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Emergency Water Purification: How to Make Dirty Water Drinkable

Waterborne illnesses are a serious threat and can cause severe dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and other health complications. Emergency water purification is a crucial skill for anyone who spends time outdoors, travels to remote areas, or lives in areas prone to natural disasters.

In an emergency situation, access to clean water can mean the difference between life and death. Learn how to provide clean water for yourself and your family in this post.

Water Purification

Emergency Water Purification Methods

There are several methods for purifying water in an emergency situation. Boiling water is the most effective method for killing bacteria, viruses, and parasites, but it requires a heat source and can be time-consuming.

Chemical treatments, such as using chlorine or iodine tablets, are also effective but can leave an unpleasant taste and odor. Water filtration systems are a convenient and efficient way to purify water, but they can be expensive and may not be readily available in an emergency situation.

Let’s review each method in more detail so you can choose the best one(s) for your survival plans.


Boiling is one of the simplest and most effective ways to purify water in an emergency situation. To kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites, bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute.

Boiling Water Over a Campfire

If you are at a high altitude, increase the boiling time to three minutes. After boiling, let the water cool before drinking or storing.

Chemical Treatment

Chemical treatment is another effective way to purify water in an emergency. Chemicals such as chlorine dioxide, iodine, and household bleach can kill harmful microorganisms.

Always follow the instructions on the product label carefully, as the amount of chemical needed will depend on the volume of water being treated. After adding the chemical, let the water sit for the recommended amount of time before drinking.


Filtration is a method of removing impurities from water by passing it through a physical barrier. Portable water filters can be used to remove bacteria, viruses, and parasites from water.


However, not all filters are created equal, and some may not be effective against all types of contaminants. Look for filters that are labeled to remove parasites, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.


Distillation is a process that involves boiling water and then collecting and condensing the steam. This method can remove most impurities, including heavy metals and minerals. However, it is not always practical in an emergency situation due to the equipment needed and the time it takes to complete the process.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Water Purification Method

When it comes to choosing a water purification method in an emergency situation, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration. These factors can help determine the most effective and practical method for purifying water, ensuring that it is safe for consumption.

Type of Contaminant

The type of contaminant in the water is an important factor to consider when choosing a water purification method. Some methods are more effective at removing certain types of contaminants than others. For example, boiling water can effectively remove bacteria and viruses, but it may not be as effective at removing chemicals or heavy metals.

It is important to identify the type of contaminant in the water before selecting a purification method. This can be done by conducting a water test or by identifying the source of the water and any potential contaminants that may be present.

Water Source

The source of the water is another important factor to consider when choosing a purification method. Different water sources may require different methods of purification. For example, water from a river or stream may contain more sediment and debris than water from a well, which may require a different purification method.

Running Water

It is also important to consider the availability of water sources in the area. In some cases, it may be necessary to use a purification method that can be used with any available water source, such as a portable water filter or purification tablets.

Available Resources

The available resources in the area are also an important factor to consider when choosing a purification method. Some methods may require specific equipment or supplies, such as a heat source for boiling water or a UV light for water purification.

It is important to assess the available resources in the area and choose a purification method that can be easily implemented with the resources that are available. This can help ensure that the water is purified quickly and effectively.

Types of Waterborne Contaminants

When it comes to emergency water purification, it is important to understand the different types of waterborne contaminants that can be present in water sources. These contaminants can include pathogens, chemicals, and radiological contaminants, each of which poses its own unique set of health risks.


Pathogens are microorganisms that can cause disease in humans. They can be present in water sources due to contamination from human or animal feces. Common pathogens found in water include bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Water Pathogens

Some of the most common waterborne illnesses caused by pathogens include:

  • Cholera
  • Typhoid fever
  • Hepatitis A
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Cryptosporidiosis

Pathogens can be removed from water through a variety of methods, including boiling, filtration, and chemical disinfection.


Chemicals can also be present in water sources, either naturally or as a result of human activity. Some chemicals, such as arsenic and lead, can cause serious health problems even in low concentrations.

Other chemicals that can be found in water include pesticides, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals. These contaminants can be removed from water through methods such as activated carbon filtration and reverse osmosis.

Radiological Contaminants

Radiological contaminants are elements that emit radiation, such as uranium and radium. These contaminants can be naturally occurring or the result of human activity, such as nuclear power plant accidents.

Exposure to high levels of radiation can cause serious health problems, including cancer and genetic mutations. Radiological contaminants can be removed from water through methods such as reverse osmosis and distillation.

Wrapping up Emergency Water Purification

Emergency water purification is an essential process that enables access to clean and safe drinking water in times of crisis. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation. For another water-collection method, check out our post on How to Collect Dew Water.