Boiling is one of the easiest ways to make sure that water is drinkable. It is the most straightforward way of making sure all disease-causing organisms in the water are killed, such as bacteria and parasites. But what do you do if you don’t have a pot?
Water can be boiled without a pot by either direct heating or dropping hot rocks into an alternative container. Plates, plastic bottles, or leaves can be put directly on the fire, while hot rocks can be dropped into a wooden or bamboo container, a clay pot, or a hole in the ground.
Now you know that just because you don’t have a pot or pan, it doesn’t mean you are out of luck. If you want more details, please read on. Here are 5 ways to boil water without a pot:
1. Use a Plastic Water or Soft Drink Bottle
Plastic bottles actually have a much higher melting point than most people think. While water boils at 212°F (100°C) plastic bottles do not melt until 491°F (255°C).
How to boil water using a plastic bottle:
- Fill your bottle completely with water – Put the lid loosely as this will allow steam to escape.
- Place the bottle directly in the fire – While the bottle will deform and possibly change color, it will not melt or burn as the water inside it will heat to its boiling point and no higher.
- Carefully remove the bottle – Be to use tongs or even a stick to get it out. The bottle will be very hot. Be sure to let it cool for several minutes before picking it up.
Important Tip: Make sure you use a bottle that is made from food-grade plastic. Otherwise dangerous chemicals might leak from the plastic. Generally, bottles you have bought containing drinking water or soda will be safe to use.
The only downside of this method is that there is a limited number of times you can use your bottle before it has deformed too much and is not useful anymore.
2. Use a Plate (Even a paper one)
While a plate can’t hold as much water as a pot, it’s certainly a viable option.
How to boil water using a plate:
- Set two medium-sized rocks a few inches apart on the fire
- Set the plate across them, leaving a gap between.
Boiling water on a paper plate:
A little-known fact is that water can even be boiled on a paper plate. While I would only do this as a last result, it’s still an interesting thing to know. Here is an old video showing how.
4. Put Hot Rocks in a Wooden Container or Hollow Tree Trunk
Although you cannot put a wooden container directly in the fire, you can still boil water in one. All you have to do is drop heated rocks in, and the water will boil.
Making a wooden container
You can use a knife or another sharp implement to make a wooden container by hollowing out a larger piece of wood. Through this method, you can create containers of whatever size you need, as long as you have suitably large pieces of wood.
It is up to you if you want to create a container that you can move or a large container that you cannot, for example, by using a large tree trunk.
I recommend that you use green wood, if possible since it will harden and cure in the heat. This will make it last much longer than using dry wood.
How to boil water in a wooden bowl
To bring this water to boil, we do not place the container over a fire. Wood is too flammable, and you would destroy your container. Wood is also really insulated, making this method impractical even if the wood doesn’t burn. Instead, you will transfer the heat from your fire to your container using rocks, which absorb a lot of heat that can be transferred to your water.
How to boil water in a wooden bowl with hot rocks:
- Place a few suitable rocks in the fire – When choosing rocks, make sure they do not contain sand or water, but rather are solid throughout. Porous rocks containing moisture or sand can explode in your fire which can be very dangerous should any shrapnel hit you or your equipment.
- Clean the bowl – Make sure your container is clean of any dirt or other large contaminants.
- Fill the bowl with water – Make sure that it is as clear as possible. If it is cloudy, you may want to filter it through a cloth or other material. Or, just wait for the sediment to settle and then gently pour off the clear liquid into another container.
- Place suitable rocks in the fire one by one – Use fire-safe implements to carefully move them into your wooden container. Make sure you clean your rocks of any debris, soil, or other dirt, as that will otherwise enter your water. You can rinse them in some spare water, which does not need to be purified.
The number of rocks you need will depend on the size of your container. If you are storing your water for longer, make sure you cover your containers to avoid the water getting contaminated.
Here is a video showing the process:
Alternative: Make a Bamboo Container
If available, you can also do the same thing with a bamboo container. Here is an example of how to make one, taken from the popular series “Dual Survivor.”
3. Use a Large Green Leaf
If one is available, you can also boil water in a large leaf. Of course, this depends on the size and quality of the leaves available to you, but it is a good option if there are good candidates are around.
- Select a large, good quality, green leaf – Banana, palm leaves, or leaf with a decent size will work. The thicker, the better.
- Pinch the edges to make a shallow container – You can use a stick to pinch the back and hold the pinched edges in place. Here is a good video below that shows how to do this.
- Fill the leaf bowl with water and carefully hold it over the fire – You can let the flames touch the leaf only in those areas where the leaf is filled with water. As the water will only heat to its boiling point and not above, this means the leaf will not burn. However, areas of the leaf outside this area will burn, so be careful when holding it over the fire.
The amount of water you can boil at once will depend on the size of your leaf but will not be a large amount, regardless.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know that the leaf is not toxic. In all survival situations, it is important to know your local flora. Most leaves are not toxic. However, in some areas of the world, plants can contain toxins that might make you ill. Therefore, it is best to be prepared and know which plants you can use in your area.
This video shows the entire process, from making the leaf, to boiling water in it:
5. Boiling Water in the Ground
If you do not have a suitable piece of wood available to make a container, you can also create a suitable hole in the ground. Of course, this depends on the soil being clay-rich so that it holds water. You would need to line the hole if the soil is softer or more porous. A tarp, leather, piece of plastic, or even certain types of hats could work.
How to use a hole in the ground to boil water:
- Place a few suitable rocks in the fire – Remember, certain rocks can explode. Avoid soft rocks like sandstone, limestone, or pumice. Opt for denser rocks like granite, slate, or marble.
- Did a hole in the ground – You can go as big or small as you like, but I recommend about 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep. This will hold enough water to allow for some seepage and make the endeavor worthwhile. Make sure your fire isn’t too far away from your hole. This would make carrying the rocks difficult and might cause them to cool down too much on the way.
- Line the hole – Depending on the soil, you either use the clay content of the soil you have dug out and smooth the “bowl” or find another way to waterproof the hole.
- Drop hot rocks into the water – Once the water starts boiling, “refresh” the rocks until 10 minutes have passed. If possible, transfer the water to another container or drink it as soon as it’s cool enough.
The benefit of this system is that you do not have to carry your container with you, and you can create a hollow of whatever size you need, wherever you need it. However, there is the regular time investment of creating the hollow to consider, as well as the need to be in an area with a suitable clay content of the soil.
Here is a short video showing the process using clay soil:
Now you know a few ways to make your water safe without even needing a pot. Hopefully, you never have to use these skills (unless it’s fun for you), but if you do, you’ll be better prepared.
Thanks for stopping by!
Can you boil water in a can? Regular soup cans can be used to boil water. Just stick the water-filled can directly in the fire. Be sure to remove any label first, though.
How can you make water boil faster? The easiest way to make water boil faster is to use a wider pot. More surface area of the water will be exposed to the heat, causing it to boil faster.
Can you boil water in clay pots? You can boil water in clay pots. However, due to the insulating properties of fired clay, it would take a long time if put directly on the heat source. A better way is to heat up hot rocks and drop them in a water-filled clay pot.
For more, check out 8 Practical Ways to Purify Water Without Boiling It.
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.