterward, slowly pour the clean water from the top into another container so that none of the unwanted particles at the bottom flow into the new container.
- Before drinking the water, you’ll need to run it through a sand filter to ensure that any impurities left in the water are removed.
While this method is not as effective as some other ways of purifying, it is certainly much better than nothing.
8. Cleaning Water With Bleach or Iodine
It’s also possible to purify your water by adding bleach or iodine. Bleach is the least risky of the two because many people’s bodies don’t tolerate iodine well.
Important: Remember this is an either-or proposition. Using both bleach and iodine together is never a good idea.
- The first thing you’ll need is a container with a lid.
- Pour two drops of bleach per quart into the water that is fairly clear or warm. If your water is cold or cloudy, you will need to double the amount of bleach.
- Place the lid on the container and shake it for about 60 seconds.
- Turn the bottle over so that the lid is sitting on a flat surface. Slightly unscrew the lid and let a little bit of water trickle out before screwing it back on.
- You’ll need to wipe the outside of your container with a cloth to remove any chlorine.
- Allow the bottle to rest in a dark location for at least 30 minutes. Before drinking the water, make sure it smells like chlorine. If it doesn’t, add a couple more drops and let it rest for another half an hour.
If you don’t have bleach, you can use an iodine 2% tincture or 10% povidone-iodine solution. Add 5 drops of tincture of iodine 2% to clear or warm water. If the water is cloudy or cold, you will need to use 10 drops. Use 8 drops of 10% povidone-iodine solution in one quart of clear or warm water and 16 drops if the water is cold or cloudy. Then, follow the same steps as above.
Not All Water Needs Purification
If you are lucky enough to live in an area that gets a fair amount of precipitation throughout the year, you might not need to hassle with purification. All you need to do is set up a collection system.
Rainwater and melted snow should be safe enough to drink without being treated, as long as the rain fell straight from the sky without touching any trees. The same is true of dew, ice, and hail.
While freshwater lakes, creeks, springs, waterfalls, and ponds are obvious sources, but you will almost always want to purify this water before drinking it.
Don’t worry if there aren’t a lot of natural water sources in your area. It is possible to make your own water or tap into another source. Most regions of our planet also have a plentiful supply of water underground, usually just a few feet below the surface. Simply digging can give you easy access to drinkable water.
Preparing for an emergency before it happens is the best way to ensure you have safe drinking water in a disaster situation. Water purification tablets (Amazon Link) are relatively inexpensive and can be bought on Amazon or are sold at many local pharmacies and are relatively inexpensive. Most of these tablets contain potassium permanganate, chlorine, or iodine, giving you safe drinking water in only 20 minutes. Because they are small and have a long shelf life, it’s easy to carry them with you at all times.
Stockpiling canned or bottled water is another way to ensure that you and your family are prepared in case of an emergency. As long as the containers remain sealed, the water should last for a long time. You’ll still want to rotate them as much as possible so that they aren’t expired if and when you ever need them. Experts recommend that you store at least 64 ounces of water per person per day. Remember that your pets will need water too.
A Warning About Saltwater
Drinking salt water can actually make you more dehydrated, which will only complicate an emergency situation. Unfortunately, reverse osmosis is the only way to ensure that saltwater is safe enough to drink. But reverse osmosis machines are expensive to buy. They are also costly to build on your own.
Take the Easy Way Out
UV light alone will eliminate most threats from your drinking water. Leaving a plastic bottle in direct sunlight is a free method of purifying your water without a lot of trouble. Simply place the bottle in direct sunlight and walk away. You’ll need to leave the bottle in the sun for a minimum of 24 hours before drinking. Unfortunately, this method only works well in hot climates that receive a lot of sunlight.
While drinking contaminated water is very dangerous, it may be necessary for you to survive. If you feel extremely dehydrated and have no way to clean dirty water, you should go ahead and drink it anyway. After all, the most important thing is that you survive.
Buying a Purification System
There are many products on the market that are designed to help you make water safe to drink in an emergency situation. It is important to remember that some of these products only filter the water. Obviously, filtering water is better than not filtering it, but there is no guarantee that filtered water is entirely safe to drink.
Specialty water bottles with built-in filters are sold at many retailers. These bottles provide safe drinking water in as little as 15 minutes. Ceramic filters are another popular option that will eliminate microorganisms from your water. Unfortunately, these fail to remove pesticides and other pollutants. Activated charcoal filters and charcoal sticks are more effective. These are available online and at most retailers that carry water pitchers.
Survival straws are another easy way to clean your drinking water and are small enough to take with you when you’re on the go. They can be found in most stores that sell outdoor equipment and online. Look for a long straw so that you won’t have to put your face so close to the water. Once you’ve found a water supply, just suck the water through the straw and enjoy.
Other devices on the market will actually purify the water. Many purification systems use UV light to remove bacteria, parasites, and other contaminants. Most of these use battery power, but others can be manually operated with a crank. In most cases, UV systems are very effective but won’t work well to remove large particles or debris. If you have a big family, you may want to consider purchasing a larger system capable of producing 40 or more gallons of water each day.
There ya have it. 8 great ways to purify water that does not require you to start a fire and boil it. I hope this article has been informative.
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Hey, I’m Jim, and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, 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!