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Clean drinking water is essential for our survival. Still, in emergency situations, it can be challenging to find safe drinking water. Natural disasters, power outages, and other unforeseen events can compromise the quality of our water sources, leaving us vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.
In these situations, knowing how to perform emergency water treatment is essential to make it safe for consumption. In this blog post, we’ll explore the different methods for treating water, including boiling, chemical treatment, and filtration.
We’ll also discuss how to choose the suitable treatment method based on the situation and additional considerations such as storing treated water and water conservation.
By being prepared and informed, we can ensure that we have access to clean drinking water in any situation.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Risks
My first experience with contaminated water was when we deployed to Haiti on September 19, 1994, for Operation Uphold Democracy. Shortly after arriving, we had a flood that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Haitians. I remember we slept on top of a 5-ton truck that night due to flooding.
When the sun began to rise, water was over the hoods of HMMWVs, and there were bodies, along with every other type of animal, floating for as far as you could see. It was horrible and sad, to say the least.
The US Navy was providing drinking water from their ship; however, I got dysentery from the conditions.
Health risks associated with drinking contaminated water
Drinking polluted water can lead to various health risks, ranging from minor stomach upset to life-threatening illnesses. Some of the most common waterborne diseases include:
- Cholera –
- Typhoid fever –
- Giardiasis –
- Cryptosporidiosis –
- Hepatitis A –
- E. coli infections –
These illnesses can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, dehydration, and even death in severe cases. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.
Common sources of tainted water
Water can become contaminated in many ways, including: –
- Natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, can damage water treatment facilities and infrastructure and cause sewage systems to overflow –
- Human activities such as agricultural runoff, industrial pollution, and sewage discharge –
- Animal waste, particularly in rural areas or during camping or hiking trips –
- Inadequately treated water from private wells or municipal water systems –
- During SHTF scenarios, dead remains will contaminate water sources –
The recent train derailment in Palestine, Ohio, released toxic chemicals with carcinogenic levels, contaminating the local area. This is just another example of how fragile our environment and drinking water supplies are. It’s also another reminder of why it’s essential to have an emergency water supply, like bottled water stashed.
Signs and symptoms of waterborne illness
It’s essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of waterborne illness, which can vary depending on the type of infection.
Some common symptoms include:
- Diarrhea –
- Nausea and vomiting –
- Stomach cramps –
- Fever and chills –
- Dehydration –
- Headaches and muscle aches-
Suppose you experience any of these symptoms after drinking water from an unknown source. In that case, seeking medical attention as soon as possible is essential.
Ways to Make Water Safe to Drink
If you don’t have gallons of water stockpiled, you will need to produce potable water sooner rather than later. There are many ways to purify water. In this next section, we’ll cover the basic options.
Emergency Water Treatment Options
Boiling water is one of the most effective ways to disinfect water in an emergency. Boiling water for at least one minute can kill most bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
To boil water:
- Fill a pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil.
- Let the water boil for at least one minute.
- Remove the pot from heat and let the water cool before drinking.
The advantages of boiling include its effectiveness, low cost, and simplicity. However, boiling may only be practical in some situations, as it requires a heat source and may take some time.
Chemical treatments can also be used to treat water in emergency situations. Common chemical treatments include iodine, chlorine, and water purification tablets. These treatments work by killing or inactivating microorganisms in the water.
To use chemical treatments:
- Follow the instructions on the treatment package carefully, as dosages can vary depending on the type of treatment and the level of contamination.
- Wait for the recommended amount of time before drinking the water.
The advantages of chemical treatments include their effectiveness and portability. However, they can be more expensive than boiling and may leave a taste or odor in the water.
Using unscented household chlorine bleach
Bleach can be used as a chemical treatment to make water safe for emergencies. Bleach contains chlorine, which can kill or inactivate many types of microorganisms in tainted water.
However, using the correct amount of bleach is essential. Too much can be harmful, and too little may not make disinfected water as water.
How to use bleach to treat water for drinking:
- Use only unscented household bleach that contains 5.25-8.25% sodium hypochlorite. Do not use bleach that contains additional cleaners or scents. Clorox bleach contains 7.4%.
- Add the bleach to the water using the following ratios:
- For clear water: Add 8 drops of bleach per gallon of water or 1/8 teaspoon for 1 gallon.
- For cloudy water: You should filter it first through cloth, paper towel or other similar item. If it still remains cloudy, you should double the amount of bleach.
- Stir the water well and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking.
