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Solar Still: Efficient Water Purification for Sustainable Living

Solar stills have become an increasingly important technology in regions where clean drinking water is a scarce resource. These innovative devices use the power of the sun to distill and purify water, making it safe for consumption. By harnessing the sun’s energy, solar stills serve as an eco-friendly solution for obtaining potable water in areas without access to traditional water treatment facilities.

The working principle of a solar still is based on evaporation and condensation processes. Consisting of a basin to hold saline or impure water, the still is usually insulated on all sides and covered with a transparent material, allowing the sunlight to pass through. As the sun’s rays heat the water, it evaporates and then condenses on the cooler surface of the still’s cover. The resulting distilled water is then collected and stored separately, providing a reliable source of safe drinking water.

Solar stills are utilized in various applications, ranging from emergency relief efforts to providing clean water in remote locations. With their simple design and minimal maintenance requirements, they serve as an effective and sustainable way to address the global challenge of providing clean water to communities in need.

Solar Still
Solar Still Container

Solar Still Basics

A solar still is a device that uses the sun’s energy to purify water through the process of evaporation and condensation. It is an effective solution for obtaining clean drinking water in areas where conventional sources are unavailable or contaminated. In this section, we will explore the two primary components of the solar still: evaporation and condensation.


Evaporation is the process through which water transforms from a liquid state to a vapor state. In a solar still, saline or contaminated water is placed in a basin designed to maximize exposure to direct solar radiation. The sun’s heat causes the water to evaporate, leaving behind salts, minerals, and other impurities.

Some factors that influence the rate of evaporation in a solar still include:

  • The intensity of solar radiation
  • The surface area of the water exposed to sunlight
  • The temperature difference between the water and the surrounding air


Once the water evaporates, it forms a vapor that rises within the solar still. The next step is condensation, which is the process of converting water vapor back into a liquid state. The solar still is designed to facilitate this transformation by featuring a transparent glass cover that traps the vapor and allows for condensation to occur on its surface.

As the glass cover’s temperature remains lower than the vapor, the latter condenses upon contact, forming droplets that then slide down the cover and collect, forming purified water. This collection process varies between different designs, but the primary goal is to separate the condensed water from the remaining impurities in the basin effectively.

In summary, a solar still utilizes direct solar radiation to evaporate saline or contaminated water and then condense the vapor to produce purified water. This can be an invaluable resource in providing clean drinking water in areas with limited access to conventional sources.

Design and Components

Plastic and Glass

Solar stills can be made using either plastic or glass materials. Both materials serve as effective light transmitters for the solar energy to enter the still, but they have some differences:

  • Plastic: This material is lightweight, easy to handle, and often less expensive than glass. However, it may degrade over time due to UV exposure and does not provide the best insulation for maintaining high temperatures inside the still.
  • Glass: Glass is more durable, provides better insulation, and is less prone to degradation from UV exposure than plastic. However, it is heavier and can be more expensive.


The basin in a solar still is responsible for holding the dirty or contaminated water to be purified. It can be made from various materials such as galvanized steel or concrete. The size of the basin depends on the amount of water to be produced by the still. In most designs, the basin is painted black to absorb maximum solar energy which helps in increasing water temperature and evaporation rate.

Glass Cover

The glass cover of a solar still, often made from transparent glass or plastic, allows sunlight to pass through and warm up the water in the basin below. As the water heats up, it evaporates, turning into water vapor. The glass cover also serves a secondary purpose by trapping this water vapor inside the still.

There are multiple types of glass covers that can be used:

  • Single Sheet: A basic design using a single layer of glass or plastic film. This is a cost-effective option but may not provide optimum insulation.
  • Double glazing: Consisting of two layers of glass with a small gap in between. This type of cover provides better insulation, which can lead to improved performance and water production efficiency.

In both cases, the glass cover’s design should have a slight angle, allowing the condensed water vapor to flow down into a collecting gutter, which ultimately leads to a storage container for the purified water.


Drinking Water

Solar stills are extensively used to produce clean drinking water in regions where it is scarce. They operate on the principle of evaporation and condensation, utilizing direct solar radiation to convert impure water into purified, distilled water. Solar stills have proven to be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly method of obtaining potable water from contaminated sources, as well as from plant matter exposed to sunlight.

The process involves filling a basin with impure water or saline water, fully insulating the basin’s sides, and closing it with a transparent glass cover to allow solar energy to enter. The heat from the sun causes the water to evaporate, leaving behind contaminants and dissolved substances. The condensed water vapor is then cooled and collected, providing purified drinking water.


In addition to providing drinking water, solar stills are also employed for desalination, especially in areas where seawater is the primary source of water. Desalination is a process that removes salt and other minerals from saline water, making it suitable for consumption, irrigation, and other uses. Solar stills can efficiently desalinate seawater, producing distilled water without the need for expensive and energy-intensive equipment.

Desalination using solar stills is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional methods, as it relies on solar energy rather than fossil fuels, and produces almost no greenhouse gas emissions. This technology continues to gain popularity in arid and coastal regions, offering a sustainable solution for addressing water scarcity issues in these areas.

Impurities and Additives

Solar stills effectively remove a variety of impurities from water sources. When impure water – such as dirty water containing salt, minerals, and other contaminants – is heated by the sun, it evaporates, leaving many of these impurities behind.

The evaporated water then condenses on the cool inner surface of the solar still, separating itself from impurities and resulting in pure, distilled water. Some common impurities found in water sources are:

  • Salt and minerals: Present in saline or brackish water, they can contribute to a briny water taste.
  • Contaminants: Heavy metals and other harmful substances can be present in polluted water.
  • Microorganisms: Bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens may be found in untreated water sources.

