It is oh-so-important to make sure that the water you are drinking is clean and safe. In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. Any water in which you are uncertain as to its purity should be purified before use in drinking, food preparation, or hygiene.
We will discuss three different ways to purify your water, but just know that no method is 100% perfect. Sometimes the best option is to do a combination of different methods. Some methods will kill microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. To help with that, let your water sit for a while prior to purifying and allow any suspended particles settle to the bottom. Then slowly pour your water through some sort of filter (i.e. layers of paper towel, coffee filter, or a clean cloth) and into a clean container. Stop pouring before the settled contents have a chance to pour out with the water (you’ll likely lose a little bit of water this way, but it’s better that your water be clean). Now that we have some strained water, let’s purify it.
Method #1: Boiling
Boiling is the safest method of purifying water. Bring your water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. (Using a kettle can help reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation.) Let the water cool before drinking.
Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers.
Method #2: Disinfection
This method was discussed when we talked about how to treat our water prior to storing it. It uses household bleach to kill any microorganisms in the water. Remember to use regular household bleach that contains between 4-6% hypochlorite, and do not use scented, color-safe, or bleaches with added cleaners. In this situation where the purity of our water is unknown, we are going to add 16 drops of chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of water. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let the water stand for another 15 minutes.
Again, to help improve the taste of the water prior to drinking, pour the water back and forth between two clean containers.
Method #3: Distillation
Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed vapor will not include salt and other impurities that the first two methods can leave behind. To distill, use a clean pot with a lid that has a knob-type handle in the center. Fill the pot halfway with water. Turn the pot’s lid upside-down and tie a cup under the handle, so that the cup will hang right-side-up (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes (or however long it takes to turn all the water to vapor). The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
The downside to this method is that it takes a lot of energy (in terms of heat) and doesn’t produce a whole lot of useable water. So if your fuel/energy supply is low, you would want to use this method very sparingly and only if necessary. You could also try using a very large pot to increase the amount of water you get, but that would also take longer to boil and distill the water (thereby using more fuel/energy). So just use good judgement when determining which purifying method will be best for your situation.
Next Friday we’re going to learn how to create a solar still to distill our water… so stay tuned!
Until then… happy and safe drinking to y’all! 🙂
Photo courtesy of Samantha Sargent