- If the water has a strong bleach odor, let it sit for a few minutes and then pour it back and forth between two clean containers to improve its taste.
Simple Emergency Water Treatment Calculator Using Bleach
Here is a simple calculator to determine the number of drops of bleach to add to your water. This calculator was created with the CDC best practices for using bleach to treat water.
It’s important to note that bleach may not be effective against all types of microorganisms, such as parasites and viruses. In addition, bleach can break down over time, so it’s essential to rotate any stored bleach regularly.
Bleach can be an effective and cost-efficient option for water treatment. Still, using it correctly and considering other filtered water treatment methods is essential.
Emergency water filtration can also be used to treat water in emergency situations. Several types of filters are available, including ceramic filters, activated carbon filters, and reverse osmosis filters. Filters work by removing physical contaminants and some microorganisms from the water.
To use filters:
- Follow the instructions on the filter carefully, as they can vary depending on the type of filter and the level of contamination.
- Clean and maintain the filter regularly to ensure its effectiveness.
The advantages of filtration include its effectiveness and ease of use. However, they can be more expensive than boiling and chemical treatments and may only remove some microorganisms.
Overall, each treatment method has advantages and disadvantages; the best approach depends on the situation. It’s essential to be familiar with all three ways and have the necessary materials in an emergency.
Choosing the Right Treatment Method
Factors to consider.
When choosing a treatment method for dirty water, there are several factors to consider, including:
- Availability of materials – Do you have access to a heat source for boiling, or do you have chemical treatments or filters on hand?
- Time required – Boiling requires the most time, while chemical treatments and filtration can be faster.
- Type and level of contamination – Some methods may be more effective than others depending on the type and level of contamination.
Examples of how to choose the proper method based on the situation.
- Boiling may be the best method when there is no access to chemical treatments or filters and a heat source is available.
- Chemical treatments may be the best method in situations where time is a factor, and the water is not heavily contaminated.
- Filtration may be the best method when the water is heavily contaminated with physical contaminants or sediment.
Overall, the best method to use will depend on the situation, and it’s essential to be familiar with all three ways and have the necessary materials on hand in case of an emergency.
Use purification tablets or iodine to treat water.
Purification tablets and iodine can be used as chemical treatments to remove viruses and make water safe for emergencies. These treatments work by killing or inactivating microorganisms that can be present in tainted water.
Iodine tablets work but will not make the water taste any better. In 1995, we were issued iodine tablets at the Jungle Operations Training Center.
Purification tablets typically contain chlorine or chlorine dioxide, which can effectively kill bacteria and viruses. To use purification tablets:
- Follow the instructions on the tablet package carefully, as dosages can vary depending on the type of tablet and the level of contamination.
- Wait for the recommended amount of time before drinking the water.
Iodine can also be used as a chemical treatment to make water safe to drink. Iodine works by killing bacteria, viruses, and some types of parasites.
To use iodine tablets:
- Add the proper amount of tablets per quart of water as indicated in the instructions.
- Wait for at least 35 minutes before drinking the water.
It’s important to note that purification tablets and iodine may not be effective against all microorganisms, such as parasites and viruses. In addition, these treatments can leave a taste or odor in the water and may not be suitable for people with iodine allergies or thyroid problems.
While purification tablets and iodine can be effective chemical treatments for water treatment, it’s essential to use them correctly and consider other treatment methods. It’s also important to rotate any stored purification tablets or iodine regularly to ensure their effectiveness.
The iodine tablets I store are good for around four years.
Emergency Water Filter Buyer’s Guide
Here’s an Emergency Water Filter Buyer’s Guide to help you choose the right water filter for emergency situations:
Consider the type of contaminants present in the water.
Different types of water filters are designed to remove different kinds of contaminants. For example, some filters may be more effective at removing bacteria and protozoa. In contrast, others may be better at removing chemicals or heavy metals.
Before purchasing a water filter, it’s essential to consider the types of contaminants that may be present in the water and choose an appropriate filter for those contaminants.
Look for independent certifications.
Independent certifications such as NSF International or the Water Quality Association can provide assurance that a water filter has been independently tested and meets specific standards for effectiveness and safety. Look for filters that have been certified by these organizations to ensure that they meet the necessary standards.
Consider the filter’s lifespan and replacement requirements.
Some water filters may have a limited lifespan and require replacement after a certain amount of use. Consider the filter’s lifespan and replacement requirements when choosing a filter. Make sure that replacement filters are readily available and affordable.