Additives can also be used in the solar still process to further enhance water purification. For example, using a dye to color the water can assist in absorbing more sunlight, increasing the evaporation rate. Additionally, surfactant additives can help alter the properties of the water, improving the distillation process.

Some factors that influence the efficiency of a solar still include:

  • Solar radiation: Directly impacts the rate of evaporation.
  • Ambient temperature: Affects the temperature inside the solar still.
  • Relative humidity: Higher humidity can slow down the condensation process.
  • Wind velocity: Affects heat loss from the still.
  • Dust and cloud cover: Can reduce solar radiation reaching the still.

It is essential to consider these factors when designing and operating a solar still to ensure optimal water distillation and purification. The solar still’s position and maintenance also play a role in its effectiveness, making it vital to implement best practices for its use.

Building a Solar Still

DIY Solar Water Distiller

A solar water distiller can be a practical and cost-effective way to produce clean drinking water using the sun’s energy. Building a DIY solar water distiller involves a few basic steps and materials, which can be easily sourced from local hardware stores.

  1. Gather necessary materials such as plywood, mirrors, insulation, duct tape, and silicone.
  2. Mark and cut the plywood pieces according to your desired size.
  3. Cut the angled end pieces for the box with a circular saw or tablesaw set to a 9-degree angle.


Creating the box for the solar still is an essential step as it provides structure and support for other components. Follow the process below to construct the box:

  1. Attach the cut plywood pieces together to form the box, making sure to reinforce the seams with duct tape.
  2. Run a bead of silicone along the edges for added durability and water-tightness.
  3. Place a strong backing material, such as cardboard or wood, to the mirrors to ensure safety when transporting or positioning the solar still.


Proper insulation of the box can enhance the efficiency of a solar still by retaining more heat inside the system. To insulate the box, follow these steps:

  • Cut insulation material, such as foam or fiberglass, to fit the size and shape of the box.
  • Attach the insulation to the inner surfaces of the box using appropriate adhesives for the chosen material.
  • Ensure there are no gaps or open seams that can allow heat to escape.

By following the guidance provided above, anyone can create a functional and efficient solar still capable of producing clean, potable water leveraging the power of the sun. The solar still works by heating the water until it evaporates, leaving behind impurities. The evaporated water then condenses on a cold surface, where it can be collected for use.

Solar Distillation vs. Conventional Methods

Solar distillation is a method that utilizes solar energy to desalinate saline water, whereas conventional methods often rely on fossil fuels for energy. Conventional desalination techniques, such as multi-stage flash distillation and reverse osmosis, require significant amounts of energy to generate steam or to power high-pressure pumps. These processes can lead to high energy costs and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions due to their dependence on fossil fuels.

On the other hand, solar stills harness sunlight to evaporate water, leaving behind salts and minerals. This method operates on the principles of evaporation and condensation, replicating the way nature makes rain. Solar distillation systems can be categorized into passive and active solar stills. Passive solar stills use solar energy as their sole source of thermal energy, while active solar stills may incorporate additional energy sources, such as electric or gas heaters.

Comparing the two methods, some advantages of solar distillation include:

  • Reduced energy costs, as solar energy is free and abundant.
  • Lower environmental impact, since solar stills do not emit greenhouse gases.
  • Ideal for use in rural areas and developing countries with limited access to clean water.

However, some drawbacks of solar distillation are:

  • Dependence on sunlight, which can be intermittent and vary with weather conditions.
  • Lower production rates compared to conventional methods, though progress is being made to improve the efficiency of solar stills.

Solar desalination, which is a broader term that includes not only solar stills but also photovoltaic-driven processes like reverse osmosis, offers additional possibilities for clean and sustainable water treatment. While solar distillation is primarily suitable for small-scale water treatment, solar desalination can be applied to both small and large-scale applications.

In summary, solar distillation offers an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to conventional desalination methods that rely on fossil fuels. Although solar distillation may have limitations such as reduced production rates and dependence on sunlight, advancements in solar desalination technologies hold promise for addressing water scarcity challenges in a sustainable manner.

Unconventional Uses

Solar stills are primarily utilized for water purification purposes, but some unconventional uses have also emerged in various fields. The following paragraphs discuss a few of these lesser-known applications of solar still technology, including its potential for filtering substances like urine and its application in unique settings, such as rock formations.

One unconventional use of solar still technology is for the purification of urine. In extreme situations or locations where potable water is scarce, such as remote deserts or during emergency scenarios, people often require innovative methods for obtaining clean water. Solar stills offer a feasible solution in these cases, as they can effectively evaporate and condense urine to produce safe drinking water. This innovative approach has paved the way for solar stills as a crucial tool in survivalist situations and resource management.

Solar stills can also be employed for water production in unique environments, such as rocky landscapes. These regions typically lack traditional sources of groundwater, and surface water can be scarce due to high evaporation rates. In these instances, solar stills can be used to collect evaporated water from the rocks themselves. Under the heat of the sun, moisture trapped within the porous structure of rocks is released and subsequently condensed within a solar still, ultimately producing potable water. This application showcases the versatility of solar still technology in various environments.

In summary, solar stills are not only limited to conventional water purification but can also be used in diverse situations, such as the purification of urine and water production in rocky environments. These unconventional uses highlight the potential for solar still technology to serve as a valuable resource in meeting the growing need for clean water across various settings and scenarios.