Emergency water purification: 7 Tips for the thorough prepper

Generally speaking, you can go 30 days without food and 3 days without water. Solving your water problem should be at the top of your emergency preparedness plan.

It is important to understand that city water treatment plants depend on electricity, and you will eventually lose city water in an extended power outage as the generators run out of gas.

How to store water post SHTF

Water storage should be the most important part of your emergency preparedness plan. The absolute minimum amount of water that you should store is one gallon of water per person for every day of the emergency that you are preparing for.

Even though the average person only drinks about two quarts of water per day, you will quickly find in a disaster that cooking, cleaning, bathing, and personal hygiene uses a lot of water.

If you store freeze dried or dehydrated foods as part of your emergency preparations, you will need to store additional water for cooking these items. Keep in mind that dehydrated snacks also tend to make you thirsty.

storing water for emergencyIf you store bottled water for emergencies, buy it in plastic bottles. Don’t buy water in milk jug type containers and don’t store your water in used milk jugs for emergencies because they are biodegradable.

They will deteriorate and become brittle in less than a year, creating a mess in your storage room. Empty bottles of soda, Gatorade, and apple juice are good for storing emergency water, so start keeping those bottles instead of throwing them away. Clean them well with a diluted bleach solution of one part bleach to ten parts water. Don’t fill them up completely because they may freeze; leave at least one inch of air at the top.

Cleaning used soda bottles thoroughly is important because the taste and odor of the original contents can leach from the plastic into the water, ruining your disaster water storage.

In fact, be very cautious about storing emergency water in containers that were previously used. If they contained chemicals or poisons, those agents will also leach from the plastic into your water.

Don’t store emergency water in bleach bottles. The concentrated chlorine could leach from the plastic into the water, giving it a higher chlorine concentration than is considered safe.

Children could also confuse the bleach bottles with drinking water.

Water Barrels and Storage containers should be stored in a very dark environment because light encourages the growth of microorganisms.

You can buy 15, 30, or 55 gallon polyethylene food grade water barrels. They are a good investment and a great idea for emergency preparedness, but keep in mind that they are very heavy when full. One gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, so never store big water containers in the attic.

You should also never store water near smelly items such as gas cans, fertilizer, etc. Plastic containers tend to “breathe,” taking odors around them.

Companies like Nitro-Pak.com sell water Barrels and storage containers in a variety of sizes and shapes. It is a good idea to have several of these stored in your garage, because with just a little warning of an impending crisis you can fill these with a good fresh, affordable supply of water.

If the crisis passes and you don’t use the water, you can pour it out and put the containers back in storage.

Emergency water supplies should be rotated every six months, according to FEMA.

Bottled water

Commercial bottled water is a great idea for disaster planning, provided you don’t get silly and buy the expensive name bottled water brands.

Cheap bottled water is just as good as expensive bottled water, and is usually bottled by the same companies. Some sources indicate that 25 percent of bottled water is actually tap water. Buying the cheapest brands means you can afford to store more of it. And there is a 25% chance that you are buying tap water anyway.

More sources

If it comes down to it, you can use the water already stored in your house in an emergency. Water stored in the plumbing can be accessed by turning on the highest water tap in the house and draining the water at the lowest one

If you have some warning of an impending disaster, be sure and fill up your bath tub, sinks, and as many water containers, picnic coolers, buckets, pans, and bowls as you can.

Water stored in the water heater can be used in an emergency, but turn the water heater electricity or gas source off first. To get the water out of the heater, turn off the intake valve and turn on a hot water tap. You can also use the melted ice cubes in your freezer.

  1. Water beds are a controversial source of emergency water because of the toxic chemicals present. You can best use this water for cleaning and hygiene, but don’t drink it.
  2. You can use water dipped from the flush tanks (not the bowls) of the toilets after boiling it, but only if no disinfectants or cleaners have been used in it.
  3. Toilet bowl water can be used for pets.
  4. Swimming pools and hot tubs are a good source of water for personal hygiene and cleaning but not drinking, due to the chemicals used in treatment and microorganisms that are present.
  5. The juice in canned vegetables and fruits is a good source of fluids in an emergency, but fruit juice will make you thirsty.

Carbonated beverages, coffee, and alcohol are not good to drink during a disaster if water is in short supply. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body and increase the need for drinking water.

Purifying survival water

In an emergency situation it may also become necessary to purify and decontaminate surface water for drinking.

Common water carries a variety of bacteria which can make you deathly ill. A good survival water filter is an absolute must in your emergency preparedness plan.

commercial water filtersThere are a variety of commercial water filters on the market, and in this area you generally get what you pay for.

Our favorite is the Big Berkey model made by Berkey Water Purification and Filter Systems. They have a wide variety of large and small systems for any disaster budget.

We also recommend Mountain Safety Research (MSR), Katadyn, PUR, Sweetwater, and First-Need. Most of these systems use activated carbon or micro filtration, and some use both.

Before using any system you need to strain off any sediments which can clog the filters.

This is important because commercial water filters clog easily, since they are designed to filter out much smaller impurities.

To strain off the larger suspended particles, use a paper coffee filter, a clean pillow case, or a clean t-shirt as a pre-filter.

Some water filter systems use a two-stage filter system to solve this problem. The first filter catches the dirt particles and other items which would otherwise clog up the finer filter with tiny pores, and the second filter removes the tiny impurities such as parasites and in some cases bacteria.

To get longer life out of your filters, you still need to filter off the large particles first. You can test the water with a Water Test Kit.

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Using Clorox bleach to purify water

In an emergency you can also treat water with regular Clorox bleach that contains no soap, phosphates, or scents.

  1. Strain off the major impurities first.
  2. Add two to four drops of bleach per quart of water, or 8-16 drops per gallon.
  3. Use only bleach that has sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient.
  4. Stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes to allow the chlorine enough time to kill the microorganisms.

Remember, chlorine is a poison, so don’t use more than these amounts. Bleach has a shelf life of about two years, so rotate it like your other disaster preparedness supplies.

Does boiling water purify it?

Boiling water for ten minutes usually makes it safe to drink, but also tends to make it taste very flat. This can be remedied by letting the water cool down and pouring it into a clean soda bottle and shaking it vigorously, or pouring it back and forth between two containers.

Adding powdered drinks like Kool-Aid can help too. Make sure these packets are included in your 72-hour kit.

Higher altitudes require longer boiling times, but a consistent temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit should kill all bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Boiling water requires very little equipment and know-how and will make water safe to drink, but it also has a major disadvantage. It requires a lot of fuel, which is usually in short supply in an emergency. For this reason, don’t count on boiling as your only water treatment method during a crisis.

Water purifying tablets

water purifying tabletsWater purification tablets use chlorine or iodine to treat water, but may have a harmful effect on people with undiagnosed liver or kidney disease.

They are also not readily available in most stores and have a shelf life of about five years.

After stirring the chlorine or iodine tablets into the water, let it set for forty-five minutes to allow enough time for purification.

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Tincture of iodine can be used for emergency water treatment. It sometimes gives water an odd odor and unpleasant taste, and people in a crisis want normal tasting and smelling water to drink. It is also not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing, or for people with thyroid issues. Overall, there are better emergency water treatment ideas than tincture of iodine.

You can ration food but you should never ration water. If you have it, drink it and find more.


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