Portability and ease of use
In emergencies, portability and ease of use can be essential factors to consider. Look for water filters that are lightweight, compact, and easy to use, particularly if you will be carrying the filter with you or using it in a remote location.
Cost can be an essential factor when choosing a water filter. Consider the upfront cost of the filter and any ongoing costs for replacement filters or maintenance. While more expensive filters may be more effective, they may only be necessary for some situations.
Overall, choosing the right emergency water filter will depend on the specific situation and the types of contaminants that may be present in the water. By considering these factors and choosing a filter that meets your needs, you can ensure you have access to clean drinking water in emergencies.
What can I buy for filtering water?
There are plenty of emergency water filters on the market. We’ll discuss three of the most common. These three are portable water filters.
Water filter bottle-
A water bottle filter is a portable water bottle with a built-in filter, allowing you to drink safe and clean water from any source. These bottles are designed for outdoor activities and emergencies where access to clean water is limited or unavailable.
Water filter bottles typically use various filtration methods, such as activated carbon filters, ceramic filters, or membrane filters, to remove contaminants from the water. Some bottles also use ultraviolet light or chemical treatments to kill or inactivate microorganisms.
One of the main advantages of a water bottle filter is portability. These bottles are lightweight and easy to carry, making them ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking or camping. They also provide a convenient way to filter water on the go, allowing you to drink from any source without carrying large amounts of water.
When choosing a water filter bottle, it’s essential to consider factors such as filtration effectiveness, ease of use, and portability. Look for bottles that are easy to clean and maintain and have replacement filters readily available. It’s also essential to choose a bottle with a filtration method appropriate for the specific situation and types of contaminants that may be present in the water.
Overall, a water filter bottle can be a convenient and effective way to ensure access to clean drinking water in emergencies or outdoor activities.
Gravity water filters-
Gravity filters are a type of water filtration system that uses gravity to filter water. These filters typically consist of one or more containers, a filter element, and a spigot. Water is poured into the top container, and gravity pulls the water through the filter element and into the bottom container, where it can be accessed through the spigot.
Gravity filters can be an effective way to filter large quantities of water at once, making them ideal for emergencies or groups of people. These filters can remove a wide range of contaminants, including bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. They can also remove sediment, chlorine, and other chemicals.
Some advantages of gravity water filters include their ease of use and low maintenance. These filters do not require electricity or pumps; the filter element can typically be cleaned or replaced. They are also portable and can be used in remote locations.
When choosing a gravity water filter, it’s essential to consider factors such as filtration effectiveness, capacity, and portability. Look for filters that are easy to assemble and clean and have replacement filter elements readily available. It’s also essential to choose a filter appropriate for the specific situation and types of contaminants that may be present in the water.
Overall, gravity water filters can be an effective way to provide clean drinking water in emergency situations or in areas with limited access to safe water sources.
Personal water filters-
Personal water filters are compact and portable water filtration devices designed for individual use. They are typically small enough to fit in a backpack or pocket. They can filter water from any source, including streams, lakes, or tap water.
Personal water filters work by using various types of filtration technology, such as hollow fiber membranes or activated carbon filters, to remove contaminants from the water. These filters can remove bacteria, protozoa, and some viruses but may not effectively remove larger particles or chemicals.
One popular type of personal water filter is the straw filter. Straw filters are designed to be used like a straw, allowing you to drink directly from the water source. These filters typically use a combination of activated carbon and hollow fiber membranes to remove contaminants from the water.
Straw filters can be an effective way to filter water on the go and are ideal for activities such as hiking, camping, or traveling in areas with limited access to clean water. However, it’s important to note that straw filters may not be as effective as larger water filters or other water treatment methods, such as boiling or chemical treatments.
Additionally, straw filters may not be effective against all types of contaminants, such as chemicals or heavy metals.
When choosing a personal water filter, it’s essential to consider factors such as filtration effectiveness, portability, and ease of use. Look for filters that are easy to clean and maintain and have replacement filter elements readily available.
It’s also essential to choose a filter appropriate for the specific situation and types of contaminants that may be present in the water.
Overall, personal water filters, including straw filters, can be a convenient and effective way to ensure you have access to clean drinking water on the go or in emergencies.
However, it’s essential to use caution and consider other water treatment methods to ensure the water is safe to drink.
Do I need a water filter for emergencies?
Having a water filter can be beneficial in emergencies, as it can provide a source of clean drinking water when access to safe water sources is limited or unavailable.
