Learn How to Purify Your Own Water in an Emergency or Survival Situation

Purified water is essential to survive any emergency situation or disaster of any lengthy duration.  Some events prevent you from getting city water, and after bottled water has been depleted (which will be very fast in the event of a panic), it will come down to purifying your own water.  You cannot drink just any water, even from natural streams, without worrying about bacteria, parasites and other possible contaminants.  Learning how to purify can become an invaluable skill used to survive any type of apocalyptic or emergency situation.

Building your own water purification system in the event of a catastrophe or emergency can be much easier than one might think.  It is sometimes much more reasonable to construct an entire system rather than having a device ahead of time.  Portable water purification devices can be more handy when you need to be mobile. In the event of an apocalypse, you may want to have a mobile water purification device; however, if you are riding out the aftermath of a natural disaster and the immediate threat has passed, you may want to build your own water purification system, especially if you are responsible for a group of people.


Basic Water Purification and Filtration Methods

The most basic method of water purification is boiling the water.  Boiling water kills any bacteria inside, reducing chances of illness.  This is why you should also learn how to build fires in any condition.  Boiling water properly means bringing the water to a temperature where there are physical bubbles visible in the water.  Generally one should boil for 5-10 minutes before considering the water safe to drink (allow to cool first).  Be advised that your vertical altitude makes a difference!  The higher you are above sea level, the longer you will need to boil your water; specifically the rule is boiling 1 minute extra for each 300m above sea level.

Although pots may be easy to locate in most emergency situations, it is still a good idea to keep at least one good pot that you can use to boil water and cook your food in your survival gear. In the event you have to leave your home in a hurry and can only grab one thing, that should be your survival pack one fireproof pot needs to be included in that gear pack! Water is the first most important ingredient to your survival plan!

Water purification tablets and iodine tablets are great if you decide to pack some ahead of time, however, truly are only a temporary solution (Chlorine tablets are sometimes used too).  Pregnant women, women over 50 and women with thyroid problems should avoid using iodine tablets.  It is also suggested if you use lithium or any other medicine you do not use iodine tablets.  Tablets can also inconsistently mix into the water, leaving larger particles behind.  You can strain the water after allowing the tablets to dissolve for a few moments and stirring.  It can take up to an hour or longer depending upon the temperature (longer for colder weather).  Water purification tablets work best around room temperature and may leave a bitter taste in the water. It is best to follow the instructions the tablets come from, however, if you do not have instructions, one tablet per quart or liter of water is the normal instruction.  Also, please remember that these tablets usually have expiration dates that you should take very seriously.  Some people like to add some powered lemonade or kool aid to help with the bitter taste.

Water purification pumps also exist which can be attached to bottled water.  Some of these pumps come with their own plastic bottle, although this limits you to serve more an individual rather than a group.  There are also Ultraviolet (UV) purifying lights which can be stuck inside the water, and stirred around to kill any bacteria living in the water.  The more lights you have, the faster you can purify greater amounts of water.  UV purification will not filter the dead bacteria, but they are a great way to create safe drinking water.

How to Make Your Own Water Purification System

How to Create a Gravity Fed Water Purifier

You can construct a high quality gravity fed water purification system at home in the event of an emergency, or any time for that matter, which will last forever! You can build a top notch purifier that will compete with the best brands, which normally would cost thousands of dollars!  You only require a few parts to build strong working purifier, parts being:

(2) Five gallon bucket with lid, food-grade words best

(1) funnel (optional)

(1) Food grade Spigot

(1) Drill + ½” and ¾” drill bits

(1) Cheesecloth, fabric, or even grass – enough to cover the entire bottom of a bucket, ½” high

(1) Enough Charcoal to fill half of the top bucket – do not use any charcoal meant for cooking, these are not pure and often have many additives and chemicals which will make them unsuitable for this preparation. Many people suggest using an activated carbon or activated charcoal filter specifically meant for water filtration, which makes this the most expensive part…however, there are a number of ways to make activated carbon at home. Click here to see our How To Make Activated Charcoal guide!

Activated Charcoal is also known as activated carbon and has two basic activation processes. The first being heating charcoal to very high temperatures while exposing it to oxidizing CO2 (or other oxidized gas); the second being to combine the charcoal with phosphoric acid or potassium hydroxide, zinc chloride also works. These processes (either one), work to activate the charcoal from the inside out!

Making the Activated Charcoal is probably the hardest part of this entire process.  So some people like to buy their activated charcoal ahead of time, in bulk powder form already activated.   However, in the event that you do not have this luxury for any reason or lose your stash after the catastrophe, there are ways you can make this ingredient yourself, an invaluable skill in the apocalypse!

Now it’s time to build the actual gravity fed water purification device!

Building a water purifier becomes easy at this point! Making the activated charcoal is the hardest part of the process!  First you will need to drill your drinking spigot into the bottom of your drinking water bucket, just high enough so the bucket can be placed flush on any surface.  You will also want to ensure this bucket is completely clean on the inside, after you have installed the spigot.  Place a lid onto the top of the bucket, and drill a few holes into the lid of the bucket. Some people choose to drill more holes than others, some even less, it all depends upon how long you wish your water to move through the charcoal.

Next you will need to drill a few holes in the bottom of the second bucket, spaced evenly apart. To do this right, you will want to remove the lid from the first bucket, the lid you just drilled into, and fit it into the bottom of the second bucket.  This will allow you to redrill the holes from the inside of the lid this time into the bottom of the second bucket, allowing them to perfectly line up. The second bucket is your filtering bucket.   Return the lid to the first bucket, firmly fitting it onto the bucket.  Place the filter bucket (the second bucket), onto the top of the first bucket, ensuring to match up the holes in the bottom of the filter bucket, to the holes in the lid.  While you have these buckets lined up properly, it is advisable to fasten them together. You can do this easily with duct tape.  This keeps them from rotating, unaligning the holes you worked so hard to get right!  If you have done this step correct, you will still have one unused lid.


Now it’s time to cover the bottom of the filter bucket, ensuring it is clean inside, with the cheesecloth, fabric, or grass.  This is what will keep the charcoal from clogging your holes and getting into the drinking water, so ensure you have at least ½ an inch of filter material. 

Finally, you can begin loading the bucket with the activated charcoal, preferably filling at least half of the bucket.  Instead of leaving the top of the bucket open, it is advised to seal it after you have filtered your water. Alternatively, some people choose to install a funnel, eliminating the need to repetitiously remove the lid.

As water passes through the filter you have built, the activated carbon collects the impurities resulting in safe drinking water.  Keurigs even use carbon filters.   It may taste a little bitter, but that is natural! Enjoy!


Extra Purification Tips and Hints

Many commercial filters are designed to provide better taste by removing selective minerals, which does not remove parasites and bacteria! So if you choose to use a commercial filter, be sure that it lists activated carbon or activated charcoal as the filtering agent; otherwise it will be unsuitable for purifying dirty natural water of harmful contaminants.

Always boil the water before drinking, even after purifying when possible to ensure you remove any remaining parasites!

These mentioned methods of purification are intended to remove biological impurities and threats (bacteria etc) and cannot remove all threats.  In order to remove chemical threats, special processes and/or chemical filters are required; thus it is suggested you also care about where you attain your water.  Choose natural streams which show no sign of a source of contamination (no mills or industrial development zones nearby).

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