Whether at home or in the great outdoors, making sure you have access to clean water is essential. The good news is that, apart from the natural ways to filter water, other new ways of having access to clean water are being developed constantly. In this article, we are going to look at the different ways to purify water, both at home and outdoors. Let us start with some methods of water purification for the outdoors.
Please note that the following information is for guidance only. Please do your own due diligence before deciding which purification method is best for your needs.
Purify Drinking Water Outdoors
The most obvious way to make water safe to drink is to boil it. Boiling water makes it completely free of the pathogens that can make you sick. Below 2000 meters (approx. 6500 ft), you need to boil for two minutes. If you live about 2000 meters, boil for three minutes.
However, being outside and having to boil water every time you want to have a drink can be tiresome. The boiling itself takes time and you have to wait for the water to cool down afterwards. Fortunately, there are other options for you to choose from.
One of the most recent innovations to come on the market are filtered straws. The most famous manufacturer is probably Vestergaard Frandsen, who originally designed the LifeStraw for use in developing countries and crisis situations. Now, however, it is used by hikers, survivalists and Preppers worldwide.
There are many types and the one you should buy is the one that most suits your needs. However, if you are looking for something that is good for both for hiking, camping, and general outdoor life, then the LifeStraw Universal or Go would be great choices.
Gravity Drip Filters
Another great option for purifying water is a gravity drip filter. There are different types: Some are good for hiking, camping etc., others not so much. For example, stainless steel gravity drip filters are excellent at removing even the most stubborn contaminants, but are better suited to being stored for emergency use or for outdoors if you are travelling by car or RV.
When hiking, you need something a lot more portable. A good choice if you are looking for something easier to carry is the LifeStraw Flex. It has got a flexible hose, a versatile water filter that can filter a quarter gallon every couple of minutes, and a bag that can hold around 1 gallon (4.5 litres).
Using chemicals to purify your water is cheap and convenient. The two most common chemicals to use are iodine and chlorine. Both are similar in that they kill bacteria, viruses and protozoa. However, there are a few disadvantages when using chemicals for water purification. Iodine does not kill Cryptosporidium, which can be found in water contaminated with animal faeces. Having said that, iodine is generally considered more effective than chlorine for cleaning water.
Another big disadvantage of both chlorine and iodine is that they are poisonous. Those with thyroid problems or on lithium, women over fifty, and pregnant women should consult their medical professional prior to using iodine for purification. But if you have thyroid problems specifically, consider getting yourself some Natural Thyroid Supplements. Also, some people who are allergic to shellfish are also allergic to iodine. If someone cannot use iodine, use either a chlorine-based product or a non-iodine-based filter. When using chlorine, it is necessary to be very careful not to add more than is absolutely necessary to the water you want to purify.
Remember, you need to shake the water after adding either chemical and wait for about 30 minutes before drinking. Also, tip your bottle upside down and open it just a little to allow some of the water to seep out. This should kill any harmful contaminants hiding in the threads of the lid.
Distillation is a very old and simple form of water purification. The first step is to boil water so that it vaporises. When the steam cools, it condenses and the water collected is almost pure.
During the distillation process, most of the contaminants are left behind in the boiler. However, this is not true for all of them. For example, pesticides and herbicides are volatile and thus may transfer across to the distillate.
There are a few other disadvantages to the distillation process. Firstly, it requires a lot of energy to create enough distilled water to drink. In addition, the equipment needed for the process takes up a fair amount of space. Moreover, distilled water tastes flat, especially if drunk shortly after the purification process.
Solar Water Disinfection
Solar water disinfection, or SODIS to give it its more manageable abbreviation, is a very cheap and fairly effective way to purify water. All that is required is polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles (glass bottles and special bags work as well), water and sunlight.
Firstly, the bottles or bags should be thoroughly cleaned. Then, once the water is poured in and the lid tightened, the containers must be placed in the sun for a minimum of six hours. If the weather is overcast, then the containers need to be left out for as long as a couple of days.
Of course, there are a few disadvantages with SODIS. One major one is that if you are not in one place for long, keeping the containers in direct sunlight for long enough to work can be challenging. Also, SODIS does not work when it is raining. But, since rainwater can be collected for drinking, that is not much of a downside.
It is also worth noting that this method will not work if there is too much sediment in the water. If that is the case, you will need to filter before bottling.
There is a rather easy method to know whether the water is too cloudy: If you place a newspaper headline under the bottle and you can read it looking from the neck down through the water, then it is clear enough (SODIS: Safe Drinking Water for All). If you can not, then you’ll need to filter it first.
Purify Drinking Water at Home
Now let us have a look at a few home-based water filtration methods (all the above work fine at home as well, but a dedicated home water filtration system is usually more efficient).
Reverse Osmosis Water Filters
Reverse osmosis (RO) water filters are famous for removing many contaminants including heavy metals, chemicals and salts. However, that is not true for all RO water filters, so it is important that you do your research. Another alternative for home use is an activated carbon water filter which is considered one of the most effective forms of water filtration.
Some people are also put off with worries about maintenance or sanitising a reverse osmosis system. Do not be. While not simple, it is not nearly as difficult as you may imagine (you can see the process here).
UV Water Filtration
UV water filtration is an exceptionally effective way of killing pathogens you may find in your water. It is also environmentally sound as there are no chemicals used, which also means that the taste of the water is not affected.
Some other advantages are that because you only need a UV light bulb, maintenance is cheap and simple. Furthermore, no more than 60 Watt is needed to kill bacteria and viruses, so the running costs are almost nil.
Disadvantages are that if there is a power outage, then a UV filter system no longer works. Additionally, it does not remove other contaminants such as those listed under the reverse osmosis treatment.