In an emergency, water sources such as rivers, lakes, and wells may become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, or chemicals, making them unsafe to drink. A water filter can help remove these contaminants and make the water safe for consumption.
However, it’s important to note that a water filter should be used as one of many means of water treatment. Other methods, such as boiling or chemical treatments, may also be necessary depending on the situation and the type of contaminants present to disinfect water.
Additionally, not all water filters are created equal. Some filters may only remove certain types of contaminants. In contrast, others may be more effective at removing a more comprehensive range of pollutants. It’s essential to choose a filter appropriate for the specific situation and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Overall, while a water filter can be a helpful tool in emergencies, it’s essential to have multiple means of emergency water purification available and to be prepared and informed about the best methods to use in different situations.
What can I use as an emergency water filter?
In an emergency situation where you don’t have access to a proper water filter, using a coffee filter or paper towel as a makeshift filter can be better than nothing. However, it’s important to note that these materials are not designed for water filtration and may not be effective at removing all types of contaminants.
Coffee filters and paper towels can effectively remove large particles and sediment from the water. Still, they may not effectively eliminate bacteria, viruses, or chemicals. It’s also important to note that using a coffee filter or paper towel as a makeshift filter may clog or tear, reducing their effectiveness over time.
Suppose you need access to a proper water filter in an emergency. In that case, there are other materials you can use to improvise a filter. Some examples include:
- Sand or gravel: Sand or gravel can be used as a natural filter to remove sediment and larger particles from water. Layer the sand or gravel in a container and pour the water.
- Charcoal: Charcoal can be used to remove impurities from water, including chemicals and odors. Crushed charcoal can be placed in a container with a layer of sand or gravel, and the water can be poured through the layers.
- Cloth: A clean cloth, such as a t-shirt or bandana, can filter out larger particles from water. Pour the water through the fabric and into a clean container.
It’s important to note that using improvised filters may not be as effective as using a proper water filter and may not remove all contaminants from the water.
Additionally, caution is essential when using materials such as sand or charcoal, as they may contain harmful substances.
In an emergency, it’s best to use multiple water treatment methods, such as boiling or chemical treatments, to ensure the water is safe to drink.
What’s the difference between a water filter and a water purifier?
Water filters and water purifiers are used to treat water to make it safe to drink. Still, there are some differences between the two.
A water filter removes physical contaminants, such as sediment, as it passes through the filter. Some filters may also remove some types of bacteria and protozoa. Still, they may not be effective against viruses or other smaller microorganisms.
Water filters are commonly used in recreational activities, such as camping or hiking. They can effectively remove sediment and other visible contaminants from water sources.
On the other hand, a water purifier is designed to remove a broader range of contaminants from water, including bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. Water purifiers typically use chemical treatments, such as iodine or chlorine, or physical treatments, such as reverse osmosis or ultraviolet light, to remove contaminants from the water.
Water purifiers are commonly used in emergencies, such as natural disasters or areas with limited access to clean water.
In summary, while water filters and purifiers are used to treat water, water purifiers are designed to remove a broader range of contaminants, including microorganisms, that may harm human health.
Water filters are more commonly used to remove sediment and other visible contaminants from water sources. The choice between a water filter and a water purifier will depend on the specific situation and the types of pollutants present in the water.
The absolute best option?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “the best offense is a good defense.” This is absolutely true. While you may have to use an emergency water purifier or filter system during an emergency, it should not be your first option. A responsible emergency preparedness plan should include stored water.
FEMA and CDC recommend a 72-hour supply of water. That’s equivalent to 3 gallons of water for each person you’re prepping for. Your stored water can be in drums or bottled water. Just calculate how many gallons are in each case and stockpile them accordingly.
Final Thoughts on Emergency Water
In emergencies, having access to clean drinking water is crucial for survival. Natural disasters and other events can compromise the quality of our water sources, leading to waterborne illnesses and other health risks.
If the situation lasts long enough, your emergency water supply will start to deplete. Eventually, you will run out of bottled water.
However, with the proper knowledge and preparation, we can treat contaminated water to make it safe for consumption. In this blog post, we explored the different methods for survival water treatment, including boiling water, chemical treatment, and filtration.
We also discussed choosing the suitable treatment method based on the situation and additional considerations such as storing boiled water and water conservation.
By being informed and prepared, we can ensure we have access to clean drinking water in any situation.
So remember, in an emergency, don’t panic – instead, follow these steps to treat your water and stay hydrated and healthy.